‘Sense, Active Together’ impact report 2021

Insight and progress after two years of project delivery – August 2019 to July 2021.

Section One: Foreword

Welcome to the ‘Sense, Active Together’ mid-project impact report. As we reach the halfway mark with our project, we wanted to highlight some key developments across our project and share with you some personal stories that bring our work to life.

Covid-19 has of course, like for many, changed the course of our plans. We have had to adapt to support people to be active at home, and work hard to rebuild those opportunities that were previously so well established. Through innovation, collaboration and determination we have worked with the health and social care and sports sectors to provide opportunities for people to be active in new ways, many of which are highlighted in this report.

With the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on disabled people in the last 18 months, now more than ever is a time for true collaboration to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead an active life.

If you would like to work with us, please reach out to our Sense Active team at [email protected] or visit our web resources.

Kind Regards,

Alissa Ayling

Head of Sport & Physical Activity Sense

Section Two: About ‘Sense, Active Together’

‘Sense, Active Together’ aims to provide lifelong opportunities for people with complex disabilities to be active by establishing meaningful and local opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity.

It is delivered by Sense Active, part of Sense’s Arts, Sport & Wellbeing offer and is funded by Sport England and the national lottery from 2019 – 2022.


1.  Provide lifelong opportunities for people with complex disabilities to take part in sport and physical activity in more areas of England.

2. Influence and equip the sports and health sector to enable more suitable opportunities for people with complex disabilities to be active throughout their lives.

3. Develop insight in measuring and evaluating the benefits of sport and physical activity for people with complex disabilities across the sports and health sector.

Our Target Audience

At Sense, we provide support to people living with Deafblindness and complex disabilities. Our ‘Sense, Active Together’ project is for those living with singular sensory impairments, Deafblindness and complex disabilities, either currently supported by Sense, or individuals and groups in the community of all ages.

Our current geographical focus is split into 5 regions with a Sport & Physical Activity Coordinator based locally.

Section Three: Project Summary

‘Sense, Active Together’ summary

‘Sense, Active Together’ aims to provide lifelong opportunities for people with complex disabilities to be active by establishing meaningful and local opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity.


1.    Provide lifelong opportunities for people with complex disabilities to take part in sport and physical activity in more areas of England.

2. Influence and equip the sports and health sector to enable more suitable opportunities for people with complex disabilities to be active throughout their lives.

3. Develop insight in measuring and evaluating the benefits of sport and physical activity for people with complex disabilities across the sports and health sector.


  • Developed provision in 3 regions
  • Expanded into 3 new regions
  • 4670 individuals have attended activities
  • 853 are newly engaged
  • 1064 sessions delivered
  • 24 different types of activities

Children and young people

  • Opportunities for those aged 14 and under
  • 133 sessions delivered
  • 325 children and young people engaged

Workforce development

  • 4 new workshops created
  • 21 workshops delivered
  • 285 people upskilled
  • 5 resources created


Sensory Walks

  • 12 workshops delivered
  • 150 people upskilled
  • 21 Sensory Walks mapped

Sensory Sport

  • Sensory Tennis workshop delivered
  • 40 coaches upskilled
  • Sensory Football piloted

Evaluation and learning

  • Co-founded Disability & Physical Activity Impact Collective
  • Research report about the key role of support workers

Partner Collaborations

Cross-sector partnerships are crucial and in total we’ve worked with over 100 organisations across the sport and social care sectors.

Key Collaborators:

  • Inclusive Ping Pong
  • Sense Specialist Service for Children and young people
  • UK Coaching
  • Ordnance Survey
  • Disability & Physical Activity Impact Collective

Section Four: Project focus areas


Regional growth and expansion

Whilst continuing to develop existing provision in the Midlands, London and the North of England, we’ve also expanded our reach to the East, South East and South West of England, attracting new people into our programme.

4670 unique people have attended activities & 853 are newly engaged since ‘Sense, Active Together’.

Each area provides an array of activities for those we support to be active either within their centres or in the local community, including football, basketball, swimming, tai chi, cycling, yoga, dance, drumming to music and many more.

