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Prior to 2014, Ynys Mon Gymnastics Club was run out of a local sports centre. We interview Head Coach and Director Cathi Owens to put the spotlight on the key milestones that led to their Insport Gold Accreditation journey.

What was it that instigated you to embark on the inclusive gymnastics journey?

“Welsh Gymnastics host an annual rotatory competition across Wales for all abilities and had noted there were no entries from the area. I had a phone call from Carys at Welsh Gymnastics, and she asked if I would be interested in entering a team - and I jumped at the chance”, explained Cathi.

Ysgol Y Bont is the sole special school on the island, and Cathi approached them to ask if they would be willing to collaborate? They said ‘yes’, and as a result, Ynys Mon’s club coaches began going into to work with the teachers in preparation for the competition.

What does your current set-up look like? 

“Moving into a new, dedicated facility in 2014, opened up a wealth of opportunity to the club – in that it had inadvertently opened the doors to inclusive gymnastics on a spectacular scale”, notes Cathi.

“We wanted to be able to host inclusive sessions in-house, but we needed a sensible way of adapting the Club”, she adds. “We immediately put our coaches on disability courses, as we had already worked closely with the school and had seen just how many children live on the island, both in Ysgol Yn Bont and mainstream school with additional needs, who wanted gymnastics to be part of their lives.

We asked Ysgol Y Bont if they’d be willing to bring the children out to the new facility for weekly PE sessions, when we realise through Insport that we could adapt the club and equipment for the kids.”

What have been the main hurdles you’ve faced on your journey?

“The adaptions to the facility to allow for wheelchair access were the biggest outlay. We fundraised for the specialist equipment, as we had committed our services to the school.

We needed to work around blocking off doors, yet still having a fire escape. It wasn’t too expensive to make areas safe, and we needed a few additional pieces of equipment such as wedges for rolls, etc. These adaptions evolved too, as children of differing abilities began to use the equipment. We’d discuss each child’s needs on a one-to-one basis with teachers.

To get the word out about our sessions, we enlisted the help of Facebook and parents of children who were already benefitting from them. We decided to offer a free taster session for all, which was hugely attended and a great success.

There were kids we knew, and many we didn’t at the taster session – and it gave us an opportunity to talk to parents and let them know about the weekly sessions.

We had a young girl with cerebral palsy in mainstream school who joined the sessions off the back of the tester session, and she has got so much out of rhythmic gymnastics since.

We decide to open a specific area for our disabled gymnasts and purchased specialist equipment for it that we saved and fundraised for. The ‘pod’ is there for some quiet time and helps many of our autistic children throughout their sessions. We have done lots of work to this area recently to provide a safe and relaxing environment for the children and include it within our area for all. It provides a safe area where gymnasts can go in and out of freely, where parents can see them. With teddy bears and music, it has made a big difference”, says Cathi.

How long did it take you to be awarded the Insport Gold accreditation?

“We began our Insport accreditation journey in 2014 and we were awarded our Gold accreditation in November 2017”, recalls Cathi.

What’s in store for the future?

“We’d like to help many more children enjoy gymnastics and continue to provide them with the equipment and environment that they need to thrive. We hope that we will be able to deliver on this, no matter who comes to us”, explains Cathi.

“The competitions always create a buzz and energise our gymnasts, so these are something we are always on the lookout for”, she adds.

What advice would you give to a club thinking about offering inclusive gymnastics?

“Go for it! All-inclusive classes are the most rewarding classes you can offer. If I look back and see all that the gymnasts have achieved in the last three years, going to Cardiff for the competition finals and seeing just how many volunteers who turn up to help week on week. 

Last year Lily walked up on the stage to collect her Award and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house!

The sessions give parents some time out to sit back and enjoy watching their children achieve things they thought they would never have achieved.”