Young people, particularly those most at risk, need our support more than ever. 

Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on some young people, including young people with a disability. The health crisis and consequential restrictions have contributed to many disabled children and young people becoming lonely and isolated.

A recent report published by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Coronavirus and Me found that children and young people with a disability were more likely to feel sad, less likely to feel safe and less likely to stay in contact with friends and family. Furthermore, disabled children were more likely to report that the closure of a service had a big impact on how they felt. 

Sport can be used as a tool to change lives. Our Bluebirds Ability sessions provide free football activities for children with a disability. Our coaches create a safe, familiar and welcoming space for young people with a disability to connect with others, build confidence, and increase physical activity. Weekly sessions are complemented by wellbeing check-ins as a means of offering further support to young people and their families. 

85% of participants agreed that they felt more confident as a result of coming to Bluebird Ability sessions
85% reported being more physically active

Young people and their families have told us how important these sessions are.

One parent, Annamarie Hicks said: 

The Bluebirds Ability programme is a wonderful resource. Our son loves going to the sessions. It's a great way for him to be active, spend time with friends and have fun. We have tried mainstream football sessions in the past, but unfortunately, they don't cater for our son's needs. What we love most about the Bluebirds programme is it's inclusive. Our son is warmly welcomed, which is great for his confidence and self-esteem.

Many service providers were already feeling the impact of 10 years of austerity measures. The additional impact of covid-19 is placing further strain on resources and resulting in reduced and overstretched services and facility closures. Furthermore, grant-making bodies have been overwhelmed with requests for support. The urgent need for emergency funds has made it difficult for grant-making bodies to assess value for money and ensure funding gets to those who need it most.

Thanks to support from BBC Children In Need and donations from the public, we’ve been able to keep offering our Bluebirds Ability service. Demand is growing. We’re receiving an increasing number of referrals. Young people need our support more than ever. 

However, the cost of providing services is increasing. More time and energy are being spent implementing Covid-19 secure practices, coordinating activities and communicating changes. Meanwhile, the closure of facilities and community buildings where our activities take place is disrupting service delivery.

We want service providers and facility operators to make sure the needs of children and young people, particularly those most at risk, are thoroughly considered in decision making and that measures are taken to mitigate the potential negative impacts of decisions.

We want sports policymakers to evaluate how sport can create a wider social impact and ensure investment goes beyond mainstream sport. There is a growing network of charities, voluntary and community groups in Wales who are using sport as a vehicle to create social impact. These organisations deliver projects and programmes that extend beyond sport and physical activity. They are tackling issues of loneliness and isolation, supporting mental and emotional wellbeing, building safer more cohesive communities and re-engaging young people in education and employment. 

Many of these organisations don’t receive support from mainstream sport, they rely upon voluntary income and funding from non-sport-related grant-making bodies. It’s organisations like these, like us, that need support so that we can build resilience and adapt services to meet growing demand from those who need us most.

Thanks to the continued support of BBC CIN, other trusts and foundations, and the general public we’ll continue to use football as a tool for social impact. But I can’t help thinking that sports policy in Wales needs to respond to the growing crisis. What if sport investment was more targeted? What if we unlocked the power of sport to contribute to wider social outcomes? What if we all aspired to a gold standard where sport changes lives?

- Gavin Hawkey, Foundation Director

For more information about our Bluebirds Ability project, please contact Chris Foot.

E| [email protected]

T| 07572 231 719