Feedback and consultation has led us to believe that individual, movement based activities such as dance or rock climbing are the most engaging for those with sensory or complex disabilities. This is often because the actions and movements are simpler to understand, interpret and copy and can be enjoyed at their own pace, whereas invasion and ball games often have complex rules and tactics and other people or things to react to.

“My group loved the dance session, it was great to move around to the music in a way which works for them.”

Janet and Sarah discover new way of exercising to maintain wellbeing

Janet is deafblind and due to her medication has to make sure that she exercises regularly. For Janet’s emotional, mental and physical wellbeing, exercise plays an incredibly important role.

Fortunately, Sense Active have provided a wealth of opportunities to stay active during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. This includes virtually delivering live sessions, creating pre-recorded videos and providing written activities. These sessions have done this incredible pair the world of good. For Sarah, it has enabled her to still provide essential support during lockdown and Janet can now take part in activities that are vital for her wellbeing.

“Before lockdown we regularly went to the gym, walks and clubs, meeting friends and family. At first during lockdown, it was very difficult but since Sense Active’s opportunities have been available I have loved attending drumming, tai chi and yoga. They help me stay active and busy whilst having to stay in my flat.”

Sense Awards 2020 Person of the Year – Runner Up

In total, we have delivered 1064 sessions since August 2019, however a large percentage of those were delivered virtually as a result of Covid-19.

Type of activityFrequencyEngagement
Zoom sessions434 delivered4,713 attendance
Phone call sessions137 delivered1037 attendances
Pre-recorded videos28 videos createdWatched 3664 times
Written task cards45 activity cards createdDownloaded 1977 times

Providing a mixture of activities in different formats has helped to support activity levels during a difficult time, regardless of impairment type or access to technology. Activities such as yoga and dance were successfully delivered via a telephone conferencing platform, allowing people with a visual impairment and those without access to technology to attend activities during lockdown.

Audio Dance provides lockdown lifeline for Shirley

Shirley McGill is 82 and lives in Wolverhampton. She lives in a retirement facility that specialises in supporting people with additional needs. Recently, a neurological condition led to Shirley needing to use a powered wheelchair which causes increased fatigue.

Determined to remain as active as possible, Shirley signed up for a weekly telephone dance class organised by Sense Active, delivered by Step Change Studios, and hosted on Meetupcall, a telephone conferencing call platform.

Although the recent pandemic has led many to seek exercise classes online, for Shirley and others like her, accessing technology and virtual activities can be a challenge. Telephone-based activities are a crucial way of keeping active, healthy, and connected, in a way which is easily accessible and requires little support. “I’m not tech friendly, so it’s definitely useful to do it over the phone” says Shirley. “The mental benefits are no end. It gets the endorphins going, it’s very uplifting and you feel better for having done it. I really enjoy it.”

For Shirley, having a class to look forward to, and a phone call to listen out for every Wednesday, is very important. “It’s something to look forward to” she says. “I go to sleep very easily but I don’t go to sleep before the classes! I do know all about exercise, but this actually makes me do something!”

New Activity Finder launched

In April 2021, we launched a new, online platform offering a range of free art, sport and wellbeing activities developed to support people with complex disabilities be active and creative.

More than 100 arts, sport and wellbeing activity resources.

Pre-recorded video, written exercises, and live Zoom sessions, and later in the year physical events will also be added

Sarah Newton, who cares for and supports her 20-year-old disabled daughter Phoebe, said: “We are constantly looking for new things to do with Phoebe. It’s so important for us to find accessible, appropriate activities. Thanks to the free resources by Sense, we now have the confidence to be able to set a programme of activities for Phoebe which work perfectly alongside the programme she is following at college.”

To date, the Activity Finder and the individual activities have received a total of 5321 page views.

Inclusive Ping Pong Awarded Collaborator of the Year

During a year full of challenges, Inclusive Ping Pong Ltd were able to find innovative ways to adapt their delivery and were recognised at the Sense Awards 2020. Prior to Covid-19, weekly activities including table tennis, sensory circuits and yoga gave over 40 participants from Rotherham the opportunity to be active.

