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Active Thames

Meet the coach responsible for making Newham’s sport disability inclusive

"It’s about being prioritised"

Newham Ability Camp

Paul Archer founded Newham Ability Camp because of his son’s disability

Eleven years on, the pan disability multi-sports club is boosting children’s confidence through rowing sessions funded by Active Thames.

By Emma Blackmore

Eleven years ago, Paul Archer never set out to build a sports club. “My son lost his sight 18 years ago,” Paul says, “but I knew I wanted him to remain involved with sports, especially as a PE teacher.” The sports coach hired a local hall and started researching activities his son could participate in. Soon after, other children with disabilities were keen to join Paul’s group. “Before I knew it I had ten children with disabilities at the club – which wasn’t even a club at the time – it was just a hall I had hired. Then it went from there.”

So began Newham Ability Camp – a pan disability multi-sports club for young people with disabilities, the first within the London borough of Newham.

“Prior to the club, there was nothing in the borough for young people with disabilities at all,” Paul says. “It was just myself and my son in the hall. It was embarrassing as a father and as a sports coach that there was nowhere in the borough for him to go after school or over the weekend, even for a couple of hours. I found that frustrating.”

The club, which is now part funded by Newham council, runs three sessions a week covering sports such as cricket, softball, basketball, football and swimming. Adapted sessions provide a safe environment for young people with learning difficulties, Down syndrome, visual impairments and caters for wheelchair users and mobility issues. “It’s an inclusive borough now,” Paul, who has been a PE teacher for 22 years, enthuses. “We focus on children with disabilities so they can feel prioritised and more comfortable doing sports when there’s not other kids laughing at them because they can’t catch a ball.”

The club have been able to introduce rowing to the young people’s sporting curriculum as a result of a £742 Active Thames grant. Rowing sessions are provided by experienced coaches from London Youth Rowing, located in the Royal Docks. Active Thames is an initiative by Port of London Authority which supports those less likely to get on the water to experience the benefits of London’s waterways.

“We took the kids out in the water over the summer and they loved it. Some parents think watersports is inaccessible for children with disabilities, but if they can sit in the boat they can row. It’s another outlet for them to have and they loved it. Once they were on the water or on the rowing machines, it was fantastic. Some of them have represented their borough in adaptive rowing competitions.

“You have to give the children something and let them have a go,” Paul continues. “Rowing is completely off the scale and they have never done it before, but you have to give them the opportunity to try something new within a safe environment. They love it.”

Newham Ability Camp participants

“Some parents think watersports is inaccessible for children with disabilities, but if they can sit in the boat they can row. It’s another outlet for them to have and they loved it." says Paul, founder of Newham Ability Camp.

The seven to 14-year-olds also used London Youth Rowing’s indoor rowing machines which are easily adaptable to provide more structure for the participant. Inside the rowing boat, hand grips and wheelchair clips act as a way to help the children with disabilities feel comfortable on the water. “For forty-five minutes, she or he hasn’t got a disability,” Paul says. “They are as anybody else, because they are a rower.”

Paul explains the hardest challenge of running a club for young people with disabilities is breaking down the fixed mindset parents and children come to the club with – especially when they think a sport such as rowing is inaccessible. “I’m very keen to break down those ideas and prove that the young people can participate in a safe environment.” Participants ultimately come away with a great boost in confidence.

Whilst the club focuses on young people, they do have adult members too. “The club has been slowly building gradually over the years through word-of-mouth,” Paul says. “We have 30 children now, plus adults.” They also participate in competitions – the most recent being for cricket. In fact, Newham Ability Camp change sports participants can try every six weeks. “With my son, I wanted him to try out every sport,” Paul explains, adding his son was able to have the opportunity to decide which sport he prefers best. This also has the added benefit of making all sports accessible.

Despite being a multi-sport club, Paul’s highlight of this year has been organising the rowing sessions at the Royal Docks. “Being involved in rowing and getting 12 young people out on the water, roaming around City airport, was my highlight. Just to see their faces while rowing for 45 minutes, which they had never done before – some of them had never even been on the water before – was incredibly special.”

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