Leading podiatrist Margaret Dabbs is the inspiration behind Sole Potential, the UK charity she’s just launched to equip underprivileged children with their own well-fitting sports footwear.
‘‘I truly believe in inclusion for all children when it comes to physical activity and group sport, and for that suitable sport shoes are a necessity,’ Margaret says. ‘Think about your favourite pair of shoes; once you put them on, you feel more confident, stronger and able to take on whatever the world throws your way. For children, wearing a new pair of sports shoes is really no different – wearing new shoes that fit correctly can have a hugely positive impact on their performance, attitude, confidence and self-esteem.’
At school and later in college, my friends and I played team sports – unbelievable as it seems now, I was in the 1st and 2nd Hockey Elevens. My brother played football and my husband rugby. You might worry about getting your teeth knocked out (my front ones were certainly chipped) but we never questioned whether our parents would provide the right kind of boots. Ditto shoes for tennis and other sports. We weren’t well off but we were ‘privileged’.
Today, many children are underprivileged. In 2019-20, nearly one-third of children – 4.3 million or 31% – were living in poverty according to the Child Poverty Action Group. That’s likely to increase significantly with the knock-on effects of the pandemic on employment. So there’s very little chance of their families being able to afford extras like good sports footwear.
‘They may be wearing trainers that don’t fit, often hand me downs, which can make them feel intimidated and anxious,’ says physiotherapist Mark Campbell, Lead Coordinator of Sole Potential. That often means they don’t join in sporting activities so they miss out on all the benefits that can bring.
‘Sport and the opportunity to play for children and young people is so important. The social, mental and physical benefits are massive and owning a well-fitting pair of trainers can make the difference between a young person getting stuck in or sitting on the sidelines,’ says Alex Stacey, Head of Talent (workforce), UK Sport.
For the majority of sports, getting stuck in starts with your feet says physical performance specialist Tom Farrow of Areté Performance, who previously led strength and conditioning training for England and Team GB Men’s Rugby 7s. ‘The foot is our body’s connection with the ground and the gateway through which skill is expressed. So inappropriate footwear can be a considerable limitation on both performance and enjoyment, as well as a factor in both acute and chronic injuries. Whether young people dream of performing in professional sport or just want to take part in sports for fun and to connect with their friends, it builds self-esteem as well as physical health. No child should be discouraged from participating because of not having access to the right footwear.’
Over the next few months, Sole Potential will finalise agreements with sports charities, local schools, sports teams and clubs to identify the youngsters who need their own, well-fitting sports shoes. The team is fundraising vigorously, with the aim of raising £100,000 through this year. As they explain on the website, a donation of just £10 helps provide sports shoes for a young child and £50 helps provide sports shoes for three children moving up to secondary school. The goal is to give out 1,000 pairs of shoes over the next 12 months and continue funding shoes as the children – and their feet – grow into young adults.
‘Through our Sole Potential charity work we hope to be able to level the playing field, giving every child a fair start so that they can reap the benefits of participation in sport alongside their peers,’ Margaret says.
As well as making direct monetary donations, supporters can organise fund-raising events such marathons, half-marathons, treks and other challenges. My nephew Ross Stacey, a chef at the River Café and also a marathon runner, is planning a sponsored run in aid of Sole Potential.
I’m supporting this important campaign personally and as a family (Alex Stacey is my niece) as well as through Beauty Bible and Victoria Health. We hope you will support it too. As Alex says, ‘This brilliant initiative will provide children with the confidence to take part, have fun, gain fulfilment and a sense of belonging. Through its work more children can be active outside or inside, on their own or as a part of a team, and have access to exercise at a critical time in their lives.’
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