Wrexham is to receive a massive funding boost of £150,000 to help encourage more disabled women to take part in sport.
The good news was revealed by Jon Morgan, Executive Director of Disability Sport Wales, when he was a keynote speaker at the Christmas gathering of Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP).
The influential group is made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other business professionals working together to raise the profile of enterprise and expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
He told an audience of 160 members and other business leaders at the Ramada Plaza Hotel that his organisation, which promotes participation in sport and physical activity across Wales, has just won a challenge fund award from Spirit of 2012, an independent trust, established with a £47m endowment from the Big Lottery Fund, that empowers people to get out, be involved and feel better about themselves.
The £450,000 award will be split between three areas of Wales, with Wrexham picking up £150,000.
Mr Morgan said: “We’re really excited about winning this award and the total funding will go to Pembrokeshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Wrexham, which has been chosen as the host area for North Wales.
“The £150,000 will be paid over three years and will be used to fund schemes which encourage disabled women to engage in sport.
“We will be targeting women rather than girls and be looking to help the most inactive of them.
“The idea is to get them off their couches, give them healthier lifestyles and teach them new skills.”
Mr Morgan outlined the work of Disability Sport Wales, detailing its growth since he became its head in 2002.
“We were then providing 1,200 disabled sport opportunities a year across Wales and now it is around two million,” he said.
“In North Wales we have 115 clubs for disabled sport providing over 300,000 opportunities a year.
“In Wrexham we have a very active programme with over 200 volunteers providing 90,000 opportunities.
“We are also working closely with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board on a programme training over 1,000 staff in healthy activities and preventative measures.”
He added: “Our programmes across North Wales are very innovative and exciting and our message is that sport and physical activity is a vehicle to transform lives.
“Research shows that 75 per cent of people who watched the 2012 London Paralympics saw disability in a new light and we want to build on that.”
Theme of the WBP event was sport and Mr Morgan’s fellow speakers were Welsh Paralympian stars Pippa Britton, who competed in wheelchair archery at both the Bejing Games in 2008 and London in 2012, and Sabrina Fortune from Mold who landed Wales’s first medal of this year’s Rio Games when she threw her way to a bronze medal.
Newport-born Pippa, who is chair of Disability Sport Wales, described how her life was transformed by sport when she began swimming at the age of four inspired by the legendary Mark Spitz who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics.
After a few years away from sport her husband persuaded Pippa, who was born with spina bifida, to take up archery which led to her competing in six world championships and two Paralympic Games.
Sabrina, who has speech dyspraxia, a condition which makes verbal communication difficult, is a former member of the Disability Sport Wales Academy and is the current under 20 Welsh champion in shot put.
Telling WBP members about her experiences competing in Rio earlier this year, she said: “It was amazing and I was extremely nervous but you just can’t believe what an honour it was to be part of the Great Britain team.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking being in such a big stadium, looking up to see all those eyes on me as I was throwing, but the moment I won the bronze medal was just unbelievable.”
Staying with the sporting theme, fourth speaker was Spencer Harris, a Director of both Wrexham FC and the Wrexham Supporters Trust.
He highlighted the many challenges facing the Trust when it bought the then ailing football club in 2011 and the way its fortunes have since been transformed.
“In the five years before the purchase the club had lost £4.5 million and had half a million pounds of debt,” he said.
“Through some damned hard work and a little bit of good fortune in selling players we wiped out the debt and turned the club to profit.
“In the last three years we have gained national recognition for our community share scheme, which has raised £120,000, and were the first organisation in the country to win tax-free status for such a scheme.”
Mr Harris went on to detail the club’s strong commitment to community involvement through its partnerships with charities, work with voluntary organisations and special programmes for women’s football, the disabled and the mentally ill.
Among the schemes to win praise, he said, was the club’s new platform for wheelchair fans at the Racecourse ground which had been featured on national TV news and received a visit from Wales’s First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
He also spoke of the club’s busy youth department which was currently costing over £250,000 a year and of the regular well-being visits to local schools by players.
With the Racecourse ground now also in the ownership of the Trust, Mr Harris gave details of plans to put it on a firm business footing by turning it into a business location and venue for pop concerts such as the one planned with the band UB40 for next summer.
He added: “This is a feelgood club with more to it than football, which makes it so important that it prospers and thrives in North Wales.”
Another speaker was Wrexham Assembly Member Lesley Griffiths who, as a dedicated football and Wrexham FC fan, spoke of her pride at seeing Wales reach the semi-finals of this year’s Euro championships.
Cash raised on the night by a raffle and auction of sporting items such as a GB Paralympics shirt was donated to Wrexham children’s charity, Dynamic.
WPB chair Gill Kreft said: “It was a truly inspirational evening and it underlined the fact that the world of business can learn a great deal from the determination and skill of these wonderful sporting ambassadors.
“We were all delighted to hear that Christmas has come early in Wrexham with the news of the £150,000 in funding to encourage disabled women to engage in sport.”