During lockdown, Inclusive Ping Pong provided 40 table tennis starter packs for services and families, delivered weekly Zoom activities and created a series of YouTube videos.

Children and young people

Working with our Sense Specialist Services for Children & Young People, and the Youth Sport Trust, we have broadened our reach to those aged 14 and under for the first time.

Since April 2020, we have delivered virtual sessions via Zoom through a combination of weekly activities such as dance and drumming to music, and supported the delivery of Family Days with the Sense Specialist Services for Children & Young People.

Type of activityFrequencyEngagement
Weekly sessions103 sessions325 children and young people783 attendances
Family daysSupported 23 daysDelivered 33 sessions412 attendances

Early feedback from families suggest that accessing activities virtually first, to try and see if they are suitable, is really beneficial. Virtual tasters have eased barriers such as transport and limited time and has given families more confidence to try new or more unusual activities. We plan to incorporate virtual taster sessions into our future plans.

Drumming helping to improve Kyllian’s speech & encourage choice

Kyllian has speech delay which provides challenges with communication and is largely supported by our Specialist Services for Children & Young People. He cannot say most words, and with those he can, he finds them difficult to pronounce.

For six months Kyllian has started attending our Sense Active Drumming to Music weekly session, designed and delivered specifically for children. Recently, he has started to sing short elements and sounds in songs used during the session, showing his parents that he wanted to listen to the song and move his body. Through engaging with songs and being physical activities, Kyllian is improving his communication, neuro-development and ability to make choices.

Sense Specialist Services for Children & Young People

Working closely with our Specialist Service for Children & Young People has allowed us to build a more comprehensive understanding of the needs of children with sensory or complex disabilities.

For the parents of the children attending our activities, the Specialist Service for Children & Young People have acted as trusted “gatekeepers”, sharing and facilitating sports activities that the families will know are appropriate and meaningful.

During 2020-21, we have also carried out research to gain a better understanding of the motivations and barriers for disabled children and their families in order to develop opportunities to meet their needs. Covid-19 has delayed the release, but we now expect to share the report later in 2021.

Workforce Development

Building on projects to date, we understand the importance of improving the confidence and knowledge of sports coaches, support workers, teachers and volunteers –anyone who is in a position to support disabled people to be more active.


We have created a mixture of face-to-face and online workshops, to help continue to support the sports and social care sectors during lockdown and other periods of restrictions.

Training typeFrequencyPeople upskilled
Connecting Differently Through Sport – Face to face3 workshops delivered35 people
Connecting Differently Through Sport – Online learning classroom4 online learning classrooms delivered55 people
Sensory Walks workshop12 workshops delivered155 people
Sensory Tennis workshop2 workshops delivered40 people


In addition to training workshops, short resources with insightful but straight forward information have been created to help support those providing activities for disabled people. These include:

During periods of isolation and lockdown, support staff, carers, parents and siblings have become instrumental in ensuring disabled people stay active. Creating simple resources and guidance has been a priority whilst access to expert sport and physical activity facilitators has been limited.

UK Coaching

We were proud to partner with UK Coaching, UK’s professional association for sports coaches, to be able to offer our workshop through an online learning classroom. This partnership provided us with a wealth of expertise to ensure we continued to build confidence and knowledge in the workforce during unprecedented times.

Sports Providers Forum

During the second year of the project, we have also established a regular ‘Sports Provider Forum’ for all coaches, instructors, and teachers that regularly deliver activities for Sense Active.

The forum has been created as a result of consultation with our regular sports providers, who suggested a regular networking opportunity would help to improve their confidence and knowledge when working with people with Deafblindness and complex disabilities. The forum, with discussions led by the sports providers, offers the opportunity to share best practice, review challenging learning moments and discuss topical areas of work.

During 2021, we have held 3 forums with 14 sports providers with each region of England represented.

“Coming together as a group and listening to the enthusiasm, expertise of other providers is very inspirational. It makes us all review our own delivery and it’s fantastic to discuss themes that are similar across all of our sessions.”


A continuously evolving area of work within our project is to develop innovative solutions to engagement in physical activity for those individuals with complex disabilities, based on insight and feedback.

