Breaking down barriers: how two clubs are offering more opportunities in sport for people with disabilities


The Ahoy Centre Charity


Active Thames

The partnership between Sport Works and The AHOY Centre has allowed more opportunities for disabled young people and adults.

The partnership between The AHOY Centre Charity and social enterprise Sport Works is as strong as ever, following funding from Active Thames; meaning more children and adults with disabilities are able to participate in watersports that are vital for wellbeing

Routine used to be everything for one 17-year-old boy. A year ago, the teen would walk away from sports, not willing to get involved because of his learning difficulties and his desire not to break routine. Now, he is front and centre. He is one of the most engaged members of Sport Works – a social enterprise using sport to create social change – and he is ready to play in an atmosphere that remains sustainable and central to his wellbeing.

A new partnership with Sport Works and watersports charity The AHOY Centre, based in Deptford, has ensured young people like him, and adults, are able to continue trying new activities that are vital for wellbeing, in an environment they are familiar with. The partnership has remained strong as a result of funding provided by Active Thames, a new initiative that aims to encourage more people to enjoy the benefits of the Thames, while increasing diversity and inclusion in watersports.

The partnership between Sport Works and The AHOY Centre came about during the height of Covid-19, when they were both looking at ways to diversify activities for disabled adults and children. Sport Works approached the watersports-based charity offering their experience and facilities meaning every week participants can enjoy a mixture of sports on and off the water.

£4762 from Active Thames has allowed Sport Works and The Ahoy Centre to deliver sailing sessions. “It has provided continuation and progression to young people and adults and allowed them to participate,” says Dan O’Sullivan, The AHOY Centre’s fundraising manager.

The AHOY Centre, which also offers rowing and powerboating, was set up in 2003 to open up opportunities to disadvantaged young children and vulnerable adults. “We wanted to provide a mechanism for different learning, encourage participation in sports otherwise unattainable, provide development for their futures and give them a chance to progress into further education or careers as well,” Dan says.

The centre caters for many disabilities, including people with autism, Down’s Syndrome, and people with mobility and mental health issues. The instructors to participant ratio is often high to support the needs of participants.

Zakaria Riat, lead apprentice tutor at The AHOY Centre, explains the partnership has been incredible. “For many participants, when they come to the centre it’s the only time they are able to do any form of physical activity. Before the partnership with Sport Works it was a struggle getting the participants motivated to work hard, but having the coaches from Sport Works has put a whole new spin on sessions, making it much more fun. The participants have developed such a strong relationship with the coaches.”

Zakaria, who started as a Sailability instructor when he was 16, says introducing a new activity can be an overwhelming experience for a person, especially if it is their first time on the water. “We always try to make sure it is an easy process. If the first step is to just be near the water, then that’s fine. If they just want to sit in the boat, that’s great too.”

As a more traditional type of sail, the centre uses Drascombe boats which have smaller sails, meaning they are less likely to tip over and are easier to use. Dan explains it’s all about building confidence and progression. “We put the students in a boat that’s going to give them the most confidence and then start to advance them.”

Sailability is The AHOY Centre’s most longstanding programme. “Some students have been here for more than ten years and during Covid, they felt safe in the environment they knew very well,” Dan says. “We worked hard through Covid; it was tough. But to remain a provider and be trusted by the participants to come back as soon as they did, I think that shows the respect they have for us and also the enjoyment they get from it.”

A 15-year-old, from Deptford, agrees. “It’s good to be part of the team,” he says. “I’ve made many new friends coming to the sessions and I get to learn something new and fun!”

Another participant has been coming to The AHOY Centre for four years now. “It’s different to anywhere else I’ve been,” she says. “It’s part of my social life. It’s something to look forward to every week.”

What’s clear is that the partnership between Sport Works and The AHOY Centre has allowed more opportunities for disabled young people and adults. It has become a vital part of their life – and a vital part of their routine.

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