Community Integrated Care supports more than 4000 people across England and Scotland, who have learning disabilities, autism, mental health concerns and dementia, to lead full and happy lives in the community.
With an ambitious strategy, centred upon a seemingly simple aspiration of enabling people to lead ‘the best life possible’, it has created ground-breaking new models of support that change lives and positively influence society at scale. At the heart of this is a passion for using the power of sport to transform the health, inclusion and happiness of people who have support needs.
Working with numerous leading football and rugby league clubs, the charity has created projects as diverse as dementia support groups, accessible sports sessions for people who have complex needs, anti-discrimination campaigns and work placements for people with support needs.
Their journey in professional sport began thirteen years ago with Middlesbrough FC. Now also working alongside a host of other major clubs and their charitable foundations, it is ensuring that having a disability or support need is not a barrier to participating in or watching sport. Their work has won many of the leading honours in the care and sporting sectors, and even contributed to Community Integrated Care being named as the ‘Charity Times 2019/20 Charity of the Year’ for its impact and innovation.
Whilst the charity has been dedicated to drawing upon the obvious health and inclusion outcomes that professional clubs can create, it also sees equal importance in facilitating opportunities to watch live sport.
John Hughes, Director of Partnerships and Communities at the charity, explains:
“The clubs that we work with are at the absolute heart of their local communities. They are places where people come together and create memories that last for lifetimes. As a care provider that aspires to give the people we support equal opportunities in life, we are rightly passionate about bringing together sport and social care.
We’ve hosted many special matchday events with our partners, which have often united hundreds of people we support, our colleagues and their loved ones. These have been unforgettable nights that the people we support talk about fondly. In a sector that can be as challenging as the care sector often is, this is a fantastic way to also reward our teams and the people who support our services, enabling them to all enjoy great days together.
This isn’t always a straightforward process. I’m constantly inspired by the creative ways that our teams have delivered these opportunities. From dementia care homes giving the people the chance reconnect with the clubs that they once loved with season tickets, through to big game celebrations that bring together people from across all of our local our learning disability and autism services, our colleagues never cease to find person-centred ways to make the most of these opportunities.
This should be the norm and the work of Level Playing Field is invaluable in making efforts like this mainstream. We’re excited by the opportunities for both of our organisations to share our experience and expertise over the years ahead, with the aim of enabling many more people to enjoy sport.”
A World First
The charity’s most significant work can perhaps be seen in rugby league. Having worked with leading clubs in the sport since 2016, the charity became the ‘Official Social Care Partner’ of Super League and the Rugby Football League (RFL) last year, with the aim of further developing the already significant inclusion efforts delivered by the sport.
At the heart of this collaboration is the development of a world-first accessible sports project – the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League.
This project has given more than 200 people who have learning disabilities and autism the chance to live their dreams, playing an adapted and accessible version of rugby league for the club’s that they love. Backed by thirteen of rugby league’s most iconic teams and giving players opportunities to play in exhibitions at mainstream Betfred Super League events and at special inclusive festivals hosted by the RFL, it is opening the sport up to people who had never dreamt that they might be able to follow in the footsteps of their heroes.
It is the only example of a professional sports league sharing its brand with a learning disability sports programme. With high profile events, including a launch celebration at Anfield Stadium in halftime slots at the 2019 Dacia Magic Weekend, and an end of season showcase at the Betfred Super League Grand Final, the sport and charity are working together to make a powerful statement about social inclusion..
This has been celebrated at the highest level of the social care sector and achieved global attention. In 2020, Skills for Care, the national authority that leads workforce development, innovation and best practice in care, named the project ‘‘The Most Effective Collaborative Approach to New Models of Care’ at their annual Accolades celebration. It was also named by Facebook as one of the five best community projects in world sport at the Leaders Sports Awards.
Owain Davies, Level Playing Field Chief Executive, says:
“I was lucky enough to attend the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League end of season celebration at the 2019 Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
It was easy to see the impact this programme, not only with the players but also on the clubs, family members and the community. The power of sport to unlock opportunities to engage in the community should never be underestimated and Community Integrated Care, along with the RFL and Super League, have harnessed this to ensure barriers are overcome and more disabled people are included in the community.
We are delighted that they have got behind this year’s #WeeksOfAction campaign by sharing these videos and offering case studies of what they do. We look forward to working closely together over the coming season.”