STEVE Clarke and Gareth McAuley were the guests of honour when The Albion Foundation officially launched their ‘One Albion’ disability project at The Hawthorns.
Steve and Gareth were joined by Sporting Club Albion’s blind football star, Darren Harris, fresh from appearing for Team GB at the Paralympics, plus Albion Foundation Ambassador and local legend ‘Blind Dave’ Heeley.
The Albion Foundation have been running a highly-successful disability programme for the last six years and secured funding from the Premier League/Players’ Football Association Fund in January, which was matched locally by Sandwell Local Authority’s ‘Short Breaks’ funding for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties.
This has secured vital financial support for a three-year period and enabled the scheme to expand and develop.
The Hawthorns event was organised to celebrate the achievements of the young people involved and head coach Clarke and central defender McAuley presented awards and certificates to ‘One Albion’ participants.
Team GB star Darren also give an account of his Paralympics experience while ‘Blind Dave’ reflected on carrying the torch and appearing in the closing ceremony.
Clarke said: “This was my first encounter with the work of The Albion Foundation and it has blown me away.
“‘One Albion’ is a terrific project that is really making a difference. To see and meet so many great people made it a fantastic night.
“I’ve been fortunate enough during my career to work with champions and at this event everyone in the room was a champion.”
McAuley added: “It was a pleasure to attend and celebrate the achievements of the young people.
“It’s great that the club works hand in hand with The Albion Foundation to enable people of all abilities to play sport and also have the chance to represent Albion in competitive sports.”
‘One Albion’ works with special schools in Sandwell and the mainstream Special Educational Needs Units to provide an introduction to sporting opportunities.
Participants can progress to one of four disability-specific development centres outside of school hours and strive towards training with and representing Sporting Club Albion both regionally and nationally.
It means that One Albion now provides a complete pathway from grassroots to elite level in disability sport.
The programme, delivered by a team of disability coaches, also features Albion Foundation disability co-ordinator Paul Hunt delivering an awareness roadshow to mainstream schools. Paul reveals how he has overcome his own disability and lays on activities such as boccia and blind football.
The team also delivers a range of peer mentor support activities in the special schools. At the other end of the spectrum, they run Sporting Club Albion football teams, which include blind and visually-impaired teams, two powerchair teams, three PAN senior teams, one junior PAN team and a recently set up downs-syndrome section.
Rob Lake, director of The Albion Foundation, said: “We are very proud of our disability programme. It has received a huge boost with the joint funding from Sandwell Council’s ‘Short Breaks’ and the Premier League/Players’ Football Association award.
“The evening was a wonderful celebration of sporting achievement. The young people are truly inspirational and we are delighted we can give them new opportunities and then develop their talent.
"The launch also gave us an opportunity to thank our brilliant volunteers and staff team who do some fantastic work.”
Teresa Kelly, head of SENCO at Sacred Heart Primary School, Tipton, has seen the work first hand.
“The ‘One Albion’ project has been truly fantastic. It features top class coaching and leadership,” she said.
“It is an inspirational opportunity to raise self-esteem. Each and every child is truly valued whilst developing skills related to the Olympics.”