A story by Edinburgh Leisure
Our ASN multi sports sessions are weekly activities for children and young people aged 7-17 with physical and learning disabilities. The sessions, which run on Saturday mornings at Gracemount Leisure Centre, give participants the chance to have fun getting active and give carers some respite.
What ASN multi-sports did
In 2020-21 and 2021-22, we had to make changes to our ASN multi-sports sessions to ensure we were adhering to the Scottish Government and sportscotland’s Covid-19 guidance. 2022-23 has been the first full year of Better Breaks funding that we have been able to deliver the sessions as planned without major disruptions.
We delivered sessions for one age group per week. Activities offered included playing in the swimming pool, new age kurling, soft archery, uni hoc, athletics, dodgeball, badminton, games with parachute, boccia, mini golf, bouncy castle, trampolining, rhythmic gymnastics using hoops, balls and ribbons, and adapted ball sports e.g. playing volleyball with a beach ball to create a lighter and easier target. We also delivered non-sports activities with an element of physical activity, such as making paper airplanes, scavenger hunts and making balloon rockets.
Something that we have introduced to sessions this year is a chill out zone, which has enabled children who are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated to take some time out away from the group to calm down and re-set. As this has worked well and we have received positive feedback on it, we intend to keep it in place going forward.
Returning to longer sessions enabled carers to take a longer break. They chose to do a range of activities while their children were at sessions, including enjoying free use of Gracemount Leisure Centre’s gym, having a free coffee in our newly re-opened café, running errands that are easier to do alone, spending quality time with other family members, and going for a walk.
Staff completed various training courses to gain qualifications and develop the quality and range of activities on offer. For example, the team at Gracemount Leisure Centre attended Scottish Disability Sport’s Disability Inclusion Training for Autism and one team member gained her Level 1 Boccia Coaching Award.
What Edinburgh Leisure has learned
Chill Out Zone:
Over the last year, we started noticing that some young people were feeling overwhelmed, agitated or overstimulated and needed to take a break. Many of the children and young people attending our sessions had avoided busy places and group activities over the last few years and were experiencing these feelings more than they had prior to the pandemic. In response to this, we have created a ‘chill out zone’ where young people can take some time out of the activity to relax and compose themselves. The chill out zone is in a meeting room across from the sports hall and contains a crash mat with soft play equipment. It has enabled young people to take themselves out of a situation before it gets too much for them and has helped to avoid stressful situations escalating.
Over the last year, we started noticing that some of the children and young people were struggling to cope with not knowing what activities they were going to be doing throughout each session. As they learned that they responded well to structure and routine, we introduced a ‘daily plan’. This is a detailed visual timetable of activities so that they know what to expect, nothing comes as a surprise and they start to recognise the way that the sessions are structured each week.
Longer term plans:
We started noticing that some children and young people weren’t coping well with finding out what activities they were doing for the first when they arrived at the venue. Some got overexcited while some felt overwhelmed by stress or nerves. We started sharing our plans for the term with carers so that they had the opportunity to warn their children what activities were coming in advance if they thought that would be helpful for them.
Increased Demand for ASN Activities:
One of the main challenges that we face is that our ASN multi-sports sessions can only accommodate the families of 20 children and young people. There has been increased interest in the sessions since Covid-19 restrictions eased and we know that there are more children and young people looking for opportunities to be active and young people who become too old for our ASN multi-sports but wish to remain active.
In response to the lack of suitable opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in physical activity and sport in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Leisure has recently developed two new activities. Firstly, we have introduced two mid-week ASN Active Play sessions for primary aged children with additional support needs at the newly re-opened Meadowbank Sports Centre. While the sessions are part of our sports coaching programme that parents and carers pay full price for, they are delivered by coaches with experience in working with children with additional support needs and the emphasis is on exploration and play rather than structured sports coaching.
Secondly, we have developed Fit & Active, a programme of activities for adults with learning disabilities. We received funding for the pilot at Leith Victoria Swim Centre and Meadowbank Sports Centre, with referrals into the programme being accepted from the end of 2022.
We have also moved our existing ASN swimming sessions to Gracemount Leisure Centre on a Sunday, meaning that there is now a weekend programme of ASN activities at the venue.
