Oxford United in the Community marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week!

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17th March 2023

Mark Thomas, Social Inclusion Lead at Oxford United in the Community, discusses how football engages, inspires and connects participants

The benefits of physical activity stretch far beyond the boundaries of simply being active and establishing a level of fitness which contributes to leading a healthy, happy, lifestyle.

Physical activity is essential to any person’s mental wellbeing, it creates connections with new, likeminded, people and develops skills essential to life such as communication, resilience and teamwork.

Kicking a ball around with friends or being part of your local team is something that’s easy to take for granted, especially when you consider not everyone in the UK has access to opportunities which unlock participation, training and playing opportunities.

At Oxford United in the Community, we are continually striving to make football-based activities accessible to everyone living in Oxfordshire. To mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week, we thought we’d shine a light on our programmes and sessions which engage, inspire and connect individuals.

What is neurodiversity?

In the UK, it’s estimated 15% of people are neurodivergent.

This means their brain functions, learns and processes information differently to other people and encompasses alternative thinking styles such as ADHD, Autism, Tourettes, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

Even in 2023, being neurodivergent can still impact a person’s employment, education and social opportunities with the National Autistic Society reporting:

  • Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment – compared to the national employment rate of 75.6%. That’s despite 77% of people who are unemployed stating they want to work.

This week presents the perfect opportunity to begin the reversal of the above statistics. And sports-based activities can play an essential role.

Disability Football Sessions

In January, Oxford United in the Community partnered with Abingdon and Witney College to launch our all-new disability football sessions.

Sessions teach participants new techniques which focus on agility, balance and coordination and are tailored to accommodate anyone living locally with a disability who wishes to play football.

Provisions of this kind are essential to participants we engage as Sport England estimate disabled adults are twice as likely (42.4% against 22.6%) as non-disabled people to be physically inactive.

Sessions are delivered every Wednesday from 10am in the main sports hall of Abingdon and Witney College’s Abingdon campus. Spaces are available for next week’s session on Wednesday, March 22, by emailing [email protected].

Premier League Kicks

Launched in 2006, Premier League Kicks is the UK’s flagship community programme and inspires young people in some of the most deprived areas in England and Wales.

In Oxfordshire, our team works with schools, councils, Thames Valley Police and community groups to positively impact the lives of participants aged eight to 18.

The programme engages Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) participants who can be inspired to make positive choices through education, training and employment.

The programme is fully funded via the Premier League Charitable Foundation and if you’d like to learn more about partnering with our team you can email [email protected].

School engagement

In February, Oxford United in the Community was approached by Oxfordshire FA to deliver coaching sessions to students at Mabel Prichard School based in Littlemore.

The school works specifically with children and young people living with complex needs, and operates a football team which participates in tournaments. Harnessing the power of the Oxford United badge, players were invited to the club’s training ground to take part in four dedicated training sessions.

Better still, first-team players Kyle Joseph, Elliott Moore, Sam Long and Ciaran Brown were able to join in the fun and contribute to a training experience students will never forget.

Think ability, not disability!

Living with a disability should not act as an excuse for someone being held back or excluded from participation opportunities.

Every week as coaches at Oxford United in the Community, we are inspired by the achievements, progress and passion of those we work with who live with a neurodiverse condition. And it forms a key part of our delivery which we are continually looking to upscale and improve.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a chance for everyone to think ability, not disability!

Mark Thomas, Social Inclusion Lead at Oxford United in the Community.


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