Sticking up for disability

In her regular sports column Bobbie Makoni discovers the award-winning Waltham Forest Hockey Club

Waltham Forest Hockey Club

Members of Team GB women’s hockey team join a Waltham Forest Hockey Club training session

Nestled away behind Walthamstow Academy in Billet Road is the pioneering Waltham Forest Hockey Club.

Named Team GB’s ‘Club of the Year’ in 2013, members range from age two to 82, and include both youngsters hoping to play at the highest level and busy parents simply looking for a way to keep fit. It is not uncommon to find parents and their children playing on the same team, especially given there are 18 different teams within the club.

One of Waltham Forest Hockey Club’s most impressive features is the extraordinary work they have done in the world of disability hockey. They were the first hockey club in the country to fully integrate a disability programme and Forest Flyerz, as they are known, aim to give people with disabilities equal opportunities through the sport.

This disability programme has now been replicated at clubs across the country, and Team GB’s women’s team have visited on a number of occasions to support it. Flyerz players are also encouraged to join the club’s mainstream teams where possible.

Sharon Allen, whose son Shane has been a Flyerz member since its inception in 2011, explains the impact it has had on his development: “Shane is autistic and the programme has really helped with his hand-eye co-ordination and the friendships and comradery have made him more confident.”

Despite such a large and committed membership, the club gets no real funding and relies on a strong army of volunteers as well as the generosity of Waltham Forest Academy, which allows them to use its facilities for free.

With Team GB’s Olympic success in Rio, interest in the sport has understandably soared and club chairman Pani Theodorou emphasised that to maintain success on a national level there needs to be greater investment at grassroots.

However, the lack of funding has not deterred Pani or other volunteers from recruiting new members; each year as well as a large youth intake, the club runs adult beginner courses which are equally accessible for those who have never seen a hockey stick and those who need a reminder of the rules they learned at school 40 years ago.

After spending an afternoon at the club and speaking to members of all ages, what shone through was the sense of community and inclusiveness throughout every level of the organisation.

This special club is truly a testament to what can be achieved with a committed membership and a passion for grassroots sport.

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