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Physical activity is important for both our mental and physical health, no matter our age or ability. We recently caught up with Shape the Play as they ran a special National Fitness Day STEPs Into Football session at Thornaby Pavilion, to find out more about the benefits users see from the activities Shape the Play run in Stockton and Thornaby.

Shape the Play works across central Stockton and Thornaby with a focus of reducing some of the health inequalities in the area, by using football as an engagement tool to get those people in our community who do not traditionally tend to engage in physical activity, engaged in football. Delivered in partnership with Stockton Borough Council’s STEPS and Sporting-STEPs schemes, North Riding County Football Association’s Shape the Play project and charitable leisure trust Tees Active, STEPs Into Football provides the opportunity for people with a wide range of additional needs to independently take part in fun, football themed physical activities.

Shape the Play Manager James Hadman explained “we use football in creative ways to get participants moving and add more physical activity to their lives in a relaxed and friendly environment. Today’s National Fitness Day themed session involves movements that our participants wouldn’t usually do and using a football to do so, bicep curls and toe taps for example. Usually Shape the Play sessions offer more multi-sports activities with a general football theme, but this group were interested in participating in more football focussed activities so we decided that today’s session would be solely football focused, where participants can have a little more fun and whack the ball about with a match at the end!”

STEPs Into Football sessions consist of participants with a variety of learning disabilities, some of whom live alone or with family and others who live in specialised supported housing. Stephen, who lives in specialised supported housing in Norton, told us he really enjoys taking part each week and the independence he has garnered when doing so. Shape the Play sessions, like the one for National Fitness Day, provide people with additional needs with the fantastic opportunity to take part in activities independently from their family or carers, make friends and have fun. With independence being something that many of them unfortunately do not experience on a regular basis.

Those of us without learning disabilities tend to take our independence for granted sometimes whereas for those in our community with additional needs, having the confidence to take part in activities independently is a fantastic achievement. Steph from Stockton Borough Council’s STEPs initiative discussed with us exactly what it takes for her clients to gain the confidence to be independent. “For the last 3 weeks STEPs have been taking part in independence training with Lauren and Paul, two participants of the weekly Step Into Football sessions here at Thornaby Pavilion, to enable them to get to and from sessions independently, and I’m happy to say they will be coming independently starting next week! Our independence training finds the safest route to get our clients from where they are to where they want to be, and we do the journey with them until we are confident that they have the knowledge and confidence to do the journey alone. Sometimes it can take a couple of weeks and other times months for our clients to gain the confidence they need to travel independently, but once they have the confidence it makes a huge difference for them, their lives and overall wellbeing.”

To take part in STEPs Into Football activities participants do not need to be able to travel independently, many participants are accompanied to sessions by family members or carers who benefit from the amenities in Thornaby Town Centre while they wait for the sessions to be completed. Shape The Play Manager James told us “Thornaby Pavilion is a fantastic venue! Not only is it really accessible which we need for our participants, but it’s located right in the heart of Thornaby with great parking. The people we are trying to engage with who are not used to physical activity can tie the session in with a trip to the town centre, shopping or whatever their routine is.”

Watching Shape the Play’s clients taking part in STEPs Into Football was a great experience for us, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the happiness and confidence shining through each one of the participants and the fantastic support that came not only from the Shape the Play team but between each participant too. Tees Active’s Community Engagement Manager Allan McDermott said “ it has been great to see all the participants of the STEPs Into Football scheme get involved with National Fitness Day. STEPs Into Football is a great example of the partnership work between Shape the Play, STEPs, Sporting STEPs and Tees Active that has helped increase the levels of physical activity of the community in Stockton and Thornaby by using the power of football.”

If you know someone with an additional need who would enjoy taking part in physical activity whilst having fun, making friends and benefiting from gaining some independence put in a referral today! STEPs Into Football sessions run every Wednesday at Thornaby Pavilion from 11:30 – 13:00, to take part referrals must first be made through the STEPs team at Stockton Borough Council. Call 01642 524525  to speak with the STEPs team and search for Shape The Play on social media to keep up to date with activities for all ages and abilities across Stockton and Thornaby. Including ladies only football themed sessions – Soccercise!

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