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Amber Valley SEN Disco born out of a WhatsApp group

A lack of local opportunities saw Andrea and other parents come together to create a range of fun opportunities for their children to be active.

Andrea dancing in a community hall at a SEN Disco.

Andrea Thomas has two children and when the COVID-19 pandemic struck she, along with many parents, had to adapt to a world where they weren’t able to attend school.

Her youngest child has low functioning autism and global developmental delay and attends a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school. She found that there was limited support for her and other parents, so she took matters into her own hands and set up a WhatsApp group. This was initially used to set children daily challenges during lockdown, but when society re-opened the group took on a different role. There were discussions around the lack of fun opportunities for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Andrea took the initiative to set something up herself as she explains on the latest Active Together podcast.

“Once lockdown finished we carried on the group,” said Andrea. “It became a smaller number but we decided there’s nothing out there for our children that they can be included in. There are no discos they can go to that are just for them, there’s no entertainment really. Hence SEN Disco was formed, we decided to do it ourselves. Four of us took it upon ourselves to do it, and we’ve been going ever since.”

Watch a short clip below:

Listen to the Active Together podcasts wherever you get your podcasts, (Apple, Google, Amazon, Spotify etc.). Or find it on YouTube here.

With SEN Disco up and running, Get Out Get Active (GOGA) contacted Andrea to offer support. This ranged from funding through to advertising the discos across the region. GOGA also enabled Andrea to complete an exercise to music course.

“I didn’t realise I had half of those visions [other sessions to run], until they said why don’t you give it a go.”

Alongside the SEN Disco Andrea has also launched other activity sessions, with some for adults, including ‘disco-cise’, craft sessions and swimming.

She has also set up holiday clubs, something that parent’s locally have found incredibly helpful.

“Normally the kids are not included in holiday clubs. They come to ours, they have a great time, parents and carers sit there having drinks and coffee knowing that they aren’t judged at all.

“Because the worst thing ever parents feel with SEN children is that they’re being judged by other mainstream kid’s parents. It sounds awful to say, but that’s half the battle. When you have a special needs child you feel as if the whole world’s watching you sometimes, on how that child’s reacting. So the parents are finding it great.”

Andrea is a huge advocate for exercise, in whatever form that takes. Her relentless energy is the backbone of so many sessions in Amber Valley that give people the opportunity to be active together. Whilst GOGA has given her support and funding for her efforts, she, and those who volunteer alongside her, deserve the recognition gained.

“I don’t think of it as a difference in Amber Valley, I just think of it as making a difference to that child. You see some kids are scared to death of going on the zipwire [at an outdoor activity centre], they go on it you then can’t get them off it again, that’s it. And it’s lovely to see that, they conquer fears. Things they don’t normally do, wheelchair users are in buggies on the zipwire and they love it. I feel pride in knowing that I deliver something to people that don’t normally get to use it as much or get to use it at all. I am proud in what we’ve done and there’s so much more we can do I think.”

The Active Together podcast showcases some of the people who have been at the heart of GOGA. New episodes will be released every two weeks and include moving conversations with participants, leaders and coaches.

The first to be released highlighted two activity leaders in Nottinghamshire who lead a walk and talk group that is invaluable in helping to support men’s mental health. Read more and listen here.

About Get Out Get Active 

Get Out Get Active (GOGA) is a programme that supports disabled and non-disabled people to enjoy being active together. Activity Alliance is the creator and lead partner. The programme is funded by Spirit of 2012, Sport England and London Marathon Foundation.  

Find out more about Get Out Get Active here.