Nov 29 2012 by Rob Pattinson, Ormskirk Advertiser
AS many school sport partnerships fall by the wayside, West Lancashire is bucking the trend in ensuring a lasting Olympic legacy is in place for our young people.
Despite the success of the 2012 Games, government funding cuts have resulted in the number of school sports partnerships (SSPs) in Lancashire drop from 14 to just three.
The partnerships were introduced in 2005 to create a world class PE and sports system across the country, bringing primary schools and secondary schools together to share expertise and facilities for school sports.
But in 2010, funding cuts were announced in a comprehensive spending review which saw the budget cut from around £350,000 a year in West Lancashire to around £70,000.
Despite this, the West Lancashire Schools Sport Partnership is one of the few remaining in the county, thanks to the commitment of schools across the borough, and support from the West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust, according to Mark Forster, West Lancs SSP manager.
Mark spoke to the Advertiser about how the partnership is determined to ensure there is a lasting legacy from this year’s Olympics – and carry through to the next Games in Rio and beyond.
He said: “What we have had to do is look at how we operate and try and bridge the funding gap.
“What we have seen is a 100% buy-in from all schools in the borough. We are the only school sport partnership in Lancashire to have that. All schools now make a financial contribution and it shows the commitment head teachers have given to school sport in West Lancs.
“We have seen the effect the Olympics and Paralympics have had on young people. They want to run faster like Mo Farrah, or play tennis like Andy Murray. It’s fantastic but we need to harness that excitement to deliver our Olympic goals. I don’t believe those areas that have lost their SSPs and replaced them with diluted organisations running school sport can do that.”
Mark said that participation in their events was now an all time high. The partnership organises three events a week on average in Ormskirk and Skelmersdale, with traditional sports such as tennis and hockey alongside the likes of water polo and boccia. Larger events such as swimming galas and triathlons are also held that can involve hundreds of pupils and up to 20 schools.
The partnership also organises ‘gifted and talented’ days and inclusion events engaging young people with special educational needs or low ability in PE that may not previously have had the opportunity to engage in school sport. Support from the Leisure Trust has come in the form of funding for more than 1,000 hours of coaching, providing much-needed support to schools, and it also sponsors the annual primary and secondary schools triathlon events. The partnership is currently working with the Leisure Trust on a ‘Road to Rio’ Olympic Legacy Programme to provide opportunities in Olympic Sports pupils have never experienced before.
Trust funding has also been assigned for a pilot project at Ormskirk School and St Bedes to work with girls over 14 who are not currently involved in school sport, which will see 14 girls from each school take part in a six week health and fitness programme with an instructor at Park Pool.
And Mark said: “The Leisure Trust has made a real commitment through their funding. With a school sport infrastructure in place that is the envy of most other local authorities more young people are taking up these opportunities. While the focus is on participation there are a number of talented young individuals coming through the ranks that have the potential to be the next superstars of sport. There is still work to be done, especially in disabled sport where there is a gap in provision. It takes time and has to be sustainable but we are committed to achieving it and delivering our legacy goals.”