SAFC legend Gary Bennett helps give SEND youngsters a great time at the first of three free summer events in Sunderland

The first of three events for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was a roaring success.

Thursday, 4th August 2022, 12:38 pm
Updated Friday, 5th August 2022, 4:40 pm

Organised by Together for Children, which delivers children’s services on behalf of Sunderland City Council, the free indoor and outdoor HAF (Holiday Activity and Food) event was open to every person in Sunderland aged five to 25 with a disability.

Parents, carers and siblings were welcome too at the Monument Centre, next to Barnwell Academy in Penshaw.

Every young person to attend was given a free healthy meal, as well as nutritional advice from dietary experts PhunkyFoods and 120 young people were booked to attend. Funding for the event came from the Department of Education.

Sunderland FA Cup finalist Gary Bennett coached youngsters at the event. Sam Ogle, furthest right, refereed.

Activities included a climbing wall, animals, cycling, archery, artificial caves, circus tricks, swingball, face painting, football coaching from SAFC legend Gary Bennett and more.

Wendy Coghlan, Together for Children’s prevention and participation manager, said: “Our first event was last summer. What we found was that a lot of our youth providers struggled to provide activities for young people with special education needs and disabilities, so it was a brainchild of our engagement group, Stars.”

Stars is made up of young SEND people aged 12 to 25, who aim to support other young people like themselves across Sunderland.

Wendy continued: “It was their idea to hold their own event. So they decided what they wanted and that included things like adaptable bikes, animals, sports and everything else. Something inclusive for every young person with a disability.

The climbing wall proved very popular.

“The parents love how inclusive it is and a relaxing environment it is for them when they don’t have to worry about their kids being stared at. The kids thoroughly enjoy it.

“They try new sports too and with everything being free they can try them all.”

Ian Williamson, 19, from Sunderland Youth Voice helped out. He said: “The event’s going really well. We’ve had loads of positives including the weather. People are loving it.”

The event will be repeated at the same place on Wednesday, August 17 and Tuesday, August 23 between 11am and 3pm. Visit for details.

Animal lovers from left, Alba Dimascio, 6, Enzo Dimascio 8, James Boyd, 7 with Mirabelle the rabbit, 14 months.

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Together for Children provides a range of services to improve the lives of children, young people and families in Sunderland; from advice and guidance for young people, parents, carers and professionals, to fostering and adoption services.

These youngsters loved the artificial caves at the Monument Centre.