Fitness sessions help young people with learning disabilities ‘feel more confident and independent’

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Fitness sessions at Westgate Leisure Centre are transforming the lives of young people with learning disabilities.

The centre, managed by Everyone Active in partnership with Chichester District Council, joined forces with ThinkOut Community (TOC) last year to help improve the physical and mental wellbeing of young people with a whole spectrum of learning disabilities.

The sessions are run by Ben Polhill, Contract Activity & Wellbeing Manager at Everyone Active and involve weekly circuit training sessions and multisport activities, in addition to smaller events such as ‘dryathlons’ and mini half-marathons. Monday afternoon aqua aerobics sessions have also recently launched, to offer activities even more young people can enjoy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Beginning with just seven young adults attending on a weekday afternoon, the sessions now support 36 young people over three sessions per week – a number which is set to increase as a further six spaces open as part of an October half-term offer.

Some members of the TOC teamSome members of the TOC team
Some members of the TOC team

Two young men who have been attending the sessions since they began shared their thoughts. Conor, 20, said: “I enjoy working as a team in the FORTIS challenge [a high intensity, low impact version of HIIT],” whilst Joe, 21, said: “My favourite thing is the sports sessions and playing with my teammates. I like passing and running with the ball whilst playing rugby, and I feel more confident and independent than I did before.”

Launched by Hilary Freeborough and Louise Collins, who between them have over 30 years’ experience in special needs schools, TOC was established to provide those aged 18-35-year-olds with learning disabilities the opportunity to be active in local, inclusive and safe environments.

“We recognise that young people with disabilities continue to blossom and develop once they leave school or college,” says Louise. “These young people need access to high quality activities and opportunities to allow them to continue their learning journey, and our goal is to support them on their chosen individual pathways towards a more independent life.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The sessions at Westgate not only allow our young people to improve their fitness levels and stay healthy, but also provide a safe environment for socialising and relationship building.”

Left to right: Lacey, Ben Polhill, Joe and ConorLeft to right: Lacey, Ben Polhill, Joe and Conor
Left to right: Lacey, Ben Polhill, Joe and Conor

Ben Polhill said: “The feedback from our young people on the activities we offer has been overwhelmingly positive. They gain so much physically from these sessions, but we are also witnessing the healthy choices they are making in life skills and food preparation activities, such as during our outreach session with the District Council Wellbeing Team.

“It’s a joy to witness these young people transform due to their improved mental and physical wellbeing, and we’re excited to see where our sessions can take young people with disabilities in our local community in the years to come.

The TOC team also won the local Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) competition, It’s a Knockout, last summer. An obstacle course filled with bright and colourful inflatables, the It’s a Knockout competition encourages those of all ages and abilities to tackle the course against other local groups.

To find out more about TOC and the sessions they run, please visit: