Panathlon’s first ever competition in Rossendale was praised for “adding huge value” to the sports offering for special needs pupils in what is an isolated and deprived Lancashire borough. 

Rossendale’s 32 primary schools and six secondaries, plus PRUs and special schools, all take part in the excellent programme of sports coaching and 150 competitions provided by the Rossendale School Sports Partnership – but manager Nathan Bibby feels Panathlon can now take things “to the next level” for pupils with SEND. 

Previously, Rossendale SSP’s programme for SEND pupils consisted of non-competitive, one-off events. Nathan is now excited about joining Panathlon’s growing pathway across Lancashire, with the prospect of local qualifying competitions leading to county and regional finals. 

A look of disbelief from the captain of the winning Cribden House team

“My first impressions of Panathlon? I absolutely love it!” he said. “I can already see the potential and it’s huge. This will give us that element of progression we’ve been missing. 

“At our previous SEND events, everyone has gone home with a certificate, but we’ve never kept the scores. Now, I can foresee our inclusion officer going into schools and preparing pupils for Panathlon competitions in terms of confidence and competence, starting them on a competitive pathway that will lead them all the way through to secondary school.” 

Nathan highlights the huge importance of a good grounding in competitive sport in primary schools. 

“If pupils don’t get that confidence and experience at primary age, I know from experience they simply won’t give it a go at secondary school,” he said. “Their anxiety is through the roof. That’s why my aim now is to build up this primary programme and give them those opportunities.” 

A pupil from Holy Trinity takes aim

Rossendale’s inaugural Panathlon event on Friday (19 May) took place at The Valley Leadership Academy in Bacup, situated in the second most deprived area of the county. 

“It’s really important we give pupils these kinds of opportunities in school, as it’s more likely they don’t get them out of school,” said Nathan. “Seeing the joy on their faces here and the confidence they’ll get from going back to school with medals, certificates and trophies and being congratulated in assembly – that will be something most of them have never experienced before. 

“For these children, the pride of representing their school and respect from their peers is massive. Hopefully this will give them the confidence to go to after-school clubs, take part in sport outside of school and go on to represent their secondary schools too.” 

Young Leaders from The Valley Leadership Academy instruct pupils from Water Primary

The area’s first Panathlon competition went down a storm with pupils and staff from the five competing schools. Teacher Michelle Launder from Water Primary said: “This is adorable. It’s so inclusive. We’ve had an amazing morning and it’s so nice to see children come out of their shells. 

“We’ve got one girl who rarely speaks, but we’ve seen her smiling and high-fiving her team-mates. These children won’t take part in sport outside of school, so for them to feel like they’ve achieved something and get a medal is so exciting.” 

Ten-year-old Water Lane pupil Harry added: “It’s been so fun doing all the activities with my friends and doing all this exercise. All the different games will definitely inspire me to do more sports at school. I like that it’s really quick so I didn’t get bored.” 

Cribden House line up a shot on the new-age kurling station

Cribden House, a primary school for children with SEMH issues and autism, were crowned the inaugural Rossendale Primary champions. Their teaching assistant, Steven Parker-Brine, said: “For us this is a rare opportunity.  

“To go back with gold medals will make them heroes for a day in school. It will be wonderful for their confidence and self-esteem. Some don’t all have an ideal home life, so this experience is pretty special.” 

The winning team from Cribden House

Holy Trinity Primary in Stacksteads finished as runners-up. Kellie Hall, HLTA and sports coordinator at the school, was also complimentary after their first taste of Panathlon. 

“Where our school is situated, the children don’t have a lot of outside opportunities, so we try to get involved in what Nathan offers as much as possible. I like that this is competitive because the children have to learn how to lose, no matter what their additional needs are. This raises their confidence and they get to be part of a school team and go on our Wall of Fame!” 

The Young Leaders from The Valley Leadership Academy were fantastic in guiding pupils through the activities and officiating the competition. 

One of them, 14-year-old Harry Buckley, said: “I really appreciated the little things like kids saying thank you to me. Seeing them smile is just so nice. It makes me realise I’ve made a positive impact.  

“Coming into this I didn’t think I could speak to kids in the way I have done, but it’s lifted my confidence. I’ve really enjoyed today, it’s been really good.” 

Young Leaders from The Valley Leadership Academy did a fantastic job at their first Panathlon

Rossendale now join Lancaster, Morecambe, Chorley, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen in the list of Lancashire boroughs taking part in Panathlon. 

Panathlon’s event manager Debbie Davies commented: “It’s fantastic to welcome a brand new borough into the Panathlon family and work with their NGO Nathan to include them in a wider competitive pathway across the county and the north west. 

“We’ve built up a fantastic programme across the Greater Manchester boroughs and we are now delighted to recreate that in Lancashire. The more we can build up our presence and impact across the county and create a pathway of local, county and regional finals, the better our offer will be.” 

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “It has been great working with Nathan to get this first Rossendale event up and running. Working with the borough will add further dimensions and reach to our pathway structures in the north west.”