Crystal Palace coach backs campaign to save coaching programme for youngsters with learning disabilities

Young Croydon football fans with learning disabilities face an uncertain future as funding for a specialist access programme ends in December, now Crystal Palace’s coach is urging support for their fundraising campaign.

Palace’s first team coach, John Solako, has backed the fundraising campaign by the Crystal Palace Football Club (CPFC) Foundation to not just keep the coaching programme open, but to expand it over the next three years.

Mr Solako, a CPFC Foundation ambassador, has given the campaign for the Learning Disability project a ringing endorsement.

He said: “The Crystal Palace FC Foundation are great at providing tailored opportunities for participants that often get overlooked.

“The Disability programme is set up to give everyone equal chance of playing football and experiencing the unique benefits sport can offer.

“These coaching sessions are the highlight of our participants’ week and it is our job to ensure the sustainability of these programmes and continue our commitment to making football representative of all.”

CPFC Foundation is a self-financing registered charity run completely independently of the parent football club and relies on the financial support of the community.

An initial target of £5,000 was set but the figure is still some way from being achieved before Friday’s deadline.

Lead disability officer, Michael Harrington, is at the forefront of establishing disability sports provision at the CPFC Foundation and stressed the necessity for funds to maintain and develop the beneficial scheme.

He said: “The benefits of the project are multiple. It enables people from a very marginalised area of our society the chance to participate in and enjoy sport in a fun and safe environment.

“It gives them a real opportunity to feel part of the community – a lot of these people are denied the opportunity to have active lives. The sessions allow these people to leave with a smile on their faces.”

During sessions players of varying ages and ability levels are taken through various exercises by CPFC Foundation professional coaches

At an hour long session at Waddon Leisure Centre the enjoyment on the players’ faces was clearly visible as they practised their premier skills.

However one young woman, Kimberly, sat alone on a school bench looking outwardly detached from her surroundings.

Her support worker, Julius, was happy for her sit out, emphasising that her attendance alone was extremely positive.

He said that it had taken several months to provide Kimberley with the encouragement to attend, as can be quite common with people with learning difficulties.

“The things that for us seem insignificant, for them is a big step sometimes”, Julius said.

“Even the smallest achievements can give them great satisfaction.”

Towards the end of the session a huge grin emerged across her face as she clutched a ball in her arms. This seemingly small form of engagement was a real encouragement for her support worker.

Funds will enable more people with learning disabilities in and around Croydon to have access to the enjoyment and benefits of the game of football.

You can give a donation for the CPFC Foundation by visiting its Crowdfunder website here.

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