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Belfast Healthy Cities

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Healthy Cities 21st Century

Exploring disability sports in Utrecht - Danny Cooper

2019 Belfast Healthy Cities Explorer Bursary recipient, Danny Cooper, from Disability Sport NI, writes from Utrecht, the first stop on his trip

Monday 14th October marked not only the first day of my trip, but also the day when I met Els – a sport coordinator at De Hoogstraat Rehabilitation Centre in Utrecht. The knowledge, passion and sheer generosity of Els reflects why she is so effective in her role, & why everyone in the city connected with disability sport smiles upon hearing that I have met her. Incredibly she has worked for 40+ years in this field, clearly impacting many lives positively in this time. After showing me around De Hoogstraat’s impressive facilities, and treating me to a local delicacy for an evening meal, we head, on bike, across the town to attend a disability sport course in a school. The session revolved around working with people who are non-verbal, hosted by a magnificent tutor who is deaf. She demonstrated the importance of body language, eye-contact & expression when delivering, explaining games and tasks whilst we wore headphones which played loud dance music. It was a very informative course, which all participants (most of which were local coaches or sport development officers from the city). The day ended with a bike ride back to De Hoogstraat, plans for return trip to Belfast being discussed and a taxi trip back to my hotel.

The following day, began with a meeting with Meta, from Den Haag, where we discussed sports policy in the Netherlands. Meta offered a great insight into how the different municipalities function and how sport is facilitated on a localised basis. Meta explained how Utrecht is a leading city in the field of disability sport and inclusion within the country, and how “social networks” (groups of coaches, governing bodies, clubs, healthcare professionals) are key to this. Furthermore, Meta outllined that municipalities that join up have more success. The afternoon saw me attend the stadium of FC Utrecht, the location of Sport Utrecht’s HQ. There I met Petra and Femke, the 2 other key figures who work alongside Els to deliver Disability Sport in Utrecht. Meeting Petra and Femke, and seeing their passion was like looking in a mirror. Petra explained her role in-line with schools and education and Femke more in-line with healthcare professionals. The power of social media and a web-presence was evident within their work and also the involvement of existing clubs linking with schools etc to make their presence in the local area felt. Petra & Femke also passed on a “gem” which they are working on (I will be keeping this a secret for now). One final taxi ride for the day saw me attend a Wheelchair Basketball Club’s training session, SC Antelope. There I met with club chairman, Hans, who discussed the history, successes and challenges of the club. A good relationship has been made here, with Basketball specific conversations, advice and stories being passed back and forth.

I am writing now, on a train that is just about to cross the border into Germany for the final stretch of my week-long trip – with a sense of excitement at what country number two has to offer (and also at the thought of having currywurst again). So far though, I know that I have never been more certain of the how important travelling, collaborating, learning, making friends and building relationships is to us as professionals and people.