Pat Flanagan: ‘People Make Places’ and Make a Difference

PatWith support from IT Tralee and the Irish Sports Council, Pat founded the CARA National APA Centre in 2007. Prior to his work with CARA, Pat taught physical education from 1983 until he joined the Health and Leisure Department at IT Tralee in 1995 where he lectures in Adapted Physical Activity (APA) and Exercise Science. In 1997 he set up the APA programme which is run in partnership with a wide range of disability and health services in Kerry and the south west and caters for up 200 people with disabilities per week. He has been the chairperson of the national APA conferences for many years and has also served as the chair of the organising committee of the European Conference in APA (EUCAPA) where he was acknowledged for his work in Ireland by the European Federation of APA in 2012. Pat is a proposer and a member of the lead team for both the European Inclusion in Physical Education Training project and the achievement of a UNESCO Chair at IT Tralee in APA. Pat also was involved in the early development of the Sports Inclusion Disability Officer network in conjunction with the Irish Sports Council (2008) and the Sporting Chance Programme with the National Learning Network. (2007)

How did the idea of a national APA centre come about?

It actually grew out of the success of the APA practical programme which was part of the Health and Leisure degree at IT Tralee in 1998. The success and interest in what we were offering and the outcomes from the first APA conference in Ireland highlighted the lack of provision across the country.

The idea was to provide a one-stop-shop for information and support. The problem for people with disabilities, and I have a son with a disability, is that you get a bit of a service here, a bit of a service there, but there’s no place that says, “Look, here’s what we need to do for your son or daughter or whatever to get involved in sport or physical activity.” I want to be an elite athlete and compete in the Paralympics, or I’m overweight and use a wheelchair and I just want to go to the gym to lose weight, or I want to learn how to swim, where do you go? And that was the idea behind it. It was hoped that CARA would also drive sports policy, advocating for improved inclusion in all aspects of sports provision. It would also highlight and promote good practice in Ireland and hopefully gradually improve provision and standards.

Looking back at the history of CARA, what has been your favorite activity or programme?

It is very difficult to pick out one as there has been so many great events and activities. I think CARA and IT Tralee hosting the European Congress in APA in 2012 was a special event as it showed how capable CARA had become and it was such a wonderful festival of all things APA. Another favorite was the Inclusive Youth Initiative (Year 2) which was a tag rugby programme for special schools funded by CARA with support from the Department of Justice and Equality and delivered by Munster Rugby, through their local club network and the Local Sports Partnerships. This highlighted how well CARA can work in cooperation with a range of agencies to facilitate sustainable community based access to sport and physical activity. The programme culminated in a one day Tag Rugby Blitz in Thomond Park with all the teams playing but with the Munster Rugby team and Paul O Connell training on the same pitch. Awesome!

Where do you hope to see CARA in five years?
I would like to see CARA being the lead agency of a clear national strategy for sport and physical activity for people with disabilities, and consequently, having a clear national and local structure for the delivery of this.
If you were to give one key message to the people reading this, what would it be?

Something I feel strongly about is that ‘People make places’, meaning that basically one person can make a huge difference by just making an activity accessible to a child our adult with a disability. We can have accessible facilities and all the policies in the world but if the coach or teacher does not see their role as critical, provision will be limited. If you have the right people, in the right place at the right time, great things can be achieved.

Secondly, we should never underestimate the impact of facilitating inclusion in sport and physical activity can have on a person with disabilities and their families. It can have a massive effect on the person’s self-esteem, socialisation and quality of life.