“Having a disability is absolutely no reason not to achieve in life, no reason not to have dreams and to follow them, no reason not to win.” What do we do and what impact does our club have? The group has four very important roles: • Firstly, it gives the swimmers a chance to be part of a team, to feel a sense of pride and achievement, to enjoy the success of winning, to learn to support each other in times of disappointment, and have aspirations to improve, develop and succeed. We train twice a week and attend 3-4 competitions a year. • Secondly, it helps them to be fit and healthy. Obesity is more common in people with learning difficulties, with all its associated health problems. • Thirdly, it helps them foster friendships, improve their communication skills and develop social skills through not only the swimming sessions but the social events we put on. • Fourthly, it is a support network for the parents and carers for sharing information and problem solving the many issues they have to face.
PSOSG originally started in 1986 as a swimming group for swimmers with a learning disability at a Special Needs school. Since then it has evolved over the past 32 years becoming PSOSG in 2014. We come under the umbrella of Special Olympics Great Britain but we get no funding or financial support from them and we are a voluntary charity group. We currently support 30 swimmers all with a learning disability and some who also have an additional physical disability too, including Shaun, in his late 40s, who is one of the original swimmers from 1986!
Examples of the progress of our swimmers include the following. Chloe has cerebral palsy affecting her learning as well as one side of her body and her vision. She started as a shy girl struggling up and down the pool. She is now a confident young lady who can even do tumble turns. Josh is autistic and it took us 2 years to build up his confidence to go to a gala. He won a gold medal, and he and his family have not looked back since. William has Down Syndrome and training through PSOSG has allowed him to develop his technique and be selected for DSS GB, swimming in the DSISO European Championships in Paris and Sardinia, to reach three finals. Hannah has problems with learning, visual difficulties and social anxiety. PSOSG offers her a safe, secure environment to take part in sport but more importantly make friends. Robert has problems with learning and a stammer. He has gained so much confidence and self-esteem that he now is a volunteer helper at our local Sailability club, helping others with disabilities.
Apart from our level 2 lead coach which we have to have to run a session, all our committee members, level 1 coaches and other helpers are volunteers. Some of the families are single parent families or come from disadvantaged backgrounds and we try to keep our membership fees to an affordable level. However they do not cover the full costs of pool hire and coaching. Thus we rely entirely on our fundraising efforts throughout the year and on donations in order to help towards the pool hire and coaching, fund entry fees to competitions/galas, as we want every swimmer to have the opportunity to take part. The cost of pool hire and coach is £174 per week or £696 per month. We are in the region of £2000 short each year that we have to find.
If we cannot afford the pool costs, the impact of the loss of our club would be disastrous for these swimmers and their families particularly as we are slowly getting the message out to the wider community that PSOSG can offer so much to people with a learning disability.