As National Anti-Bullying week passes us by again, it is a great time to share some extra awareness around bullying and the many reasons there can be for it. For us that awareness is around disability, with a focus on the Autistic Spectrum. Having a disability often sets people out as being ‘different’ and it is often the inability of others to be accepting of that difference, that can bring about bullying.

West Ham United Foundation supporting our 'Give us a Break' Project20161116_134057




Most commonly this is the issue that we find around children. When presented with a peer who maybe doesn’t act or behave in a way that is considered ‘usual’ to them, many youngsters will often respond negatively and ‘push away’ at that child. On the whole these kinds of bullies are actually all bad, despite their actions seeming so. They have little awareness with regards to disabilities and in some respects they are almost a little afraid. ‘Inclusion’ within schools was an interesting notion but in practice, the fact that little awareness is shared with all pupils it often does not work so well.

 So, what can we do? It is surely obvious that we need to raise awareness among peer groups. Assemblies and talks, many of which AKO are responsible for, do a lot to help, but what is really needed it the chance for peer groups to positively engage with disabilities and special education needs (SEN)

Well, such engagement sounded so good to us that we put together and started to work on a project called ‘Give us a Break’ with the West Ham United Foundation (WHUF), who we are proud to partner with on such matters.

Within this school based project, pupils from the older years are shown how to mentor and lead pupils from years 7/8 in football and multi-sports sessions under the guidance of WHUF coaches. SEN pupils are then also introduced with the sessions being of an inclusive and adaptive nature so that they feel comfortable and happy to engage. Not only do we now have many SEN pupils engaging in physical activities they have often withdrawn from, but we now have positive impacts in other areas.

 More physical activity is great for the physical health of these youngsters and this in turn can positively impact on their mental health also lessening some challenging behaviour. Linking to this time especially is the fact that the engagement between the mentors, younger pupils and those with SEN means barriers are being broken down. These youngsters no longer worry when they are around a disability. They have become more ‘aware’ and as such more ‘accepting’. It has worked so well that away from the project an increase in positive engagement has been seen with the youngsters involved coming together more and also engaging further with others around them. Pupils now speak up and support others if any negative reactions are witnessed with awareness and acceptance spreading through the year groups and school as a whole.

 The great thing about children is that when you show them the right way to accept each other and be more aware, they carry that with them into society. Mentors now want to do more work within disability. The WHUF has already trained and employed one of those mentors who now coaches within their disability sessions. Greater still is the fact that such awareness raising reduces bullying almost removing it completely in this area. Yes, there will always be the odd person who bullies for different reasons, but this positive impact must continue.

 Luckily being able to link with people like the WHUF makes such projects possible. To ensure that such inclusive thinking and provisions can exist there is also some amazing funding that that has been put in place by the Premier League & BT Disability Fund. Without them it would be hard to have such positive impact and ensure that we can continue to push for positive change through society for all that are disabled. Keep an eye on all the Premier League Club Foundations, who through the fund will be setting up great provisions across the Country and making all that they do as inclusive as possible, linking in to the Clubs and Stadiums.

Often we all forget the hard work and funding that goes on often behind the scenes. So, by all means share a smile and say “Well done AKO!”, but don’t forget to extend that to those making such projects possible, the West Ham United Foundation with support from the Premier League & BT Disability fund.