We spoke to Laura, a staff team leader from Nottinghamshire YMCA’s community sports programme, OnSide and the importance of building a strong community for young disabled people.

“A community isn’t just your neighbours, or people you see at the shops or at work,” says Laura, as she sets up goalposts at either end of the sports hall at the YMCA Youth and Community Centre, ready for another OnSide football session to commence. “It can be just a few friends with shared interests, or a group that all have one thing in common. Feeling like part of a community is really important for everyone, but especially for a person living with disabilities.”

Community is about caring and respect
OnSide is a community-centric programme featuring sports, skills, competitions and training opportunities for young disabled people and their families. During school term-time, expertly trained staff deliver activities with an emphasis on developing a range of skills and rules, while playing games and enjoying fun competitions. The programme aims to bring people from all races, religions, backgrounds, and identities together to engage in fun, physical activity, and to form close friendships and meaningful bonds.

“The point of OnSide is to offer a safe place for participants to be themselves,” Laura continues. “Young people get the chance to interact with people from all walks of life, from different professions, and with a range of different needs. They learn so much, not just about sports, but about themselves and each other. As a community, it’s our duty to offer them these opportunities and to show care and respect towards each and every participant.”

While OnSide is providing a community for disabled young people in Aspley, Nottingham, a lot of disabled people struggle to find that sense of community, with many reporting that they feel intense loneliness. Research undertaken by Scope in November 2017 discovered that 67% of disabled people in the UK have felt isolated, but this figure jumps to 76% of working age disabled people. In the same demographic, 45% were chronically lonely, and 85% of disabled young adults in the UK feel general loneliness. This has resulted in many young disabled people experiencing depression, anxiety and stress.

Disabled people and carers face complex issues when managing loneliness, with barriers such as making friends and meeting people on a practical and emotional level. Sometimes a lack of understanding can also affect disabled people making connections.

True community inclusion
“Getting the right support is so important,” Laura explains. “There are many sports programmes in Nottinghamshire, but few that cater to young people with additional needs. True inclusion is when everyone, regardless of capability, participates together as a community. It is also important for disabled people to play a part in helping to design their own opportunities and support. We always ask for feedback from the young people and families who participate in OnSide, so that we can make the sessions as fun, interactive, and beneficial as possible.”

When disabled people feel included, research shows they make friends more easily and develop life-long relationships, so that they can live full lives and reach their potential. The work of creating inclusive communities and an open society is not essentially a matter of resources, but how we think about people with disabilities.

“OnSide is a place where I can be with my friends,” said one OnSide participant. “They make me feel better when I’m sad and they celebrate with me when I achieve. This community is my safe place that won’t look at me any differently and expect me to do well. It’s good because they don’t treat me differently to anyone else.”

It’s important to check in with friends, family, members and work colleagues to see that they are okay. This is especially true of people affected by disabilities, both mental and physical, who make up a crucial part of our communities. Just a quick visit and a catch-up may be enough to alleviate the loneliness that someone is experiencing.

Get involved…
If you or someone you know would like to get involved in the Nottinghamshire YMCA OnSide programme, please email: onside@nottsymca.org or get in touch via our website:

Facebook: @NottinghamshireYMCA
Twitter: @NottsYMCA