There was excitement, gratitude, pride and tears at Panathlon’s 2023 Birmingham Primary Final as volunteers from our funders St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation joined seven competing schools at the University of Birmingham Sports Centre. 

Fifteen St. James’s Place employees helped guide pupils through the activities and officiated the competition, in which Bordseley Green Primary were gold medallists, edging out defending champions Paget Primary. 

“Today is only a small time out of our working lives, but the difference it clearly makes to the children and the schools is wonderful to see,” said Mick Turner, who works in recruitment selection for St James’s Place. “It’s very gratifying and humbling. It’s nice to have played a part in making their day.” 

Business Risk Manager, Vicky Bullivant (pictured above), who has coordinated volunteering days with Panathlon for St. James’s Place since 2018, commented: “It’s been a great, great day. I loved seeing on the children’s faces how much enjoyment they got from the event. For us as a team, it’s been so gratifying.”

Colleague Louise Mitchell added: “This is a world away from what we do day in, day out. We’re in a serious profession, so it’s amazing to see that the funding we raise goes towards something so worthwhile.” 

The Birmingham Primary Final was just the latest recent Panathlon event attended by volunteers from St James’s Place, who have also supported our IQM North West Primary Final in Bolton, our North Yorkshire swimming gala at Queen Margaret’s School in York, a primary event in Oldham, Greater Manchester, our Stroud Primary Panathlon in Gloucestershire and primary and Xtend competitions in Westminster in March.

At last Friday’s (21 April) Birmingham Primary Final, all seven participating schools had qualified via top-two finishes in local Panathlon primary competitions earlier in the year. That success had clearly had a major impact on many of the teams who competed at the final. 

“Getting to this final has really changed their confidence levels and the way the school perceives them,” said Emily Willamson, mum of eight-year-old Finlay from Fair Oaks Primary (who finished fourth). “When they got back to school, they got a standing ovation in assembly and it made half the teachers cry.” 

Jenny Samuel, mum to eight-year-old Annie, added: “My daughter is very sport-averse because of the disability she has, and yet here she has found something fun, active and competitive. She was always so reluctant to try anything physical, but she came back from the last Panathlon and said, ‘I feel like I can do anything now!’” 

Tracy Goldspink, teaching assistant at Four Oaks, concurred: “The way these team members are at school is completely different now. They’ve made friends in different year groups and it’s made a huge difference to how their social and physical difficulties are perceived by those around them. The positivity is just wonderful.” 

The winning Bordesley Green team had clearly gained confidence and skills from their success in the qualifying event earlier this year. “We really did not expect that!” said PE Lead Joel Bate.

“The children we bring to Panathlon are not the children we usually bring to tournaments. For them, to not only be outside of school and taking part in physical activity, but to do really well, is such a huge thing for them. When they came back to school, they were so happy. Now becoming Birmingham champions… it’s just unbelievable!” 

The same delight and confidence boost was felt at Barr View Primary after their local Panathlon victory which sealed their qualification for the final. They followed it up with a bronze medal finish at the Birmingham Final. 

Ten-year-old Barr View pupil, Yar Mohammad, said: “I was very excited, overjoyed and a bit overwhelmed! It was very nice to go up on stage in assembly and show my achievements to the rest of the school. It makes me very proud and happy. My medal is in my mum’s cabinet which shows off me and my sister’s achievements. I’ve got another one to add now!”

Barr View’s sports mentor, Luke Stephens, added: “Last time, when they returned from school, they were welcomed as heroes. Everyone was so excited for them. It’s wonderful recognition for them and they were getting high-fived in the corridors. 

“Coming to Panathlons gives us ideas for differentiation in PE. We use the ideas to adapt PE lessons and make them more inclusive. These competitions also add to the community feel back at school as children are meeting and mixing with those from different year groups. You can see the effect it has in so many different ways.”  

Similar impact is clearly being made at Harborne Primary, where several of their team members now take part in after-school sports clubs as a result of confidence they gained from winning the Panathlon local qualifying competition. 

Teaching assistant Gian Ram explained: “Becoming winners [in the qualifying event] has driven them on to achieve more. Beforehand they were sometimes a bit reluctant, but now they think, ‘I’ll have a go.’ 

“It gives them that platform to succeed and they’re more receptive to being coached. As staff, we can refer back to these activities and skills and encourage them to play regularly. It gives them that extra push. Being invited back again to re-live the experience is really important today. They have been talking about it for months!” 

All the enjoyment, positivity and inspiring effects were clear to see for the volunteers from St. James’s Place. Gregory Palethorpe, Director at Bowbrook Financial Planners Ltd, a Partner Practice of St. James’s Place, summarised: “We’ve enjoyed it as much the kids, I think! It’s absolutely fantastic. We do a lot of work to raise this money, but to actually see the funds we’ve raised in action, and the smiles and happiness it brings, is wonderful.” 

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, commented: “It’s been wonderful to have St. James’s Place staff volunteering at so many recent Panathlon events across the country. The exposure to our work is increasing across their organisation which we hope helps prove the rich value of their investment in us.”

St. James's Place Charitable Foundation