Co-Op Academy Belle Vue crossed the Pennines and went home with gold in Panathlon’s inaugural ‘War of the Roses’ competition in Leeds. 

The multiskills event brought together schools from within the Co-Op Academies Trust’s hubs in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire for a ‘Roses battle’ at Co-Op Academy Priesthorpe in Pudsey. 

This academic year, Panathlon has formed a partnership with the Co-Op Academies Trust to offer pupils with special needs and disabilities in its 17 academies opportunities to take part in competitive sport they may otherwise be denied. 

There have been several 10-pin bowling competitions and multiskills Panathlon events for its cluster of schools in Greater Manchester, and its West Yorkshire academies have also benefited from our competitions too. This week, however, was the first time the two regional hubs have come together to battle for cross-Pennine honours! 

All but one member of the winning Belle Vue team, from Oldham, had never left the school site before. The school premises are new, and so is the school minibus, which had its first ever outing for the event! 

Dylan, 12, who has speech, visual and hearing impairments, had never represented the school in sport before. “It’s been awesome!” he said.  

His PE teacher, Simone Castle, added: “This has been pitched just right for Dylan’s level and is a platform where he can have a lot of success. It is non-threatening for him, so he has got fully involved and is actually very competitive. He will go away from this feeling the bee’s knees. I think it’s absolutely wonderful. 

“I wish our SENCO could see them now, she would be utterly amazed! She was a bit worried about them leaving the school site, but this will blow her away. 

“It’s a fabulous event for children to be able to be exposed to competition but in a safe and appropriate way that is often so difficult to find in a mainstream environment.” 

Team captain, 12-year-old Alfie, could not wipe the smile off his face. “My favourite thing was the table cricket and I got the highest score! This medal means a lot. I will put it in a special box in my bedroom. It will be a memory for my mum, my brother and my sister.” 

Ellie-May, also 12, beamed: “This team of ours is showing everyone what we can do. I feel happy and shocked that we’ve won gold! It feels really great to be representing the school.” 

In attendance were Joanna Newsome and Tim Liptrot, the Co-Op Academies Trust regional sports event coordinators for West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester respectively. 

Joanna said: “These pupils are experiencing loads of new challenges today. Panathlon has offered a really nice level of competition for our SEN pupils and collaborating with our academies from over the Pennines for the first time has been brilliant. We’ll certainly be doing it again next year!” 

Tim has worked with Panathlon for several years in his role as Oldham PE and School Sport Coordinator, so knows all about the value we bring to participating schools. 

“Panathlon give us ‘experts in the room’ who specialise in inclusion. When for so long people have focused mostly on the most able, sporty kids in competitions, this is massive. For us, knowing where to pitch an inclusive opportunity, and making sure it’s meaningful for the young people might have been a challenge had we not had the support of Panathlon.” 

The host school for the ‘War of the Roses’, Co-Op Academy Priesthorpe, supplied the team of trained Young Leaders who guided the pupils and officiate the competition. They were all fantastic – but 13-year-olds George Hutchinson and Stan Smith (above) stood out for their passion and the support they offered the competitors. They celebrated every successful shot on the boccia blast like a last-minute winner in the FA Cup final! 

George said: “I knew it would be quite challenging because of the additional needs of the students, but I think they did really well. They don’t get these opportunities often, so we did our best to encourage each person and develop them.” 

Stan added: “The vibes were amazing. I absolutely loved it. They will go away feeling they’ve achieved something today and we played a part in it. It’s just brilliant.”