TUNBRIDGE WELLS Hockey Club [TWHC] has become one of the pioneers in the south-east backing disabled hockey.
Last month it launched a training opportunity for people with physical disabilities or learning difficulties called TW Flyerz.
The TWHC Men’s captain, Francis Bridgeman, says: “Hockey is a sport that’s easily adapted to different ability levels, so there’s huge potential for it to become one of the leaders in disability inclusion.
“England Hockey want more disabled children, young people and adults to have access to the sport.”
Flyerz is a scheme set up by the national governing body England Hockey and it is open to prospective players of any age.
The first Flyerz projects started six years ago, before the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, and was intended to form part of the legacy of the Games.
It began at Waltham Forest after Access Sport was given funding from the Peter Harrison Foundation to create disability provision for disadvantaged young people in community sports clubs in east London.
Since 2011, several more clubs in the capital and in the Midlands and Yorkshire have set up Flyerz, and Tunbridge Wells is now one of 15 providers across the country.
Despite Kent and Sussex clubs having provided a significant number of players in the Team GB Olympic hockey teams at Rio last year, there has not been any Flyerz hockey in these two counties until now.
Over the past 15 months, the Tunbridge Wells club has been working closely with Access Sport, England Hockey and existing Flyerz branches across the country to make a success of the project.
Francis says: “It’s a project which has involved a lot of planning and moved to the next phase as the club ran its first Flyerz session – so creating TW Flyerz as an integral part of the hockey club – last month at Hawkenbury.
The club’s Chairman, Robert Harrison, added: “We are very proud that Tunbridge Wells has become the first Kent club to offer Flyerz. It is part of the club’s commitment to inclusivity at the club and in the wider community.”
TWHC has a dedicated team of coaches and assistants – several of whom have children of their own who participate in TW Flyerz – to run their sessions.
Support is already flying in. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is providing the Hawkenbury pitch for free and Skinners’ School will allow the Flyerz to use their sports hall during the winter – while OPRO is offering gumshields free of charge.
The training is provided free of charge and is currently being held fortnightly on Sunday mornings from 11am at Hawkenbury. All hockey equipment is provided.
They are also keen to spread the word. To encourage other hockey clubs across the region to set up Flyerz, TWHC held an hour-long taster session at the recent Kent Sport Disability Awareness Day in Maidstone.
The Men’s 1st XI also started wearing new kit for their league match earlier this month emblazoned with the England Hockey EH Flyerz logo to help promote awareness among opponents and spectators.
At a national and international level, Flyerz and para-hockey have been growing, and moves are afoot to have it recognised as a sport for world championships and at Paralympic level.
Last summer the Midland Mencap Flyerz, representing the England national team, won gold at the Euro Para Hockey Championships – a tournament for players with an intellectual disability – in Amsterdam after being Spain in a nail-biting penalty shootout.
Francis added: “We have had a great initial take-up at TW Flyerz and are looking forward to growing this here in Tunbridge Wells and to encouraging others across the county to set up Flyerz.
“Putting on these sessions is as much fun for us as it so clearly is for the participants. The feedback we have received so far from those who have been along to our sessions has been fantastic and makes the effort we have put in to get this up and running more than worthwhile.”
For more information including details of forthcoming sessions, visit www.twhc.co.uk/flyerz