Young Influencers backed to drive forward push for Inclusion

By Sported |  28 March 2023

The inaugural class of Young Influencers to emerge from Sported’s Include project in Northern Ireland have been encouraged to make a real difference in their communities by the charity’s Ambassador Rory Best.

The first wave of the scheme officially concluded on Saturday in Portadown with a Disability Inclusion Showcase event, initiated by nine young people drawn from sporting clubs across the province and featuring para camogie, sled hockey and mixed ability rugby.

It was preceded by a leadership workshop for the group from Best, former captain of Ulster and Ireland’s men’s rugby team.

But with Sported leading a drive to make groups more inclusive and accessible to all, the retired star believes the next generation can produce genuine change.

Rory Best with the group of Young Influencers

He said: “The really impressive thing with this young influencers group is the knowledge they have and how they can articulate what they’re thinking. We did a leadership session with them and it’s a session I do with a lot of businesses.

“A lot of the thought-provoking comments they put in, how they were able to discuss it, the dialogue they had, was incredible, And it’s quite encouraging for the future of the communities and the clubs that they represent, that these are going to be the young leaders coming through.

“We’ve seen that it’s what these communities need, what sports groups need. They need people driving them forward. And to know the next generation are as capable as those guys is really encouraging.”

The Include programme, which has been introduced in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, has been funded by St James’ Place Foundation.

The clubs involved included Newry Rowing Club, who are introducing plans to support participants with autism, Ardglass GAC who have created a community partnership with a local primary school, and Banbridge Barbarians, who are leading a push for further mixed ability rugby after growing their capacity over the past 12 months.

The participants all received inclusion training from Disability Sport NI, alongside a programme designed to build their teamwork, communications and leadership skills. Working in partnership with PeacePlayers, the nine Young Influencers completed an Open College Network-accredited course, “Promoting Diversity Through Sport”. Each then worked with their club leaders to develop disability inclusion action plans and programmes in their local setting. 

People Playing para sledding

Judith Rankin, Sported’s National Manager for Northern Ireland, said: “Our Young Influencer programme is designed to equip young people with the skills they need to create the future of inclusive sports that they want. 

“I have been challenged and inspired by these young leaders and their passion for influencing change and promoting inclusion. And Sported will continue to work with the groups involved to make a real impact in their communities.”

Young Influencer Laura said: “The most important thing I’ve learnt is that it’s really critical to make as many adaptions as you can to sport to make as many people as you can to feel included – and enjoy it still. You want to make it feel like a sport you would usually play but with the adaptions.

“As a future leader, the biggest thing you can do is to include as many people as you can, and have the least amount of limitations as possible, so that it’s available to everyone.

Added fellow Influencer James: There’s a lot more to accessible sports than most people know. There’s a lot of different types of disabilities where people are able to play sports. The addition of just small things like a bell can really make a change.

“The importance of inclusion is that everyone deserves to be included.”

“We’ve seen that it’s what these communities need, what sports groups need. They need people driving them forward. And to know the next generation are as capable as those guys is really encouraging.”

– Sported Ambassador Rory Best

Find out more about our Include Project