Children with special needs from Westfield Primary School in Workington overcame the odds by winning Panathlon’s North West Regional Ten-Pin Bowling Final.

There are limited opportunities for SEND children to engage in competitive sport in Workington, as well as high levels of deprivation in the area. Fifty per cent of pupils at Westfield qualify for free school meals and 10% have special educational needs. “We’re not renowned for winning,” admitted the school’s SENCO Vicky Smyllie.

<< Full gallery of pics from the North West Ten-Pin Bowling Final here >>

However, Westfield Primary’s route to unexpected glory began back in February when they were invited to take part in Panathlon’s Cumbria Primary Ten-Pin Bowling event in Carlisle.

“We thought, ‘Why not?’” says Vicky. “We hardly ever take all our special needs children out on trips, so we all got on a bus and we came home with the trophy!”

As a result of that victory, Westfield were invited to the North West Regional Final in Bolton on May 18. To their astonishment and delight, they won that too!

“This group of children don’t feel pride very much but they’re just so proud of themselves,” said Vicky. “On the way back, one child said to me, ‘I’m going to tell my grandchildren about this!’

“They really understood that sense of progression from the Carlisle competition to the bigger regional event in Bolton. They knew it would be a step up.

“Our day started at 7.50am and we got back just in time to show the trophy to our headteacher. It was a long day, but it was absolutely priceless.”

The pupils’ success was all the more incredible given that Workington’s only bowling alley recently closed down.

Vicky added: “On the way to Bolton, I said to the pupils that there would be children from big cities who had bowling alleys to practise in. A lot of our parents don’t drive so they wouldn’t be able to get to our nearest facility in Carlisle.

“It’s amazing that our pupils can call themselves the best bowlers in the north west of England. It gives them such confidence. They’re really proud of themselves as a team. A couple are talking about continuing bowling and forming a team when they go to secondary school in September.”

A further boost to participants in Bolton was meeting Panathlon ambassador and Great Britain Paralympic medal-winning wheelchair racer Nathan Maguire.

“This was my first time at a Panathlon ten-pin bowling competition and it was great SEND children in a different format. I loved visiting each lane to chat to the children, they enjoyed trying on my medal and asked me some great questions about disability sport.”

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer Tony Waymouth said: “It is important to reward special needs children for success by offering a next stage of competition. That competitive pathway allows intangible things to happen – confidence, self-esteem, reduced isolation and a sense of connection outside their local area.

“As a charity, we are always looking to provide sporting opportunities where local facilities don’t exist or are limited. After discussion with Westfield Primary and the local School Games Organiser, we are hoping to expand our calendar of competitions in the area to include swimming.”