Waltham Forest is the home of disability hockey, writes Alastair Cole
When the UK won gold last month in the 2019 European ParaHockey Championships, it was fitting that Travis Porter was on the pitch.
As well as being a speedy forward capable of turning defenders inside out, Travis is an active member of Forest Flyerz – a section of Waltham Forest Hockey Club and the birthplace of disability hockey in the UK.
Back in 2011 there were few sporting activities on offer in the borough for disabled young people, so the club jumped at the chance to partner with Access Sport and launch a programme to help local clubs become more inclusive.
Forest Flyerz was launched by Pani Theodorou and then-chair Philippa Leguen de Lacroix. Positivity and alliteration were the reasons behind choosing the name for the team, which has become synonymous with grassroots disability and inclusive hockey across Britain. Thanks to support from England Hockey, Hockey Wales, and ambassadors Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, more than 20 hockey clubs now have a section dedicated to disability inclusion.
The growth of the Flyerz network enabled Britain to field two teams at the ParaHockey Championships in Antwerp this August. Ultimately the ‘UK Lions’ team was victorious over England in the final (winning 2-0) but, for the players involved, travelling to Belgium was about more than just hockey.
Ahead of the tournament Travis said: “I’m excited to go to a different country. I’m excited to play hockey for England and I’m excited to be going on this adventure without my parents.”
Forest Flyerz builds confidence in young disabled people, and the positive experience of watching them enjoy themselves is a big part of why the coaches and volunteers of Waltham Forest Hockey Club choose to invest their time in this cause.
The club is actively forging new partnerships with local organisations to encourage greater participation. Most recently, a team led by Forest Flyerz co-ordinator David Stark delivered the hockey element of Great Ormond Street Hospital’s sports day at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Waltham Forest is proud of its founding role and Flyerz is an essential part of the club’s future.
New club chair Alastair Cole said: “As we develop, we’re committed to providing hockey playing opportunities with an emphasis on inclusion and participation.”
The movement has come a long way in eight years – from a local community initiative at Walthamstow Academy in Billet Road, to European hockey gold in Belgium. And as Flyerz grows, so do hopes that more disabled young people will have the opportunity to spread their wings like Travis and represent their country.
For more information about Forest Flyerz: