Panathlon is rousing the competitive spirit of pupils with special needs across Cumbria thanks to our growing programme of events across the county.

Our provision for mainstream and special schools in Cumbria is growing ever stronger – so much so that in early February we held three consecutive days of competitions with 320 pupils taking part. 

Cumbria is the second-largest county in England which makes provision of inter-school sports competitions difficult due to distance and cost – so there are plenty of smiles when Panathlon swing into town to bring pupils together and compete for medals, certificates and trophies. 

“The biggest thing for me was simply seeing so many children competing, because a lot of them don’t get to take part in mainstream PE,” said Bradley Hubbold, School Games Organiser for Barrow-in-Furness. 

“Sometimes children with special needs feel they are getting left behind, so it was amazing at the events when several pupils came up to me and said, ‘This is my first ever medal.’ 

“That really hit home for me personally. I was a young sportsman myself and got numerous trophies and medals, but these kids didn’t get that chance until Panathlon came along.”

Panathlon held two primary competitions at Barrow in Furness College on 6 February, then a further primary event and an Xtend event for Key Stage 3 pupils the following day.

The next day, 40 children from primary schools around Whitehaven descended on St Bees School, whose pupils had been trained as Young Leaders to officiate and guide pupils through the activities.

St Bees is an independent day and boarding school whose alumni include award-winning actor Rowan Atkinson and ex-England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster. We are hoping to return to St Bees in late May to hold a swimming gala for schools in Whitehaven, further helping the school strengthen its links with the local community.

Bradley stresses that Panathlon’s unique format allows youngsters to enjoy the competitive element without it being too pressurised. 

“Because the children aren’t up close with other schools, there’s an element of self-competition, so they are trying to improve their own performance without necessarily realising they are competing against others. 

“It encourages everyone to do the best they can – and it’s wonderful when they realise at the end they’re going to get medals, trophies and certificates. Their sense of fulfilment is credit to you guys at Panathlon. 

“That experience then gives pupils a really big goal to aim for next time. It raises motivations. The feedback I get from teachers is they take heaps of ideas back into school for how to engage their SEN pupils. They realise that they’ve already got all this equipment but they didn’t realise they could use it with them.” 

Statistics on children and young people’s physical activity levels in Cumbria shows the need for Panathlon to get on board

The remoteness of Barrow-in-Furness as a town and the size of Cumbria in general can be a barrier to organising inter-school competitions, so as a School Games Organiser, Bradley is delighted to have Panathlon’s guarantee of quality to encourage schools to travel and take part. 

“For us it’s 45 minutes’ drive just to get to the motorway and it’s hard to get schools to travel to places at the moment. The funding only stretches so far and we have many other targets we have to hit. So it’s about targeting the right audience and putting on appropriate activity, and Panathlon do that superbly.” 

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “We are delighted to help our partners Active Cumbria create sporting opportunities for children with disabilities and special needs at an increasing number of schools in the county.”