North East Connected

MP praises pilot study serving up new approach to public health

AN MP has paid tribute to a pioneering pilot study aimed at embedding health and wellbeing into community life.

Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, praised the ‘holistic health’ study being carried out by social enterprise Sport Works when he saw it in action during a visit to a tennis club in his constituency.

Shotley and Benfieldside Tennis Club is among a host of grass roots organisations that have signed up to take part in the three-month trial which was launched in January.

The study focuses primarily on more vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and an independent researcher, Dr Christopher Hartworth, has been commissioned to provide robust data to assess whether there has been long-term behavioural change.

Sport Works’ ultimate aim is to establish a more proactive approach to managing public health by having programmes embedded in communities, so fewer people need to see a doctor or take medication.

The programme is initially being piloted in groups and clubs across the North-East but aim is to scale it into other areas from Spring onwards.

During his visit to the tennis club, Mr Holden took part in a Sport Works Short Breaks session, which introduces children with additional needs and special educational needs (SEN) to tennis in a low-stress, child-friendly way.

SEN children have the option to decide when or if they want to join tennis lessons with mainstream youngsters. If they don’t, they can take part in other activities in the clubhouse, such as arts and crafts or sensory games.

Around 50 children are involved in the Short Breaks programme at three County Durham clubs: Shotley and Benfieldside, Seaham and Coxhoe.

Mr Holden said: “This is just a brilliant way for kids to get out and about – and to give mum and dad a break in sometimes challenging circumstances.

“It’s always going to be difficult with mixed-ability groups, but the way they’re doing it here shows that there’s a place for everybody. It’s a really good initiative by Sport Works and it’s great to see it being tested so actively in my constituency.”

Tennis coach Adam Parker added: “Since Sport Works arrived at the club, we’ve had lots of new members coming in. They’re developing their tennis skills alongside a wider range of life skills and it’s just been phenomenal.

“Aside from tennis, we also do communication skills with them, and teach them about point-scoring, so it’s a way of talking about numbers and counting – all things they are going to use off the court as well.

“The members have loved seeing the difference Sport Works has made. They love to see the kids playing and being interested in tennis, they love seeing what sort of activities we do with them – some of the older members will even join in a little bit! It’s been really positive.”

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