Gloucester’s hockey inclusion project

Inside Gloucester’s GL1 sports centre a hubbub fills the air from the café where 11 people are excitedly waiting to take part in the hockey inclusion project (HIP).

HIP Hockey is run by Tact, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities to live in their local communities. Every week the only project of its kind in the UK runs three hour-long hockey sessions in Gloucestershire. The 11am Gloucester session on Mondays is followed by one that evening in Stroud, and another in Lydney on Thursday afternoons. Each player pays £2-£3 to take part in the sessions which are held in sports centres.

The project was the idea of Tact community support worker Sophie Whittaker, a keen hockey player since the age of 11 and a member of Cheltenham hockey club. It was after completing an in-house training course on community building in 2004 that she decided to combine her two interests. Whittaker suggested providing hockey games for people with learning disabilities to Bob Rhodes, then Tact’s chief executive. He backed the idea in the light of the charity’s already successful inclusive rugby sessions. With the support of divisional manager Gary Hooper, Whittaker began developing the initiative.

“I researched what sports were available for people with learning disabilities and there wasn’t much around. I wanted to do an inclusive sport and found zone hockey, which is an adapted version of the sport, so any type of ability can compete safely and fairly,” says Whittaker.

In January 2005 she ran a taster session for people to try zone hockey, which uses plastic sticks and balls and allows helpers to assist players. After positive feedback from participants she applied for funding so the project could run regularly. The project received £37,500 from The Barnwood House Trust for three years, as well as grants from Sports Relief and Awards for All, a national lottery grants scheme for local communities.

This allowed Whittaker to hire exercise sciences graduate Fiona Maffey in September 2007 to co-ordinate the project with her. The pair spend 10 hours a week coaching, applying for funding and talking to care homes and local authorities about involving more people.

Back in the sports hall Maffey is leading the participants in a warm-up.

Across the court circles of different coloured plastic cones are laid out and when she calls out a colour players dribble their balls into them. There are shouts and cheers as people race to reach each circle.

Some of the players are from the nearby Eastbrook day service, operated by Gloucester Council. Ken Smith, Eastbrook’s day service co-ordinator, praises the initiative which his clients have been attending for 18 months. “This stimulates people and helps them become used to working in a team. It’s also good for their health as they’re getting exercise.”

Dressed in T-shirt and shorts, Smith is happy to join his clients on the pitch when the match begins. “I enjoy the fact I can help them get the best out of the session. It would be easy to sit back and watch but I’m a role model and it encourages them if they see me do it too.”

One player, Sue, is celebrating scoring twice. “It is brilliant scoring goals! I really like playing hockey, I play a lot,” she says. Paul, another participant, adds: “Playing is good fun, we have a laugh. I’m good at attacking – if you don’t attack you lose.” At the end of the session everyone is smiling as they help tidy away the cones.

Maffey, who herself has played hockey since childhood and plays for the same club as Whittaker, says she wanted to be involved in the project because of its benefits for participants. “People want to play and it helps them build friendships.”

Although the project’s funding ends in October, Maffey and Whittaker are eager to secure the initiative’s future, with a view to developing further sessions elsewhere in Gloucestershire, and perhaps further afield.

● For more about HIP, phone Sophie Whittaker on 07921 745077.

● Also, go here

What works

● Research what activities are available in your area for clients to take part in.

● Keep activities simple and fun and be enthusiastic.

● Make sure equipment is accessible so everyone can use it.

● Do short, fun exercises to hold people’s attention.

● Take part yourself so clients can see you enjoying it too.

● When visiting clients carry a football in your car so you can suggest you play with them.

This article is published in the 4 September issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Shooting from the HIP

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