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Blog: Providing opportunities for girls

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Posted 29th June 2022

Across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, This Girl Can week is taking place. Our Events and Programmes Manager, Emma Binnersley, looks at how and why these events are taking place.

As a School Games network, we’ve taken the build-up to the Women’s Euro 2022 as an opportunity celebrate the great work that has been done over the past academic year to encourage more girls to be active in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.School Games Organisers across the two counties are hosting a number of events focussed on girls who are less engaged or disengaged in sport and physical activity.

Data and insight tells us that young girls – particularly teenage girls – were among those most negatively affected by the pandemic and the various lockdowns.  We’ve used the School Games to try and address that, starting with virtual days and weeks where we put together a collection of videos made by local providers so girls could do them at home or in school. We made it really flexible in terms of the facilities people might need, both in terms of venue and equipment. It was really well received.

Alongside that, we recruited a number of School Games and This Girl Can ambassador schools. This provided us with insight from around 200 girls in South Yorkshire as to the barriers to sport and physical activity; what would encourage them to be more active; and what are the sort of activities they’d like to see. We used that insight to build a face-to-face This Girl Can festival in November, supported by Leeds Girls Can.

One of the main barriers that came out of the survey with the ambassador schools was that periods cause a lot of issues for taking part in sport and activity. We partnered with Freedom for Girls, a Leeds-based charity that operates nationally and across the world. In the UK, they provide period products to schools and break down the stigma around periods, encouraging teachers and pupils to talk about how that impacts on them being able to take part in physical activity.We provided sanitary pads and tampons at the festival and encouraged the teachers to have conversations with the pupils at any point throughout the day.

I’ve been in that position as a teenage girl, but I think you try to forget the challenges that come with having periods at that time of your life. It shocked me that so many young girls came and said that was an issue.  In fact, I hadn’t even included it as one of the answer choices to the question we asked.

Also, a big shock for me was how much girl’s recognised mental health and the deterioration of that. It seems like it’s so much more talked about in schools and young people are able to identify it, whereas before I’m not sure it was even acknowledged, let alone talked about.

Other barriers were around being watched, particularly by boys. So, using all of that we wanted to create an environment where the girls could be comfortable and just enjoy being physically active. In the past, we’ve given out t-shirts to people at School Games events, but we decided not to. We simply allowed the girls to turn up in what they were comfortable in.

One big must for the event was making sure that the people who delivered the activity were women, and it was an atmosphere that was approachable and inclusive. There was no competitive element to it and it was all about the girls’ individual experiences.

It was one of the best days of my professional life. One of the teachers came up to me and told me how she consciously selected girls to be part of it who were less physically active, but had also been struggling with the re-socialisation into school life after the pandemic. There were two particular girls who fostered a great friendship as the day went on, and were inseparable come the end of the day. Knowing that a couple of girls who were potentially quite lonely beforehand, were going back to school with a new friend and having had a great experience was incredibly rewarding.

The learning that was taken from the event was shared with the School Games Organiser network, who have had other information shared throughout the year and this has helped them create the local events that are taking place this week.

Doing countywide events is fantastic, but a lot of our events this year have been in more focussed areas. One big barrier we’re seeing is schools don’t have the resource to attend large countywide events. So focussing on local provision increases the accessibility for the schools who can benefit most.

I think what the festival has demonstrated is the flexibility of the School Games network. We really see the value in outcome-focussed progammes as well as some competitive opportunities. That versatility is providing more and different types of activity for young people.  It’s helping to address a lot of the issues schools are identifying and as a network we are playing our part.

At the heart of all of this, has been that shared understanding within the network. Be that within local councils, schools, the School Games organisers – there’s a real collective drive on addressing the gender gap and helping those who have been most negatively impacted by the pandemic.

These events can’t happen without people helping and giving their time. There’s a collective understanding that this needs to happen, from schools to deliverers, to funding from Sport England. Lots of stakeholders are pulling together to make a difference and it’s brilliant to be part of.

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