The Department for Communities has funded the purchase of 24 disability sledges, which will enable the Odyssey Trust to open up its on-ice programmes and activities to people with physical disabilities. The £20,000 investment from the Department will enable inclusive access to ice hockey and other on-ice activities to disabled participants and spectators, encouraging active living with no limits. The announcement follows the launch of the Active Living Strategy for Sport & Physical Activity.
As part of the sledge hockey initiative, disability modules will be implemented into the highly successful Odyssey Ice Academy and the Fresh Start through Sport programme, supported by the Belfast Giants, IFA, Ulster Rugby and the GAA. With the new disability sledges, the Odyssey Trust hopes to explore other opportunities grow the sport of sledge ice hockey - one of the most popular sports in the Winter Paralympic Games - in partnership with community outreach partner, Belfast Harbour.
Avid Belfast Giants fans and wheelchair users, Dave and Naomi McAleese were amongst the first people to trial the new sledges. Commenting on the launch, Dave said: “The introduction of these sledges will be a game changer, opening up ice hockey and other ice sports and recreation activities to people with disabilities. Naomi and I have been keen to try sledge hockey for some time and to be able to now sled on our home ice at The SSE Arena, home to the Belfast Giants, is incredible. The Giants’ founding mantra that ‘in the land of the Giants, everyone is equal’ means so much to us as fans and this initiative is a real example of that ethos in action.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: “I am delighted that my Department has been able to support this fantastic initiative. The specialist sledges provide access to ice sport for disabled people, removing barriers to participation in sport and physical activity. The initiative aligns with the new ‘Active Living’ strategy that I launched earlier this week which aims to make participation in sport and physical activity more accessible and inclusive.”
Steve Thornton, head of hockey for the Belfast Giants said: “We are committed to promoting equality and inclusivity in sporting opportunities and we’re proud that this new initiative will create new opportunities to widen participation in ice sports here in Northern Ireland.”
Photos by Presseye.