Employees from Pentland Brands were left with an “indescribable feeling of joy” after supporting children with disabilities and special needs at a primary Panathlon competition in Sunderland.

Pentland Brands have sponsored our nationwide swimming programme since 2018 and help to fund our multiskills programme for primary-age pupils. 

Eight Pentland volunteers donned the famous pink Panathlon Leader t-shirts on Wednesday (25 January) and worked alongside Young Leaders from Farringdon Academy. 

Together, they officiated and guided children as teams from nine local schools rotated around the activities in the huge sports hall at the Beacon of Light, in the shadow of Sunderland FC’s Stadium of Light. Afterwards, Pentland Brands employees had the honour of giving out medals, certificates and trophies. 

“I never expected the feeling that today has given me,” said an emotional Ali Fayer from Pentland Brands. “Seeing the joy on the children’s faces was just incredible. They were so excited. 

“The winning and losing was secondary to them – it was all about being part of a team and doing something they could be successful in, which seemed like it was a new experience for them.


“Thank you to Pentland for giving us the breathing space to do this – and to Panathlon for having us. It was a genuinely moving experience.” 

Samantha Burkett, team leader at Pentland’s Glover distribution centre, said: “For me, that was just amazing. I have cared for an uncle with Down’s Syndrome for many years and I brought a lot of that experience into this role today. To see the smiles on the children’s faces was so wonderful. I’m going to have to stop talking now as I’m going to cry!” 

Pentland warehouse operative Mick Phillips added: “I had preconceptions about the children’s abilities but because of the way the activities were set up, they were able to do so much more than I thought. This has been a fantastic day – I would do it again in a heartbeat.” 

Southwick Green Primary were crowned gold medal winners, edging out nearest rivals Grange Park and Redby Primary Academy. 

Ten-year-old Lilley from Southwick Green did not stop smiling the entire day. She said: “I’ve enjoyed it a lot. My mum and dad will be really proud of me!” 

Southwick Teaching Assistant, Mark Scott, commented: “Regardless of their additional needs, Panathlon gives these children empowerment, which they don’t have in the school yard. 

“When they talk about this in assembly on Friday it will give them a tremendous boost in self-confidence. They get such a good feeling from it – winning the gold medals is just a bonus!” 

The competition was organised in partnership with Amy McCulloch, School Games Organiser for Sunderland. She said that Panathlon makes her task of engaging children with SEND “ten times easier.”


She explained: “I have 109 schools and work in my SGO role three days a week, but Panathlon gives me total reassurance that children with SEND in Sunderland are not missing out. 

“As an SGO, being able to offer a competitive pathway that is suited to their needs and where they feel competent and confident, makes such a big different to these young people’s lives. 

“I can honestly say children here have equal opportunities, regardless of their disability or additional needs. The support of Panathon is absolutely massive. 

“I sometimes question myself, ‘Am I sufficiently skilled in delivering activities that are perfectly pitched for children with special needs?’ I must admit I wouldn’t feel totally confident about that if we didn’t work with Panathlon.” 

Amy was also in charge of the day’s Young Leaders from Farringdon Academy and she recognised the effect such an important role has on them. 

“The Young Leader role gives them life skills they can apply in all sorts of situations – having to use different means of communication to explain and demonstrate, and listening to children’s questions and feedback. 

“I can already see a transformation in them from when they first came into the building this morning to how they are now. There are children from lots of different backgrounds in this group, but they are embracing the responsibility and absolutely loving it.” 

One of the competing schools was Gillas Lane Primary who have fully embedded Panathlon in the school over the last few years, particularly our Virtual Programme which has “revitalised” the content of the school’s PE delivery. 

Sandra Dodds, Gillas Lane’s SENCO, said: “At Panathlon, our SEN children are not frightened to have a go because they’re with a peer group as opposed to a class of mainstream children. It does have a huge impact on confidence. 

“I don’t hear from some of these children all week, and then they come here and a fantastic afternoon. Many of them avoid after-school clubs because they don’t see themselves as sporty, but here they can excel.” 

Panahlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “Pentland Brands have underpinned so much of the great work we have done in recent years. They have become part of the team.”