Up in the stands of the London 2012 Aquatics Centre, a group of proud mums were loudly cheering on Downham Primary School in the Panathlon Essex Primary Swimming Final – and called the day “the highlight of the whole year” for their children.

Downham finished fourth in Wednesday’s (January 29) county final at the iconic Olympic and Paralympic venue behind their near-neighbours Quilters Primary. The mothers of Alex Webb, Jude Vaughan and Grace Coleman could not disguise their glee at the impact of the competition on their respective children.

Lisa, mother of 11-year-old Grace Coleman, commented: “It’s really good that our kids get to meet and compete against other children with disabilities and see that it’s OK to be a bit different. Here, they’re all normal.

“It’s just so nice for us to see them have ‘their day’. They might not get picked for the football team, or for their academic achievement, but this is their day – it’s the highlight of the year for them. Actually, it’s their Olympics!”

Tina, mum to nine-year-old Jude Vaughan, said her son had been practising swimming with his dad to overcome anxieties he felt about competing for the school in such a big venue and competition.

“The lessons with his dad have really helped build up his confidence in the lead-up to today,” she said. “He has a bit of a phobia about the noise and so many people being around him, but we’ve explained to him that he’ll be here with his teachers and friends. I can already see by the look on his face how comfortable he is here and how much he has enjoyed it.”

Sally, 10-year-old Alex Webb’s mother, added: “Today they have represented the school and they don’t get a chance to do that in any other way. It’s the one thing they get specially praised for. It builds up their confidence and self-esteem. From the minute they find out they’re going, they are so excited. They look forward to it for months.

“I think the staff also get a lot out of it too. It’s really nice to see how the children interact with the staff because on a normal school day that all happens behind closed doors. The little relationships they have with their peers and staff are lovely for us to see.

“The bonds they are making across year groups are really lovely to see, so the social aspect of it is really important too.”

Lisa added: “Grace is absolutely buzzing. And best of all, we get to come at a place like this, cheer them on and be the noisiest set of parents of all!”

Pentland Brands   St James's Place