Riverside School in Haringey, north London, has been awarded Panathlon’s 2023 Jack Petchey Foundation ‘Special Recognition award’ for their dedication to keeping pupils active during lockdown. 

Riverside has competed in Panathlon competitions for many years, so during the Covid-19 lockdowns the sudden removal of opportunities for pupils to be active and competitive was a real concern. 

Virtual Panathlon, our programme of in-school activities that allowed pupils with disabilities and special needs to compete safely on school premises, was therefore a “godsend,” according to Riverside’s Head of PE, Michelle Beekharry. 

“We have a whole generation of children who have been inactive for almost two years. I didn’t want that to happen to our students,” said Michelle (pictured above with Year 8 pupil Abdoul Magassouba and Jessica Villiers, Grants Officer at Jack Petchey Foundation). 

“The Virtual Panathlon activities that came through were a godsend. If we didn’t have them, I think that our students would be in a much worse situation. 

“We’ve still got lots of work to do but I’m so happy that we were able to do inter-class activities. Even though they couldn’t meet students from other schools, at least they were participating in something positive that gave them a sense of fulfilment.” 

Students at the inclusive school have a range of disabilities and special needs including severe and moderate learning difficulties, PMLD and autism. Michelle says the virtual activities kept them motivated and promoted good mental health. 

“It was very hard for the kids during the pandemic not to have their normal activities, especially because we’ve been involved in Panathlon for so long. Being able to send in our results and be part of a London competition from our own school site was really motivating for our students. 

“Having said that, it’s such a relief now we can get out to events and interact with other students. Socialising is very important because they only tend to socialise internally with parents or staff. It’s important they understand there are others out there with the same needs as them.” 

Riverside students have football, tennis, boccia, athletics and sports day on the calendar before the end of term. “Sport is such an important element for us at Riverside,” Michelle adds. 

“I use Panathlon and PE as ways of building self-esteem and confidence so they are encouraged to pursue a particular sport they love on to club level or at college.” 

She added: “Receiving this Jack Petchey Foundation award from Panathlon is really amazing recognition for our school. We always strive to do things well so I’m really grateful. Actually, I’m shocked! Thank you so much.” 

Jack Petchey Foundation is Panathlon’s longest-serving sponsor having supported us since 2004. They help us provide competitive sporting opportunities for young people with disabilities and special needs across London and Essex. 

Jessica Villiers, Grants Officer at the Jack Petchey Foundation, said: “It’s inspiring to see the impact of Panathlon on individual pupils and on whole schools like Riverside. We are proud to support Panathlon and always look forward to meeting their award winners each year.” 

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, added: “Huge congratulations go to Michelle and everyone at Riverside. They have been wonderful participants in Panathlon for many years and to see their dedication through tough recent times rewarded with this trophy is wonderful.”