Panathlon’s growth across Greater Manchester has increased the ambition of pupils with disabilities and special needs to ascend to higher levels of sporting achievement.

That’s the view of Andy Lord, who is now into his second year delivering Panathlon programmes across eight of the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs. The volume of events has almost doubled in that period and boroughs have woven Panathlon into their sporting calendars.

With the brilliant Debbie Davies from Bolton Wanderers in the Community leading our programmes in the other two boroughs (Bolton and Oldham) and across the wider North West, and James Dixon orchestrating events in Merseyside, the entire region is now extremely well-served in accessible and inclusive competitive sport activity for SEND children.

Andy believes the huge growth in Panathlon’s competitive pathway across his parish of Greater Manchester – with local competitions leading to county and then regional finals – is a big motivating factor for new schools to jump on board.

“The school staff and pupils love the excitement of going to a new venue to compete against schools from across the county and the region,” he says.

“It really does increase interest and participation locally when you tell them it’s a pathway event with potential to progress to something wider and even more competitive. It encourages more schools to want to join in. 

“The kids love representing their school and coming to a local event, but after they’ve won it, picked up their amazing gold medal and they realise they’re going to go on and represent their borough, the smiles on their faces are unbelievable.

“Some of these kids have never been out of school as part of a team before, so to progress to representing the whole area is massive for them.”

For Andy, the positive impact is also fely by the school staff who accompany teams to Panathlon events.

He says: “Obviously, Panathlon has a huge impact on kids who have perhaps shied away from physical activity before, and we hear a lot of those stories – but what sometimes goes unnoticed is how Panathlon gives staff ideas for their PE lessons, particularly at the multi-skills events which have the eight activity stations.

“Although staff are specialists in working with pupils with additional needs, they’re not always specialists in PE. They tell me how they have used ideas from Panathlon back at school and the children have absolutely loved it. Without doubt, it has a huge impact.”

Andy has vast experience in his role with Bury School Games and other school sport provision, but he reveals that even he is still learning with every event.

“It has definitely broadened my knowledge of how to make children more comfortable in a competitive environment,” he reveals. “You come up against some scenarios and it always makes me think, ‘How can I improve this child’s experience next time?’ The more Panathlon events you run, the better you get at making it more inclusive for absolutely everyone who comes through the door.”

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “We offer huge thanks to Debbie and Andy for growing our programmes across Greater Manchester in the last couple of years. The calendar of events we now have in place across the region gives thousands of children the chance to be part of something bigger and the opportunity to ‘climb their own Everest’!”