Stepping Stones NI have established a football team for people with learning disabilities to improve mental health and wellbeing.

The team is spearheaded by two passionate staff members, Gráinne Connor and Gerard Haughey, who have completed coaching qualifications with the IFA so that they could lead on the training.

“We wanted to create an activity and space for the people that we support to engage in exercise and improve their overall health and wellbeing.  We knew there was a need but the response we received was incredible, we have sixteen people with learning disabilities, difficulties and barriers attending the training sessions each week” says Gráinne, Community Youth Engagement Coordinator at Stepping Stones NI.

The team got off to a start from the Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council ‘Be Active, Stay Active’ funding with equipment donated by the Irish Football Association. The team have also received a new sponsored kit from Comply NI. Managing Director of Comply NI, Mark presented the new kit to the team at their training session at Wallace High ahead of a friendly game with Harry’s Place from Ballynahinch. “After hearing about the positive impact and real difference the weekly sessions were making to the participant’s health and well-being, we were delighted to sponsor the kit as the team take part in their first match” says Mark.

The team have engaged in a weekly programme of training for the last seven months developing new skills including teamwork, dribbling, defending, tackling and goal scoring.

The improvement of mental health and wellbeing has been a key objective for this initiative.  We have expanded our strategic focus for the next five years to enhance beneficiaries overall health and wellbeing through engaging initiatives such as the football team.  Participants have benefited from increased confidence, self-esteem, communication and social skills.

“Wednesday night football has really improved my life and also the personal skills I use everyday” Matthew Gibson, team member.

A range of support is available for people who experience barriers to learning and employment starting at aged sixteen.  Stepping Stones NI operates five social enterprises which include the popular Courtyard and 2nd Avenue cafes in Lisburn which serve as a realistic training platform for people with learning disabilities.  Our well-established picture framing and wedding stationery businesses also train people with learning disabilities with all profits reinvested back into the charity.

Support services are tailored to suit the needs of each individual with free training, qualifications and employment support on offer.

For more information on support available contact Carla Bowyer, Business Development Executive at 07717738804.