Staff highlighted Panathlon’s ‘incredible’ impact on pupils’ empathy, teamwork and confidence at our North West Regional Primary Multisport Final at Bolton Arena on Thursday (7 July).

Five schools from across Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside converged on the arena in the shadow of Bolton Wanderers’ stadium, organised in partnership with Bolton Wanderers in the Community. Also in attendance was Panathlon Ambassador Nathan Maguire, the Paralympic silver medallist, and two enthusiastic volunteers from our long-time sponsors St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation.

<< See our full gallery of pictures from the North West Primary Regional Final here >>

All competing schools had won local qualifying events to earn their places, and it was Holy Cross Catholic Primary from the Wirral who finished as champions. The trophy will be added to their school display cabinet, which also features the medals from the qualifying event they won in June at the Inclusion Quality Mark (IQM) Sports Festival in Knowsley.

A Holy Cross pupil plays table cricket

“These children have never had this kind of opportunity to compete with other schools before so winning two in a row has been a really big thing,” said Anthony Fitzsimmons, Year 5/6 PE Lead.

“Being SEN children, they just didn’t believe they were capable. For them to stand up in front of the other kids in assembly with a trophy has been massive. Imagine what it’ll be like now they’re able to say, ‘we’re north west champions!’

“We’ve really been gearing them up for today. We’ve been calling this the Panathlon Champions League final! It has created a real buzz in the school.

“A few months ago, these kids were a bit reluctant to get involved in sport. They tend to take a backwards step, but this has really inspired them. The games are accessible and they can compete comfortably. They encourage one another and they’ve come together as a team.”

Holy Cross pupil Riley Willis, 11, said: “I feel very proud of myself. I can’t wait to be up in assembly telling everyone we’ve won another trophy! I’m made up!”

Joe McCann, CEO of IQM, who organised the Merseyside qualifying event in partnership with Panathlon, said: “Congratulations to Holy Cross! IQM Sports Festival winners last week and now Panathlon Regional Primary champions! Richly deserved. We look forward to similar events across the UK in future.”

Natasha Tomkins from Rosebank School in Northwich referenced the empathy and teamwork that Panathlon had helped to develop in her pupils during their progress from local to regional final as well as ten-pin bowling and table cricket events they’ve entered.

“When they won the qualifying event they were really worried about the children who hadn’t won. For children who have autism that is amazing,” said Natasha. “We don’t do many competitive things so they were initially surprised to win, but they could see other people were upset and could imagine how they would feel. We were so impressed with them.

“We went on a residential a couple of months ago and the teamwork they showed there was much better than it had been previously – that was certainly down to Panathlon. They have been working so well together.”

Pikes Lane pupils

St Luke’s Primary from Salford finished runners-up. Their PE Lead, Jade Malone, also noticed the empathy and sportsmanship that Panathlon has helped to instil in her pupils.

“This team aren’t used to being ‘the best’ in sport so when they see other children upset at losing they recognise the feeling,” she reasoned. “We always leave Panathlon events smiling ear to ear. Their communication improves, they hug each other if they miss a shot and cheer when they succeed.

“It’s nice to see them being competitive and successful without other children dominating, as can happen in a mainstream environment. It’s a level playing field. The environment is calmer so they are calmer. It’s all a massive help for them.”

Carol Lowe, Learning Mentor at fourth-placed Pikes Lane Primary in Bolton, said: “You honestly don’t understand the opportunity you’re giving these children. We have several here who would never get to represent the school. For them to go on stage in Sparkle Assembly tomorrow and be able to declare, ‘I’m a winner’ is beyond priceless.”

One girl from third-placed Woodlands Primary was travel sick on the journey from Oldham, but that didn’t deter her or her team-mates.

“They were a bit worried after I’d told them teams coming from all over the north west,” revealed teacher Sarah Brennan, “but these events have really built their sense of achievement, confidence and resilience.”

She added: “It has built up their self-esteem and teamwork which has been particularly important with them not able to participate in many activities outside of school through the pandemic. It’s really good to get them back out. All the children we’ve brought have benefited massively from being part of Panathlon events.”

The positive impact was witnessed at close quarters by Jo Hopwood and Rebecca Brough from Panathlon’s long-time sponsors St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation (pictured above in pink).

Jo, Business Risk Manager at the Manchester branch, said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been lost for words before! The kids are inspirational – I am so proud of them. It’s one of the most inclusive things I’ve ever witnessed. The Young Leaders [from Thornleigh Salesian College] are also amazing. They started the day thinking they were just going to dodge some classes, but they now realise it’s so much more than that. Some of them now want to go into sports leadership as a career.”

Rebecca, St. James’s Place’s Partnership Development Manager, added: “I’ve got so much more out of this than I ever believed possible. It’s so heart-warming with a real sense of community. It was just like having arms wrapped round you as soon as you walk in. We were made to feel so welcome. It’s like a family.”

The pupils beamed as they tried on Panathlon Ambassador Nathan Maguire’s Paralympic silver medal which he won in Tokyo last year. In a couple of weeks he will represent England in the 1500m at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

He said: “When I was younger, I would have loved something like Panathlon because I didn’t have the opportunity to do school sport due to my disability. These kids are 10 steps ahead of where I was at their age, so it’s exciting to see what they will achieve from this platform.”