Competing in Panathlon is a “defining moment” for children with disabilities and special needs that they will remember and treasure for many years.

That was the view of volunteers from St. James’s Place, who visited last week’s Panathlon South-East Secondary Swimming Final at the London Aquatic Centre to support pupils and officiate in the competition.

Some 80% of St. James’s Place employees kindly donate a monthly covenant from their wages which goes towards the charities supported by the St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation. For most of the nine volunteers at the Aquatic Centre, it was the first time they had seen the impact of their generosity with their own eyes.

“Today has been so rewarding,” said Richard Halim, Executive Manager – Academy Relationships at St. James’s Place. “If anyone is in any doubt about how impactful and significant Panathlon’s events are, I’d advise them to come and spend half a day here.

“You get a true sense that these kids are amazing individuals. Whatever challenges we think we have, spending time with them reminds you of the fact that there are more important things in life and that they are capable of overcoming barriers that we have never had to face.”

After supporting the seven teams of secondary-age pupils and awarding the winning team from Moor House School & College with gold medals and certificates, Academy Training Manager Katie Collinson was beaming.

She said: “In 10 years’ time these children are going to remember today as a defining moment for them as a young person. The smiles on their faces after completing their races and the confidence and self-belief it gave them was so evident. It means so much to them. It was genuinely beautiful.”

Academy Relationship Manager, Lorraine Simmonds (pictured above, far right), was also moved by the experience. She said: “Before I started with St. James’s Place, I was a primary school teacher. When I was in training, a wonderful teacher said to me, ‘Every child has a gift and it’s your professional duty to find and nurture it.’ Today is a perfect example of that.

“We’ve got children here who society might think haven’t got a gift – but these events help find it. The smiles on their faces mean the world. Our covenant enable these sorts of activities to take place, and to see it is so special. If you come here and witness this, and you’re not moved by it, I’d ask some serious questions!”

The stand-out feature for Academy Relationship Manager Steven Wright was the teamwork on show within each team. “Life can be pretty lonely at times, but when kids come together like this they forget their individuality and build lasting bonds,” he said. “Seeing them having fun together like this, it’s a privilege to be a part of.”

The St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation has supported Panathlon since 2008 and has invested over £2million in that time to provide sporting opportunities to tens of thousands of young people with disabilities and special educational needs.

In 2020, the St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation won the ‘Best Partnership with a National Children’s Charity’ prize at The Better Society Awards for its work with Panathlon. Read more about our partnership here.