Established in 1999, Level Playing Field (LPF) is a registered charity in England and Wales and acts as a campaigning and advisory organisation that represents disabled fans across all sports.
By Chris Summersell
Since the organisation was formed we have dedicated ourselves to improving access and inclusion for all disabled supporters who attend, or would like to attend, sports stadia.
Whilst there is still much work to be done to realise our vision of fully accessible and inclusive stadia, we are proud of our achievements and that more disabled fans can watch live sports than ever before.
Working Together The Level Playing Field Working Together project was established in 2012 to improve the relationship, awareness and cooperation between disabled fans, clubs and nondisabled fans.
We work with clubs and fans to establish and maintain independent pan-disability disabled supporters associations (DSAs) that give disabled fans a powerful voice within their clubs that put access and inclusion at the heart of their decision making.
We also work with clubs and DSAs to establish regional forums where individual DSAs and club representatives can exchange views, policies and practices concerning their respective clubs and associations.
Wrexham DSA were formed under the Working Together project in 2013 and have been at the forefront of improving the club’s facilities for their disabled fans.
The DSA, run independently by dedicated volunteers, enjoys a close relationship with the club which has seen funds pay for a raised wheelchair user viewing platform to be installed at the Racecourse Ground.
This was formally opened by LPF Vice President, Lord Faulkner who said: “Wrexham FC has shown just what is possible when a club and its supporters come together with a shared determination to make meaningful progress”
Describing the feeling of witnessing how much this meant to the club’s disabled fans, Steve Gilbert of Wrexham DSA said: “It was a fantastic feeling to see everybody gather on the platform, everybody was so happy and very impressed”.
Since the inception of the project, LPF have supported the establishment of 12 DSAs which has undoubtedly led to an improved matchday experience for many disabled supporters. In some cases, providing an accessible solution that enables a disabled fan to attend a sporting venue for the first time.
Kieran Reynolds, Working Together Project Coordinator said: “I am passionate about everyone having the same opportunity to watch their team play in an accessible and inclusive environment and the Working Together project is a fantastic way of achieving this. By giving disabled fans a stake within their clubs they can affect lasting change and in many cases transform the lives of disabled people.
Regional Forums provide a place where individual DSAs and club representatives can exchange views, policies and practices concerning their respective clubs and associations.
This assists all clubs and DSAs in their efforts to improve speciﬁc accessible and broader services offered to disabled supporters with the ultimate aim being to improve their matchday experience, and for more disabled people to attend matches.
Inspired by the success of the South West Disabled Fans Experience Forum (SWDFEF), LPF is working to establish new Regional Forums in England and Wales. So far LPF has established South Coast, Wales and most recently, North West regional forums.
The forums are such a success because they enable the transfer of ideas and best practices from multiple stakeholders across clubs of all sizes, as well as simply providing a great social beneﬁt to all participants. By creating a unifying voice for disabled fans, this enables progress to be made towards fully inclusive and accessible stadia.
At the recent inaugural North West Forum held at the Etihad Stadium, Mark Barber of the Manchester City DSA said: “Disabled supporters from all clubs face similar issues, so it was fantastic to see representatives from North West clubs coming together to form one joined up team. The whole room interacted excellently together throughout a very constructive day.”
*Working Together is funded by the Football Foundation’s Fans Fund and ran for an initial three year period. It was extended for a further two years in November 2015.
Eden Futures is a supported living service for adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems. A few of the residents and staff started to play football in the local park before deciding that it was: “Something that they wanted to do on a more regular basis in a bit more of an ofﬁ cial capacity”, service manager, Emily Barlow tells us.
So how were the Doxey Diamonds formed?
Jonathan and Josh, who are both support workers, looked around the local area for 5-a-side leagues and found the Powerplay League in Stafford and signed up. This is the second season that they’re been playing now.
It’s a mixture of both staff and service users that play; the CEO of the company sponsored the kit.
Were you worried or concerned about the vulnerability of some of the service users?
Obviously, the support workers are with them. They’ve been really accepted into the league and I don’t think there’s been any animosity towards them.
It’s about positive risk taking. All of the service users were aware that it wasn’t just other people with learning disabilities and that it was with everyday people in the community. So yes, everyone was happy to take that risk as such and get out there.
Has that risk paid off?
From the health side of it, they’re getting more exercise and socialising as well, mixing with each other more because within the service itself, they’ve got their own ﬂats so they don’t necessarily have to mix with one another. But you know, they go on a minibus together and then they go out for a drink afterwards and have some food. They’ve had a presentation evening so it makes them feel like they’ve achieved something as well when they’ve been nominated for awards.
Doxey Diamonds/Eden Futures have been shortlisted for the National LD Awards 2017 in the Sporting Chance category.