A story by Edinburgh Leisure
We delivered Activ8 a weekly multi-sport session for children and young people aged 7-17 with physical and learning disabilities. The sessions, which run on Saturday mornings at Gracemount Leisure Centre in Edinburgh, give participants the chance to have fun getting active and give carers some respite.
What Activ8 did
Due to the Scottish Government and sports Scotland’s Covid-19 guidance, we were unable to deliver the project as planned from August - September. We delivered two shorter sessions back-to-back in the sports hall each week rather than one longer session across multiple spaces every second week.
From October, we returned to delivering longer sessions across multiple spaces for one age group per week. Sessions were 2.5 hours to accommodate longer pre-session briefings, post session de-briefs and time for Covid-19 cleaning protocols. They included activities in the sports hall followed by time in the swimming pool.
Activities offered have included new age curling, soft archery, uni hoc, athletics, dodgeball, badminton, games with parachute, boccia, mini golf, bouncy castle, trampolining and adapted ball sports.
Longer sessions enabled carers to take a longer break. They chose to do a range of activities while their children were at Activ8, including exercising, going shopping and spending quality time with their other children. Many had cared full time during the pandemic, so enjoyed the chance to have some time off.
Better Breaks priority areas the project addressed were:
Complex needs - we catered for young people with a range of complex needs, Sports and active leisure - we gave young people who face barriers to being active an opportunity to try activities in a safe environment, Independence - we helped young people cope better with short periods away from their family.
One success this year was that we were able to give some new families the opportunity to benefit from Activ8 when spaces became available. We worked closely with Edinburgh Leisure's Active Communities Team to identify suitable families, offer taster sessions to those who were interested, and ensure all our spaces were filled.
Due to Scottish Government’s Covid-19 guidance, our café was closed, seating was removed to create more space for social distancing and adults were discouraged from interacting in groups indoors for much of the funding year. Unfortunately, this meant we were unable to offer carers a place to relax with a free cup of coffee as planned.
What Edinburgh Leisure has learned
Taster sessions – Activ8 may not be a good fit for every family so taster sessions enable them to ‘try before they buy’. This means that spaces are filled by families who are more likely to benefit from the sessions long term.
Working with Active Communities – working more closely with the Community Development Manager and the Development Officer for Disabilities made a huge difference to Activ8 this year, helping to promote the project in the right places and reach more families who could benefit from our support when spaces became available.
Length of sessions – Families were unanimously in favour of returning to longer sessions as it gave the children longer to have fun getting active and gave the carers more of an opportunity to take a proper break from their caring role.
How Edinburgh Leisure has benefitted from the funding
Covid-19 placed a huge financial strain on Edinburgh Leisure. Due to the financial challenges we have faced, projects like Activ8 would be at risk of closure without external funding. Better Breaks funding has enabled us to continue an important service for families with disabled children who need our support more than ever. Delivery of Activ8 during year one of Better Breaks funding, from April 2020 – July 2021, was disrupted by Covid-19. Restrictions meant that we were only able to deliver a scaled down version of the project for 14 weeks in the first year, split into 5 weeks from November 2020 and 9 weeks from May 2021. Having a second year of funding has enabled us to build on what we started in the first year and deliver a regular service that makes a meaningful difference to local families’ lives.
20 disabled children and young people will have had the opportunity to have fun whilst getting active.
21 children and young people took part in Activ8 sessions over the course of the year. They enjoyed the opportunity to try a range of activities, including swimming, new age Curling, soft archery, uni hoc, athletics, dodgeball, badminton, games with parachute, boccia, mini golf, bouncy castle, trampolining and adapted ball sports. Swimming was the most popular activity with both the primary and secondary aged children and young people, so the return to the longer sessions with time in the swimming pool was welcomed by all the families in October.
11-year-old Max, who has autism, lives with his parents, twin brother Tom and pet dog in Colinton, Edinburgh. Until Activ8, Max’s experience of sport and physical activity was largely negative. He struggles with PE at his local mainstream primary school as he lacks coordination, finds it hard to keep up with the other children who are often fitter and more experienced than him, and takes longer to do things like tying his shoelaces and getting changed. He doesn’t like it when he’s not good at things compared to his classmates so often gives up without trying. His mum, Sarah, took him to a variety of activities with his brother when he was younger but none of them were suited to his needs. Activ8 has shown Max that physical activity can be fun. He’s discovered he loves swimming and has started 1:1 swimming lessons as a result. He has also enjoyed trying a variety of sports that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. For example, Sarah says she would have been unlikely to sign him up to mainstream basketball sessions as coaching can be expensive and it’s a waste of money to sign him up for a term if he’s going to do one session and refuse to go back. Trying activities at Activ8 means that he take part for one or two sessions and then move on to different activities if they're not for him.
