James Barrett’s impressive list of sporting feats have earned him Panathlon’s prestigious Jack Petchey Foundation ‘Hassan Ahmed Sporting Achievement’ award for 2023. 

James is a pupil at Doucecroft School in Colchester for pupils with autism and additional complex needs. The school has taken part in Panathlon competitions for many years and has embedded Panathlon activities into its PE and sport curriculum. 

The 12-year-old had a tough early experience in education – he’d been to five schools by the age of eight – and needed one-to-one support in PE lessons after joining Doucecroft. 

But Panathlon’s specially adapted activities and inclusive events have helped build his confidence and have given him a grounding in competitive sport that he has built upon with aplomb. 

He now competes in elite level in trampolining, representing Recoil Trampolining Club in the Gold Disability category and training with the mainstream squad. He takes part in competitions all over the country (he has events coming up in Burgess Hill, Telford and Sheffield). James also plays for Autism FC in Essex and participates regularly in swimming. 

After being presented with his trophy, James said: “I liked getting the award because it feels like I have achieved something – and I was given it in front of all my friends! It makes me feel happy and proud. 

“I love Panathlon so much. When I get a medal it makes me really happy. I wouldn’t come on any trips before, but I tried it and now I love it. It’s given me confidence and resilience.” 

James’ award was part of Panathlon’s annual Jack Petchey Foundation Outstanding Achievement awards, which honour the charity’s most impressive competitors and leaders from across London and Essex. 

In winning the Hassan Ahmed award, James follows in the illustrious footsteps of former winners such as Helen Thompson and Harry Bowtell, who achieved sporting excellence in the face of adversity caused by their disabilities and additional needs. 

Doucecroft School’s sports coordinator, Andrea Griffiths, said: “James has improved so much. When he first came to the school, he wouldn’t come to Panathlons and was very reluctant in PE. Now you can’t stop him! He understands games a lot better. He makes the connections and figures out what he should be doing and the reasons why.” 

James’s dad Peter added: “James puts his Panathlon, trampolining and other medals above his bed. He loves the Panathlon certificates, medals and t-shirts. 

“It’s really good for his confidence and wellbeing. It regulates him and gives him a lift. Being part of a team and communicating with peers makes him feel appreciated and part of a community. Going forward, he is going to have to work with others, so this is an important tool to have in his kit.” 

James’s mum Nina explained how Panathlon has had a positive ripple effect in the classroom: “It definitely has a knock-on effect on the academic side,” she said. “Supporting James with his anxieties and difficulties involves many different elements and Panathlon is a crucial piece of the jigsaw.” 

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “James’s incredible achievements through significant adversity are testament to his determination and positive attitude. That Panathlon has played a big part in his journey to become an elite level trampolinist is incredibly gratifying to everyone at the charity. Congratulations also to Andrea at Doucecroft School whose wonderful work continues to impact so positively on students.”