Home > Inclusive Sport & Physical Activity Conference 2022 – Reflections

Inclusive Sport & Physical Activity Conference 2022 – Reflections

A selfie picture of Gemma Finlay-Gray with Fabienne Andre who is holding up two medals

Reflections from the 2022 Sussex Inclusive Sport & Physical Activity Conference

Reflecting on the Sussex Inclusive Sport & Physical Activity Conference hosted by the Sussex Disability Sports Network on Wednesday 22 June 2022, I must admit I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and anxious about the day having not delivered an event like this for over two years.

Will people turn up? Is everything going to run smoothly? Will it meet their expectations, especially if this is also the first face to face event they have been to post pandemic? Will I be ok speaking to a crowd again?

The event couldn’t have taken place without the collaboration from great people to pull it all together and as they started to arrive with their positive energy, the worry drifted away and excitement kicked in! We have managed to keep partners connected via online forums and meetings, but there is nothing quite like being in a room together, watching joyful interactions and hearing the buzz of conversations.

Our host Richard Reynolds kicked off with an excellent Q&A with the fabulous Fabienne Andre. It was great to hear how her journey from inactive to active has led to being a Paralympian, and that their own experiences of engaging with sport & physical activity through the support of physiotherapists has inspired her to pursue this as her own career path and do the same for others. 

Picture of conference room with people sitting at tables looking towards the presenters

The sessions that followed were carefully planned to respond to key topics that have come up through online forums or conversations with partners. We didn’t just want to present facts and figures but listen to individuals with a diverse range of backgrounds to hear their experiences, observations and insights to what they have seen working and how others can put these into practice.

Hearing these journeys helped reiterate the point that understanding intersectionality is so important to the work we all do to tackle inequalities to physical activity and sport and create an authentic inclusive culture. We specifically touched on this topic in the first session This Girl Can: Coach, Play, Learn, but this sentiment was interwoven throughout the day.

My view is that a genuinely inclusive organisation creates a welcoming environment for all, but from listening and learning throughout the years and as reiterated during the conference by those working on the ground in their community, we sometimes need to be exclusive (targetted), to be truly inclusive (for all). 

We (myself included) are often better or more comfortable understanding an ‘audience’, for instance a gender, because of our priorities (professional or personal) or our own experiences, knowledge or even unconscious bias. This can of course help towards a targeted approach, but it is still so important that we don’t just group said audience by that standard demographic, because this leads to assumptions about their behaviour, motivations and barriers all being the same for that ‘group’.

So in short, being ‘exclusive’ can actually support the wider approach to become truly inclusive for all. At the heart of it, we just need to acknowledge and treat people as individuals whatever we do. Care about them so they feel valued, and be curious to learn, understand and challenge the assumptions we and others may have. This also sets the foundations of good allyship through positive and intentional actions.

I hope attendees learnt something new from each session to put into action, whether that be effective ways to support and engage disabled women, how community sport and education providers can work better together, or feeling more confident in the communication we use. 

It certainly increased my knowledge and I enjoyed hearing about some of the impactful work taking place in the county by dedicated and passionate people from all types of organisations and sectors. I think one of the last sentences from the Richard at the end of the day perfectly summed up the amazing network of people we have in the county working hard to make a difference, and I couldn’t have said it better myself…

‘You are truly some of the nicest people I have ever met’

To round up the day we had some fun sporting activities planned, including wheelchair basketball and sound tennis which hopefully introduced attendees to sports they may have never really known about let alone participated in. I was still buzzing from the day but scoring a hoop (as I am literally the worst at basketball) ended my day on the highest of highs! 

So, thanks to all those who supported making the event happen and thank you to all those who came. Now, how to top that in 2023!?

People in a sports hall playing wheelchair basketball

I’d like to thank the following who supported the development and delivery of the event;

Paul Brackley, Albion in the Community

Aroop Tanna, Sussex Cricket Foundation

Nicola File, Activity Alliance

Loretta Lock, Defiant Sports

Ricky Perrin, Sussex Wheelchair Basketball

Paul Gillett, Sound Tennis Sussex

Active Sussex Team

Rix & Kay Solicitors LLP

And the amazing guest speakers and host whose bios can be found here.