THERE'S a basketball match underway in the sports hall at Essex University - I can hear the squeaking of shoes as people run.

On the other side of the court, something equally as exciting is happening.

Every Wednesday the university's Just Play team hold a different Para-Sport session, raising awareness and increasing participation.

The last session of the term was boccia and curling.


Boccia, like bowls, has the aim of getting leather coloured balls as close to the Jack as possible.

The teams, made up of those with disabilities and those without, started off by getting a feel of the boccia balls.

We learnt the basics from Disability 4 Sport Director Kevin Smith, who has collaborated with the Just Play team. He has been in post for two and a half years, and was a coach before that.

Disability 4 Sport provides a range of sporting opportunities aimed at empowering disabled people.

Kevin knows first hand how challenging it can be for people with any kind of disability to access competitive sport.

His brother Paul, 28, has a learning disability. This, combined with his passion about sport, spurred him on to inspire others.

He said: "I have seen the struggles first hand and I know what they have to deal with.

"For a young person without a carer it's near enough impossible for them to enter these sports.

"I have always been passionate about educating, about a year ago I did a blind football course and it took so much energy just getting in and out of the building blindfolded.

"It just goes to show how much energy and will it takes."


He agrees people with disabilities are still seeing their impairments as a barrier when it comes to sporting events.

He added: "I know my brother would find it difficult to access these things because he would not know where or how to start looking."

It was the fifth session held so far, and Paul Smith has been to every one of them.

He said: "The sessions are fun, they are really good as there's a lot of activities to do and they are really enjoyable.

"It means you are able to meet people and learn their names, I have made lots of friends.

"It's a way to keep fit and it's also about being part of a team, you need to be focussed and listen."

After a practice run we took part in a skills game, trying to roll the boccia balls into hoops.

It sounds simple, but is a tense game and a lot harder than it looks.

Paul was right, it really is about teamwork and focus.

After boccia we moved onto curling - not on ice - but it was equally as tricky.

The 'curling stones', which are on wheels, are slid across the floor with the aim of hitting the target.

It takes a lot to get used to the feel and weight of the stones, and was a challenge for everyone.


Previous events also include blind football and goalball.

The sessions cost £2 to attend and £1 from each session fee goes to Disability 4 Sport.

Due to the university's data protection laws, we were unable to find out how many students are registered disabled. But Rob Neale, Just Play Co-ordinator, said all of the Just Play sessions are open to people of all levels of ability.

He said: "We have equal opportunities for all and that extends to our competitive teams. We would never discriminate.

"I only started in this role in January but the link with Disability 4 Sport has been there since September.

"We want to raise general awareness of disability sport and the opportunities that are available."

The sessions encourage people who are not disabled to empathise with those who are.

He added: "In blind football we use blindfolds so people can experience closely what it's like.

"It's not about your disability, it's about having the ability, and it's about inclusion and enjoyment."


The best part about the session was seeing everyone working as a team, using each other's strengths.

In that sports hall, everyone is as able as each other.

As of next term, the para-sport events will be held in the new sports hall, which was opened by Olympic gymnast Max Whitlock and University Chancellor John Bercow at the beginning of the year.

If there is one activity which fully welcomes the external community to the university, it is this.