Meet Ben Andrews, the 25-year-old from Salford, who wanted to make a change in the world of fitness after realising how difficult it was for disabled people to get involved in activity.
From the age of just 17, Ben volunteered at his local gym and developed a scheme to improve accessibility of equipment and classes for disabled people. Eight years later, as a qualified fitness instructor, he successfully pitched his concept to the NHS and received funding for his scheme- Empower.
The project offers the person one-to-one training sessions twice a week, lasting one hour, for up to three months.
Empower Salford is now an NHS backed pilot scheme breaking down barriers facing disabled people within activity and generally making exercise more fun. The project is incubated by Unlimited Potential who are supporting the group and the development of Empower.
Quays News spoke to Ben, the Empower Project Leader, to find out a little bit more about Empower and his inspiration for setting up the programme.
Ben, who studied at Salford University, said: “Empower supports disabled people to lead more active lifestyles, that is active in every sense of the word from walking to gardening groups to intensive workouts.
“From my learning, probably the most important aspect of the project is working with the people around the person; carers, support staff, family and friends so that through practical based awareness sessions, they are able to deliver the support that I offer long term.
There is a lot of segregated opportunities for disabled people to keep active, there’s blind football classes and disability swims, but there’s nothing mainstream integrating disabled people and none disabled people to stay active together, which is what i’m an advocate for, I don’t agree with segregation.”
Studies show that only 17% of the UK’s 11 million disabled population are meeting the current recommendation for physical activity.
That’s over 9 million people getting little/no exercise and physical activity every week.
There are a number of barriers that affect disabled people getting involved in physical activity. Ben has set up a series on his YouTube channel called ‘Breaking Barriers’ where he speaks to disabled people in Salford about barriers they have personally faced when trying to exercise.
Eric, a volunteer campaign co-ordinator for the RNIB, said: “I met Ben because I was having a lot of trouble finding access to exercise programmes and Ben became my personal coach and introduced me to the gym and taught me how to use the equipment at the gym.”
Eric’s usual mode of transport to the gym was taxi services but he said: “The taxi service isn’t perfect because the drivers are not trained in sighted guide so it’s up to the driver whether they want to help you or not.”
Transport is just one of many barriers that disabled people face, other barriers include; lack of facilities, inaccessible venues, fear of rejection, confidence and motivation. The Empower scheme aims to break down these barriers and take away the stigma that disabled people are lazy.
Ben’s scheme has reached out to people beyond Salford, even as far as the United States.
Receiving messages like these 🙌🏼. To think that @EmpowerSalford has motivated someone thousands of miles away to get more active and inspired them to look to set up a similar initiative to support disabled people to be more active in the @UnitedStates is truely amazing. pic.twitter.com/86UmBzox0q
— Empower (@EmpowerSalford) February 19, 2018
If you would like to find out more information about Empower and the work they do, click here.
Another alternative method of contacting Empower is via their Facebook page:
Or their Instagram page which is frequently updated with photos of staff and clients who are a part of the programme:
Today Salford Community Leisure staff learnt about how to support sensory disabled people in exercise as part of the Programming and Supervising Exercise for Disabled People qualification. ✍🏼 Role play using blindfolds and headphones offered learners a unique insight into the experience of someone with a sensory impairment in the gym. 💪🏼 “Fun, interactive and practical” – how learning should be done! On to session three next week where we’ll be exploring how to support people with learning disabilities in exercise.