More women sign up for sports

HUNDREDS of women in Londonderry have enrolled on a new sports and physical activity programme since it began in September, according to Waterside Women's Centre Director Geraldine Compton.

Traditionally women from disadvantaged areas have been largely excluded from sports participation as they have had to surmount a number of barriers in order to participate in sports on a regular basis.

Poverty, a lack of public transport, low self-esteem and the prioritisation of child care were all cited as barriers to participation for many women by Mrs Compton and her colleagues in the Women's Centre Regional Partnership (WCRP), when they provided evidence to the Stormont, Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) committee earlier this month.

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Mrs Louise Coyle of the Rural Women's Network (RWN) also made the point that the presence of people in "snazzy Lycra who look like they do not really need to be there" can also be intimidating for beginners looking to take the first steps towards sports participation.

But the committee heard that many of these barriers are now being broken down by work undertaken in Northern Ireland as a whole and in Londonderry in particular.

Providing evidence to the Committee Mrs Compton explained how hundreds of women have signed up for a new programme over the last few months.

She said: "Our programme is called Fit for Life, and it delivers a range of courses and physical activities while providing childcare at the

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centre at the same time. The women who participate in the courses come to the centre, drop off their children at the crche and then go to Lisnagelvin leisure complex, because the centre obviously does not have the necessary facilities.

"The courses offered include beginners' and improvers' swimming lessons, aquarobics, t'ai chi, yoga and line dancing. The women attend

classes while their children are looked after in the crche."

She later explained how there has been a surge in uptake since last year stating: "The programme started in September. Between September and Christmas, 118 women enrolled in courses.

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"Since January, 181 women have enrolled, and we are providing 10 different physical activities. That shows the level of interest and proves that we are reaching women who want to engage in such activities.

"As we said earlier, those women are from disadvantaged areas; they are not the kind of women who normally go to the gym to work out. "The women that have enrolled have put their family ahead of their own needs but are now participating in our courses. I am so pleased with how well the programme has taken off."

She also told the Committee that the programme operated at a pace local women were comfortable with and thus addressed some of the barriers preventing greater participation.

"We also have additional support mechanisms, such as childcare facilities," she said. "We have a very good relationship with the staff in Lisnagelvin leisure complex.

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"Tutors are very important, and we have very good female tutors who are tuned into women's needs. They work at a pace that suits the women, and they are experienced at engaging well with women," she said.

"Our courses are held at times that suit women. Women lead busy lives, and they have to be finished classes in time to collect their kids from school, and so on.

"Our aquarobics and learn-to-swim classes, for example, are held around lunchtime, when the swimming pool is quiet. Therefore, the women are not intimidated by fabulous swimmers who are doing 20 lengths while they are struggling to put their toes into the water," she added.

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