Greig Stewart is hoping the integration of players with disabilities within mainstream cricket can continue after landing a national award.
The Bluebird Care Hampshire Disability Cricket Project was voted Best Sports Project at the recent National Lottery Awards 2011 – in recognition of the tremendous work that goes on at the Rose Bowl.
Under the scheme, around 1,000 enthusiastic cricketers, with a range of disabilities, are coached at 39 schools throughout the county.
But they also run three elite squads and are now keen to see some of their players taking to the field in mainstream cricket across the region.
Stewart, the disability cricket development officer, said: ‘Our key strategy is to change the perception of disability within the cricketing community as a whole.
‘Rather than set up disability-specific clubs, we want to encourage mainstream cricket clubs to be more inclusive and allow players with disabilities to play in their teams at whatever level is appropriate – whether that’s in league teams or friendly teams.
‘We’ve got some initiatives in place where players can play at an age group below their own and have more time to develop their skills.
‘We want to extend that to challenge the perception of disability.’
The project has now been going for 12 years after Jeff Levick founded the initiative, while 26-year-old Stewart then joined four years ago and the National Lottery’s funding allowed the project to develop.
Stewart said: ‘It’s been going in its current guise for four years, but was started 12 years ago by Jeff Levick.
‘The Lottery money paid 50 per cent of my salary to work on it full time, rather than on a volunteer basis and it’s made a huge difference.
‘It helps us run three elite squads, including one for people with visual impairments and two squads for people with learning and physical disabilities.
‘We also do six-week programmes around the county with multi-sport clubs who want to play cricket.
‘And we also add modules on to coaching development to make them more aware of what disability is. We just want to reduce the fear of including people with disabilities in their coaching sessions.’
He added: The players at Hampshire are really supportive of everything we do.
‘David Griffiths and James Tomlinson have been along to help coach some sessions and Jimmy Adams has taken some one-on-one coaching.
‘It was an honour to win the award.
‘But we were very surprised to win because there were some very big projects that we were up against.
‘But it was fantastic to actually win it.’
Anyone interested in getting involved in Disability Cricket as a player, coach or volunteer can visit rosebowlplc.com/pages/bluebird-care-disability-cricket/ or alternatively contact Greig Stewart at The Rose Bowl on (023) 8047 5653.