Carers of 20 disabled children and young people will have had the opportunity to do things for themselves away from their caring routine
The carers of 21 children and young people were able to do things for themselves away from their caring role. From August – September, we ran shorter weekly sessions due to the Scottish Government and sports Scotland’s Covid-19 restrictions. This meant that while they were able to take a break, it was much shorter than intended. In October, when we returned to delivering longer sessions across multiple spaces, carers were able to start taking a longer break. The carers welcomed this change is it enabled them to do things like spend time with their other children and/or partner, go to the gym at Gracemount for free, run errands that were easier to do alone, read, and enjoy some quiet time alone. Covid-19 restrictions meant that we had to close the café area and remove seating to create more space for social distancing. Unfortunately, this meant we were unable to offer carers a place to relax with a free cup of coffee as we had planned.
Lynne recently moved to South East Edinburgh with her husband and 16-year-old son Rory. Rory has autism and communication difficulties, which mean he struggles to express himself clearly and develop friendships. He doesn’t require full time care but he can’t be left alone to look after himself for too long. Rory likes routine and is quite set in his ways, so most of Lynne’s time at the weekend is spent with him doing activities that he has chosen. The 2.5 hours that he’s at Activ8 tends to be the only time she gets to herself to do things outside of her caring role. Her husband works at weekends and they don't have family nearby, so any form of break would be impossible otherwise. She usually spends her time off doing things that boost her own health and wellbeing, such as taking advantage of the free gym offer at Gracemount or going for a sea swim at Portobello Beach.
Carers of 20 disabled children and young people will have had the opportunity to have 3.5 hours respite every second Saturday
Carers of 21 disabled children and young people were able to take 2.5 hours respite every second Saturday. In October, when we returned to delivering longer sessions across multiple spaces, we had to change them to 2.5 hours to accommodate longer pre-session briefings, post session de-briefs and time for Covid-19 cleaning protocols. Carers have told us this still gave them a long enough break and they were able to fully switch off from their caring role as they knew that their children were well looked after and having fun. Many of the parents we spoke to told us that their caring role can be overwhelming at times, with many of their children requiring constant supervision and care. If it wasn’t for brief periods of respite, they would never have any time to themselves to do things that support their own mental wellbeing and help them maintain their own identity outside of their caring role.
Sarah lives with her husband, 11-year-old twin boys Max and Tom, and pet dog in Colinton, Edinburgh. Balancing caring for Max, who has autism, still being there for Tom, and working full time can be challenging, especially since they don’t have any family in Scotland to support them with childcare. The twins have very different needs, interests and ability levels. Tom enjoys hillwalking in the Pentlands, going for long cycle rides, and going to Scouts. Max struggles to join in with any of the activities his brother enjoys as his autism means that he gets tired easily, lacks coordination and gives up easily when things aren't going well. Sarah worries that it’s tough for Tom with much of her attention being directed towards Max. While his brother is at Activ8, she tends to use her time away from her caring role to spend quality time with him. Often they spend the 2.5 hours in the Pentlands, with Tom getting the opportunity to do activities he loves and Sarah being able to completely switch off, protect her own wellbeing and make her caring role seem more manageable.
Additional project outcome
15 disabled children and young people will have improved confidence. The majority of children and young people had improved confidence. Even the most introverted children have started to come out of their shells and are more willing to try new activities and interact with new people.
16-year-old Issy, who lives with her parents in South-West Edinburgh, has autism and a range of disabilities caused by having meningitis as a baby. Issy’s mum Linda explains that she’s found it difficult to find opportunities for young people with disabilities to be active in Edinburgh. While there are some organisations that offer opportunities, most have long waiting lists. As a result, most of Issy’s experience of trying different activities has come through PE at school or mainstream sports clubs. She often struggles to keep up with other children in this setting, which results in her becoming disengaged and her confidence being knocked. She has loved going to Activ8 over the last few months. All of the young people are in a similar boat, so she no longer feels as if she’s getting left behind and is confident enough to try new activities that previously she would have been reluctant to. Linda tells us that Issy has sometimes struggled to form relationships with other young people her age in the past. She’s noticed that since starting Activ8 she’s become a lot more confident around new people. Now she enjoys interacting with the coaches and other young people and even looks forward to seeing the new friends she’s made at the weekend.