How Edinburgh Leisure has benefitted from the funding
Covid-19 and, more recently, the energy crisis have both placed a huge financial strain on Edinburgh Leisure. Due to the financial challenges we have faced, activities like our ASN multi-sports sessions 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 ASN multi-sports sessions during our first two years of Better Breaks funding were heavily disrupted by the Covid-19 restrictions. Having a third year of funding has enabled us to build on what we started and deliver a more consistent service that makes a meaningful difference to local families’ lives. Funding has also enabled staff to undertake a range of training courses. This has helped them to gain qualifications, develop their own skills and knowledge, and improve the range and quality of activities delivered, which has improved the overall experience for the children and young people who participate in sessions.
20 disabled children and young people will have had the opportunity to have fun whilst getting active.
20 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 kurling, soft archery, uni hoc, athletics, dodgeball, badminton, games with parachute, boccia, mini golf, bouncy castle, trampolining and adapted ball sports.
13-year-old David lives with his parents, Bernadette and Ken. He has ADHD, autism and was recently diagnosed with epilepsy. Bernadette and Ken have found it difficult to find suitable opportunities for David to be active. He has tried other sports clubs but they have always been too focused on competition and performance. He struggles with skills such as taking turns and sharing, which make participating in team sports difficult for him. Those opportunities which are suitable are often at capacity with long waiting lists, including a local swimming club which he waited a year to join. David started attending the ASN multi-sports sessions at Gracemount Leisure Centre a year ago and they’re a great way for him to be active as he enjoys the variety of activities that they offer. He has a short attention span and struggles to engage in activities if he isn’t interested, so the fact that sessions are split into multiple activities across multiple locations means that he never gets bored. His favourite activity is swimming as he enjoys being in the water and he likes that the focus is on having fun and splashing around in the pool.
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 20 children and young people were able to do things for themselves away from their caring role.
14-year old Oscar, who lives with his parents and brother Conor, has autism, ADHD and learning difficulties. His parents, Lisa and Damian, often feel like they’re switched on 24/7, so the sessions provide some welcome time out for the rest of the family. After Damian drops him off at Gracemount, he tends to go to Dobbie’s to get a coffee and read a book or listen to a podcast. Those few hours of peace and quiet are so important for his mental and emotional wellbeing as he works full time in an office and it’s the only time he gets to himself all week. Lisa tends to drop Conor off at another club and walk the dog while he’s there. The brothers get on well but when Oscar is at sessions it also means that Conor gets some much needed time alone with his mum. Sometimes Lisa goes to a fitness class, which is something she hasn’t been able to do for years as Oscar needs constant attention when he’s at home. She finds that she can totally switch off and get into a calmer state as she knows he’s enjoying himself and is being looked after. She doesn’t feel the need to be constantly checking her phone which is how she’s felt when he’s gone to clubs in the past. Lisa, Damian and Conor all get to take some time out to do something positive for themselves which puts them all in a much better mood.
Carers of 20 disabled children and young people will have had the opportunity to take a break from their caring role every second Saturday.
Carers of 20 disabled children and young people were able to take respite every second Saturday.
13 year-old Arthur lives with single mum Kim and has an older brother James who has moved away for university. He has autism and a learning disability. Arthur first started attending ASN multi-sports a few years ago. At the time, balancing work alongside looking after two sons, one with additional support needs, was exhausting for Kim. She was constantly on the go and needed some time to herself. Going to Kaimes Special School and participating in activities like the ASN multi-sports sessions have helped Alfie to self-regulate and process his emotions more effectively as he’s got older. He’s generally a happy and easy-going teenager so Kim doesn’t feel that she needs as much respite from caring for him as she used to. However, he still can’t be left on his own for long and she can only recall twice that she’s been to the local shop and left him in the house alone despite the fact it’s only a two minute walk away. The sessions give her a rare opportunity to do jobs that are easier to do alone, such as doing housework, running errands and going to the supermarket, which helps make her caring role feel easier and more sustainable.
Additional project outcome
Additional outcome: Disabled children and young people (age 20 and under) will be more confident
The vast majority of children and young people had improved confidence. Staff have observed that the more reserved children and young people are more willing to leave their parents at the start of session, try new activities and interact with the staff and other children. One child whose confidence has grown is 12-year old Max, who lives with his parents and brother and has autism. Max will start secondary school after the summer. In the past, he hasn’t coped well with change and has had a tendency to get upset and give up when things are challenging. He has been anxious about changing school but meeting new children of different ages from different schools at the sessions has given him the opportunity to practice his social skills outside of the family. His mum hopes that the confidence boost that making new friends has given him will help with the transition into S1.