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Stroke towards inclusive canoeing for people with learning disabilities in Reading


he 11 June saw the launch of an innovative pilot programme in Reading which aims to offer new opportunities

for people with a learning disability to take part in canoeing. Seven people with a learning disability and three volunteers took part in the first pilot session at WokinghamWaterside Centre in Berkshire. The participants arrived early, raring to go. Coaches fromWokinghamWaterside Centre kitted everyone out with

bouyancy aids and paddles before they hit the water. Participants received an hour of quality coaching and time on the water in katakanus – adapted canoe boats, which are designed to be fully stable. All participants said that they couldn’t wait for the next session. Bernadine, who has a learning disability and took part in the

first pilot session, said: ‘I really enjoyed canoeing today because I have never done it before. It was very good exercise. I am really looking forward to doing it again.’ The programme is run by Mencap and Special Olympics GB

in partnership with British Canoeing and their Paddle-Ability scheme*. Coaches from WokinghamWaterside Centre delivered the session to members of local Mencap group, Reading Mencap, and they will continue to run the remaining 11 sessions of the pilot throughout June and July. Sue Hornby, Director of Development for British Canoeing,

said: ‘British canoeing is delighted to be working in partnership with Mencap and Special Olympics GB to increase the number of people with a learning disability that are able to experience and enjoy canoeing.We are delighted that this first pilot at Wokingham has been met with such enthusiasm and are confident this will be a very successful project.’ Belinda Blackwell from WokinghamWaterside Centre, said: ‘WokinghamWaterside Centre is delighted that

British Canoeing, Mencap and Special Olympics GB have formed a meaningful and proactive partnership. ‘As a charity, our mission and ethos is to provide excellent quality activities and facilities that benefit the whole

community. It gives us great pleasure to support Reading Mencap in its tremendous work and enable adults to explore water activities and all that our beautiful stretch of the River Thames has to offer.’ Mencap and Special Olympics GB have worked together to deliver many inclusive sport initiatives to increase

participation for people with disabilities across the UK. This latest pilot is another demonstration of this. Ian Carpenter, National Sport Manager at Mencap, said: ‘It’s really exciting that British Canoeing are

championing people with a learning disability throughout their development work; their coaches will be attending learning disability coaching workshops, their clubs are becoming much more inclusive through the Paddle-Ability accreditation process, and they are looking to create more opportunities for competition. This pilot project and future development work is a very important opportunity to get more people with a learning disability on the water.’ Andy Heffer, Director of Sports and Development for Special Olympics GB, said: ‘Sport can have a

transformative effect on the lives of people with a learning disability, giving them opportunities for enjoyment and achievement, and participating in a sport like canoeing also brings significant health benefits. We hope that this is just the start of many such sessions across the country.’ Margaret Harper from Reading Mencap, said: ‘This is a wonderful new experience for our members who are all

very excited to be going canoeing on the river, especially as the river plays a major part in Reading life.’ * Paddle-Ability refers to all disabled Paddlesport activity, run by British Canoeing, in England: For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap

Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email For more information on Special Olympics GB go to For more information about British Canoeing go to

32 Ability Needs Magazine

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