Rugby-based charity Wooden Spoon creates amazing sporting opportunities for special needs children. Matt Mitchell leads the charge

Can you tell us a little bit about Wooden Spoon’s history? Why was it created?

A woeful performance of the England Rugby Team during the 1983 Five Nations Rugby Championship left an unexpected but wonderful legacy in the founding of the charity Wooden Spoon.

After finishing the Championship firmly at the bottom of the table with a 25-15 defeat in Ireland, five England supporters were presented with a wooden spoon, wrapped in an Irish scarf, on a silver platter.

Accepting the gift with good humour, the group – which included Wooden Spoon’s Peter Scott – resolved to hold a golf match to see who would have the honour of keeping the tongue-in-cheek gift.

A few months later, the golf match (at Farnham GC, Surrey) raised more than £8,500. This money was used to provide a new minibus for a special needs school in the county. Wooden Spoon was born and the rugby community has been supporting disadvantaged and disabled children ever since.

Something that makes the charity unique is that we spend funds raised in the region in which they were raised. Our 38 regional teams of volunteer committees tirelessly co-ordinate and support fundraising events and put forward identified projects to be funded.

The regional teams are supported by a fabulous network of community rugby clubs. In Kent, Surrey and Sussex alone there are more than 25 Wooden Spoon Partner Rugby Clubs helping to improve the lives of children and young people with disabilities and facing disadvantage.

What opportunities are currently available for disabled children who want to get involved in sport? What type of conditions are they affected by?

We believe that no child should miss out on the health and wellbeing benefits of sport, no matter what their circumstances.

The children and young people our projects support are affected by a range of conditions including: hearing, speech, language, vision or orthopaedic impairment; emotional disturbance; intellectual and learning disabilities; traumatic brain injury; and autism as well as other conditions and disabilities.

How are their needs catered for and what age range do your projects work with? Are girls and boys equally involved?

With such a wide range of conditions, our projects support the needs of many different children. For some this might be giving children sensory stimulation through one of the 14 sensory room and gardens we funded last year.

For other children it might be the opportunity to ride or groom a specialist horse we have purchased for a disability riding school, or play wheelchair or tag rugby. Projects target boys and girls under the age of 25 equally.

Although your roots lie firmly within rugby, you fund a varied range of projects – can you talk us through a couple?

Rugby has always defined Wooden Spoon and and our future is shaped by it. Each year we support about 70 projects including respite and medical treatment centres, sensory rooms, specialist playgrounds and community-based programmes. We also fund programmes that help disabled and disadvantaged children access sport, recreation and the opportunity to play rugby.

PROJECT: Sussex Sail-ability – Dinghy

Wooden Spoon Sussex have helped Sussex Sail-ability based in Shoreham-by-Sea purchase a specially designed and equipped dinghy for use by disabled children and young people.

PROJECT: Sherwood Park – Discovery Forest

Wooden Spoon Surrey have just funded specialist equipment and facilities for an accessible Discovery Forest at Sherwood Park School in Wallington, which is a special school for pupils with severe, multiple and profound disabilities.

PROJECT: Kent Rugby – Disability Tag Rugby Programme

Each year Wooden Spoon Kent Region funds a programme which helps Kent Rugby Football Union to employ a specialised coach to visit disability and specialised schools and delivery adaptive and tag rugby sessions to pupils.

PROJECT: Argonauts Wheelchair Sports Club

The Argonauts are an inclusive wheelchair sports club breaking down barriers between abled and disabled people. The club provides opportunities for people of all abilities to participate in wheelchair sports. Wooden Spoon Kent have funded the purchase of 10 new sports wheelchairs which will enable members and visitors to get involved and compete with other clubs.

What’s going on around Kent, Sussex & Surrey this year?

For the full diary check out woodenspoon.org.uk 

Image courtesy of onEdition, Jason Leonard and Aled Jones

We are always looking for volunteers to get involved with our regional teams at a local level. Volunteering with us is a great way of supporting local projects and causes.

Join a regional team, hold a fundraising event or challenge yourself to do something amazing.  Hold a Wooden Spoon Sock Day at your club or school, cycle 100 miles, host a cake sale or simply become a member of Wooden Spoon for less than £1 per week.

Together we can change children’s lives through the power of rugby.

Find out more at woodenspoon.org.uk, on Twitter @charitySpoon #wearerugby and on Facebook WoodenSpoonCharity

Matt Mitchell is National Rugby Manager of Wooden Spoon

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