Blog: "I am proud of Portway’s commitment to support disabled people"
Posted: Wed, 20 Nov 2019 13:00
Hi, my name is John Harling and I am Facility Manager at Portway Lifestyle Centre in Oldbury, West Midlands. Sandwell Leisure Trust (SLT) opened Portway Lifestyle Centre in 2013 as a centre of excellence for disabled people. It is one of the very few 'Excellent' accredited Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) facilities in the Midlands.
Designed and built with inclusion in mind, the centre has a 115-station gym, full size 3G pitch, four-court sports hall, hydrotherapy pool, indoor cycling studio, sensory room and a GP practice on site. It combines health, leisure and social care under one roof, and we see a real mix of customers, patients and service users through our doors every day.
My duties extend beyond maintaining the fabric of the building and ensuring the leisure programme runs to time. I support all Portway partners to work together and achieve our common goal of 'creating an active community'.
We know that people's activity levels link closely to their overall health and wellbeing. This is why we have developed a number of key partnerships with local health and social care services. We support the GP practice to provide a social prescribing scheme for all patients. Local NHS physiotherapy teams use our hydrotherapy pool and gym with their clients. Colleagues from Adult Social Care services deliver sport and leisure activities to 60-80 service users each day at the centre.
Our Gym Buddies scheme is a great example of how being active can improve social outcomes for disabled people. We work with Sandwell Visually Impaired Group to provide workout buddies in the gym. The buddies encourage visually impaired individuals to set personal goals and support them to access gym equipment. The scheme has fostered many new friendships and support networks.
I am proud of Portway's commitment to support more local disabled people to be active. It is more than an ambition for us; it is a specific and measureable objective. We aim to see a 10 per cent increase in number of disabled people visiting the centre each year. The centre currently attracts over 50,000 visits from disabled people each year - with more than 1,800 disabled Sandwell residents benefitting from free access to the gym, classes and swimming pool on weekdays.
In order to achieve our targets we know it is important for our workforce to have the confidence and skills to support disabled people. So, when Portway Lifestyle Centre first opened, we ensured all staff received disability awareness training including specific fitness centred training for gym staff. Since then, we have continued to invest in workforce development and recently signed up to the Include Me West Midlands pledge.
As part of our commitment to the pledge, all Sandwell Leisure Trust staff will attend an Inclusive Activity Programme workshop, led by Activity Alliance. The workshops will educate staff and provide them with the skills to engage disabled people and people with long-term health conditions more effectively in activities.
It is a privilege to manage this first-class facility and work with so many dedicated partners. I believe Portway Lifestyle Centre is proof that if you embed inclusion into the heart of delivery and have a passionate, aware and motivated staff team, you can engage local people and create an active community.
Visit our Inclusive Fitness page for more information on how we can support leisure facilities to create more welcoming and accessible environments for disabled people.