Panathlon is expanding its offering for children with disabilities and special needs in the North East thanks to our partnership with local charity Smile Through Sport.

Smile Through Sport is a disability sport charity based in Northumberland and – rather like our partnerships with Greenbank Sports Academy in Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers in the Community across the north west – partnering with them allows us to expand and enrich our delivery across a specific region.

Managing Director Rachel Miller led a programme of Panathlon 10-pin bowling, multiskills, boccia and new age kurling competitions across the North East last academic year (2022/23) which included 639 children from 92 schools. There is now a packed diary of competitions in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.

Rachel said: “We have the contacts and the local knowledge but not necessarily the resources to put on local events, so partnering with Panathlon is fantastic. It has enabled us to provide such a range of competitions so we can meet the needs of every disability. We’re getting more children active, engaging new schools and widening the network.

“Panathlon’s philosophy mirrors our own. We believe everybody should get the chance to take part and compete and that there’s always something that anyone can do well.”

The partnership began with a phased approach as Smile Through Sport shadowed Panathlon delivery staff at early events, before giving them free reign to match delivery to local need. Rachel says: “It’s been lovely that they trust our local knowledge, whereas other partners we’ve worked with in the past want us to simply replicate delivery that has worked for them elsewhere – even if it’s not appropriate.”

One of the events last academic year involved PMLD students from Durham Trinity and The Oak schools in Durham. The impact on them was immense.

Rachel reflected: “These kids had never done any external sport before and many had never engaged with PE. For them, it was the first time they had ever seen, let alone won, a medal! They were teenagers who had gone through school never having this kind of opportunity, so the Panathlon was life-changing for them.”

Panathlon has also had a huge ripple effect on the Young Leaders who officiated and guided the competitors in the Panathlon event in the North East. Rachel says they were “quite shy and reserved” initially, but three have now harnessed the skills and confidence to go on to further sports volunteering opportunities in the community.

The three youngsters (one of whom has SEND) are now volunteering at Boccia England competitions and adult community sports sessions run by Smile Through Sport. “They don’t need that teacher to bring them any more, they are doing it independently,” says Rachel. “It’s incredible for us from a sustainability point of view and obviously amazing experience for them personally and for their future employability.”