Sensory Walks

Sensory Walks help people with sensory impairments or complex disabilities to engage with nature, using their senses to connect with the surroundings and enjoy more meaningful experiences.

Training and toolkit

We’ve created Sensory Walks training which aims to improve walk leaders, parents or support staff’s understanding of Sensory Walks, how to plan safe and accessible walks, as well as top tips on activities that engages the senses.

To date we have delivered 12 workshops with over 150 people upskilled to deliver a local walk.

An accompanying Making Walks Sensory resource includes advice on planning walks, tips on encouraging mindfulness and suggested sensory activities.

The resource has been downloaded 579 times and over 50 physical copies have been distributed.

Mapped walks

We’ve partnered with Ordnance Survey to make our Sensory Walks routes discoverable, with 21 walks across 10 regions mapped. Each route includes notes on accessibility, milestones and sensory highlights.

Ordnance Survey

Partnering with Great Britain’s national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey has allowed us to ensure more people can discover our Sensory Walks via their OS Maps App. Each walk includes key milestones, accessibility information and sensory highlights. This partnership ensures more people with sensory or complex disabilities can connect meaningfully to their surroundings.

Sensory Sport

Our learning over previous years has shown that traditional sports activities are often not as engaging for people with complex disabilities. In our experience, people with complex disabilities often have sports, particularly team or ball sports, “done to” them, making it much more difficult to achieve the benefits that true active participation can achieve.

As a result, we’ve started to design new innovative ways to perceive and facilitate sports, creating more meaningful engagement for people with complex disabilities.

Sensory Tennis

We’ve recently partnered with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and LuSu Sports to develop a Sensory Tennis programme. As part of the programme, an online training workshop focusing on giving coaches the skills to communicate, understand barriers and provide examples of practical, more meaningful, adapted activities has been created.

In July 2021, over 40 LTA coaches and Open Court Leads attended our workshop.

When asked before and after the workshop, those in attendance rated their confidence delivering activities as much improved, from 5 out of 10 to 7.5 out of 10. We aim to launch Sensory Tennis publicly in Spring 2022.

Sensory Football

Similarly, we have been working towards launching Sensory Football, an innovative way to delivery football activities for people with complex disabilities. During Year 1 of ‘Sense, Active Together’ focused pilots were delivered in Birmingham with a Sense Service, in Bristol with Bristol Bears Community Foundation and Cambridgeshire with Meldreth Manor, a residential and educational service for people with complex disabilities.

We plan to launch Sensory Football in partnership with County FA’s late 2021.

Evaluation and learning

We know through previous experience that there a number of challenges that exist with traditional methods of evaluation for people we support. Our mixed-methods approach, coupled with transparency about our learnings, and engagement with key stakeholders is critical to the evolution within this area. To date, we have carried our critical consultations across social care, and have assisted in establishing a consortium named the ‘Disability and Physical Activity Impact Collective’ with like0-minded organisations to develop this area further.

Support workers vital in tackling inactivity

Our research report published in March 2021 highlights the key role support workers play in getting people with complex disabilities physically active.

Rleased in partnership with Travese and Sport England titled, ‘Support Workers: attitudes, approaches and barriers to helping people with complex disabilities engage in sport and physical activity’, contains analysis of the experience of support workers. The report recognises “playing a critical role in encouraging, informing and helping adults with complex disabilities to access sport and physical activity.

The report showcases the need for an ‘activity champions’ network and training to build confidence for those in social care and sport.


As a result, the Sense Active team will:

Establish a peer network of physical activity champions aiming to inspire fellow staff, overcome concerns and increase knowledge of how to best support people to be active.

Provide additional support and guidance to the sports sector through training, collaboration and sharing best practice.

Disability and Physical Activity Impact Collective

Working with colleagues across the sport and physical activity, and health and social care sectors we co-founded the ‘Disability and Physical Activity Impact Collective’. The collective aim is to increase the quality and range of physical activity options for disabled people through the co-production of high quality evaluation methods and advocating for best practice.


Cross sector partnerships are crucial to our success. We’d like to thank all those who have provided a contribution to ‘Sense, Active Together’.