London Sport Awards 2021 nominees: Tech and Digital Award - Bexley Mencap
BEXLEY Mencap’s extensive programme of virtual activities during the pandemic helped the charity attract new members and reach new areas. Now they’re into the final shortlist for a high-profile London Sport Award too.
Spearheaded by Income and Development Officer Nick Marsden, the project hope their focus on making tennis inclusive and accessible will continue to provide opportunities for people with learning disabilities to have fun.
Bexley Mencap, based in Bexley Heath, is one of the finalist for The Tech and Digital Award, in association with Sport Tech Hub and Loughborough University London, at The London Sport Awards, with the winner to be revealed in the eagerly-anticipated event at London’s Guildhall on 6 December.
The charity made tennis more accessible by launching an extensive programme of virtual and one-on-one support for people with a learning disability to improve health and well-being and reduce isolation.
They ran individual training sessions at the start of lockdown to ensure people could access their classes, while also working with the local council to source hardware for people who could not access it.
Bexley Mencap moved from running three activity groups a week pre-Covid to 15 groups a week at the height of lockdown, including; keep fit, dancing, yoga, virtual happy walks, and tennis.
And Marsden, 55, who will discover if he is a winner at the historic Guildhall on December 6, said: “It’s just fantastic to be nominated for the Tech and Digital Award because when we started, we were only thinking what we could do over Zoom.
“We were thinking about how we could transfer activities across to meet the demands of the pandemic. We only realised later on that we had grown and built some momentum.
“So, we’ve got new members, reached new areas, and reached people that have never been interested in physical activity because they saw this as a fun thing rather than something that is a sport in itself.”
Over the last five years, the annual London Sport Awards, in association with the City of London Corporation, has grown to become the biggest celebration of grassroots and community physical activity and sport in the city.
And this year’s showpiece event will once again recognise, celebrate and shine a light on the stories of the incredible individuals, groups, and organisations for their outstanding work across the capital, helping Londoners of all ages and backgrounds to be physically active.
The tennis group initially started as a Zoom pilot using equipment donated by the LTA, who also provided coach training to a member of staff and two group members who then facilitated a weekly zoom tennis session.
Liam Hall, from Bexley Heath, has attended the sessions for a year and credits them for inspiring him to help his friends and family access online spaces.
The 24-year-old said: “I was inspired to help people get on Zoom. I helped my mum get on the platform, and it was one Thursday when my mum was doing a carers group.
“I’ve enjoyed myself; I wanted to get involved because I like to take part in anything like tennis.
“I get involved with any sports groups, really, but with tennis, I first did it on Zoom, and when lockdown finished, I started playing at Bexley Heath Tennis Club. It’s very important to keep healthy and fit.”