A Health Disability Sport Partnership (HDSP) has been a ‘game changer’ for disabled people in North Wales, according to those who have benefitted from it.
“Acceptance through sporting opportunities is so important” says volunteer Deb Bashford, who herself was paralysed at the age of 11. “For that hour, they are not the disabled person, they are just a member having fun in a sports club.”
The joint partnership between Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) and Disability Sport Wales (DSW) is the first of its kind in the UK.
It began in 2013, thanks to a successful three-year Calls 4 Action grant from Sport Wales.
“It was set up to develop a relationship between the health and sport networks across North Wales, with a common aim of improving the health and wellbeing of disabled people through increased participation in physical activity” explains Catherine Chin, Health Disability Sport Officer.
Due to its success, the project will continue and there are ambitious plans to roll it our across the country.
Disabled people are less physically active than non-disabled people. Just 3.4% of this population in North Wales were taking part in physical activity at the start of the partnership in 2013, compared with 41% of non-disabled people.
They wanted to bridge this gap.
“A pathway was designed so that Health Care Professionals could signpost disabled people from health services to physical activity opportunities in their local community, via Disability Sport Wales” explains Catherine.
She adds: “It has made a real difference, both physically and mentally, in transforming the lives of disabled people and their families, through the power of sport.”
During the first 3 years of the project 560 disabled people took up an opportunity to get active, with four talented athletes going on to represent Wales in their sports.
Deb, who is part of Caernarfon Celts Wheelchair Basketball Club, is full of praise for it: “At the age of 11, my world was turned upside down and I would have done anything in the world to have this pathway back then” she recalls.
35 years on, she says that sporting activities have helped her speak out about her own experiences.
“I considered suicide aged 13” she admits. “But I now embrace my disability as a tool to help others going through a similar journey.”
She adds: “Sporting opportunities like this make a massive difference.”