So, what does snooker have to do with supporting young people with disabilities, and how on earth does this relate to the Paralympics?
Read on to find out more about the magic behind this unlikely mix, and prepare to be bowled over by the brilliant work that volunteers at the Stephen Harrison Academy (SHA to those in the know) are doing every day…
The SHA is a Sheffield-based, community-run social enterprise with grand plans to help our youth. Set up in 2007 by the eponymous ex-professional snooker player, Stephen Harrison, the aim of this wonderful organisation is to help young people with both physical and learning disabilities. Using snooker as a point around which the young people can gravitate, volunteers help them to build up a host of skills, from social skills and numeracy, to employability and even nutrition.
Sheffield is the home of the annual World Snooker Championship, but Ray Harrison, Stephen’s father, is the true centre of the story of SHA: In 1985 he became the Paraplegic World Snooker Champion, and this incredible feat inspired Stephen to set up his Academy and carry on his father’s fantastic legacy. Stephen started this grassroots organisation as a Saturday club, but quickly realised that snooker works wonders as a therapeutic tool for children with disabilities.
Speaking to the volunteering director, Sean Hazlehurst, demonstrated that this sport helps youths with a number of disabilities, but has proven to be particularly helpful for those with autism spectrum disorder. By running social clubs and events, volunteers at SHA have been able to develop innovative games and activities to help hundreds, with 50 young people currently supported by a team of 25 volunteers. The game itself is used as a hook and a gateway to develop care and support above and beyond the confines of the snooker table.
“The club has such a lovely atmosphere. It’s a calm environment but full of fun too. The staff are so friendly and encouraging. You feel like you’re part of a big, extended family. This is all down to Steve Harrison himself – such an inspirational man, with a huge passion for the sport and in particular, for increasing access to the game for people with disabilities.” – Sheena Mansell – Parent
SHA has grand plans to build on this magical mix. Having recently moved to a new venue, the aim is to grow this organisation to expand both beyond Sheffield, but also to continue supporting young adults past the age of 18, something that has previously been impossible due to funding restrictions.
Foremost of these big plans is that SHA is hosting the British Disability Snooker Championships U25s at the end of October (30th to 31st) - this promises to be an exciting event, so if you are interested, please RSVP at this link. What’s more, SHA are actively looking for sponsors for this event, so if you like what you see, please get in touch with them to get involved more actively!
Beyond the events of October, there is a drive to further build on Ray’s impressive legacy, through a campaign to reinstate snooker into the Paralympic Games. With a proven track record in helping youths with disabilities, there is strong evidence to support this. International collaboration will be integral to making this happen, and talks are already ongoing with Denmark and Malta.
“The group that Stephen runs is unique in that it gives clients a direct link to the community, which means that they are included at a different level than if this was a mental health facilitated group. Our clients have benefited because the social inclusion doesn’t end with the tuition. This has taken social inclusion to a whole new level and has opened up avenues to our clients that may not have been open to them before, or they may not have felt able to take.” – Kim Wilson – West Day Services, Sheffield Care Trust
To sum up, we can see that snooker has an awful lot to do with helping those with disabilities, and an awful lot more to give – watch this space! SHA runs all sorts of interesting and exciting events, from snooker training to special services and donor memberships. Please donate, get stuck in and help in any way you can, by following these links. Help grow this local movement into an international success, and help put smiles on our young snooker aficionados’ faces!
In case you need any more motivation, the SHA website and social media is littered with heartwarming testimonials and photos like the ones shown in this article,