Our Featured Charity: Disability Snowsport UK
At Potter Rees Dolan, we’re keen to highlight the inspirational work that small local charities are doing to support vulnerable members of the community, which is why we run a regular Featured Charity campaign to help promote worthy organisations.
This month, we’re giving some well-deserved attention to Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK), an inspirational organisation dedicated to helping people with physical and mental disabilities to take part in winter sports like skiing and snowboarding.
We spoke with Steve Smaje, development manager at DSUK, to find out more about the hugely beneficial work the charity does.
DSUK was established in its current form in 2007, but the history of the organisation dates back to the 1970s, when founder and consultant paediatrician David Morris happened upon the idea that skiing could have valuable benefits in enhancing coordination, balance and self-awareness in young people with cerebral palsy.
A keen skier himself, Dr Morris brought his ideas to the National Spastics Society, the organisation now known as Scope, to whom he served as an adviser. Though his suggestions were seen as controversial at the time, he was able to convince the charity to undertake a pilot scheme involving six children, delivering residential activities that resulted in highly beneficial outcomes.
In order to bring these benefits to a wider range of patients with different disabilities, the Uphill Ski Club was formed as an independent charity dedicated solely to providing these activities. In 2005, the organisation merged with the National Handicapped Skiers Association and Scotland’s Alternative Skiers - and in 2007, the British Ski Club for the Disabled - to form DSUK as it exists today.
Sensitive support for people across the UK
The modern DSUK is based in Glenmore, Scotland, and runs snowsport schools in Manchester, Tamworth, Hemel and Glasgow, as well as coordinating activities at the Hillend and Sandown artificial slopes, and at the Cairngorm mountains in the winter.
Employing around 30 staff members nationwide, the charity is dedicated to providing people with a chance to get involved with the fun of skiing and snowboarding, regardless of their disability, offering specialist equipment to assist those with physical impairments, and sensitive support for individuals with cognitive issues or on the autistic spectrum.
Working all day, every day - allowing for a Christmas Day break, of course - the DSUK team strives to help as many people as possible to experience the thrill of snowsports, whether it’s a skill they’re relearning following an injury, or even if it’s their very first time. The charity also runs activity weeks abroad in Austria, Italy, Andorra and Big Bear in America each winter season, giving participants a chance to broaden their horizons in truly exciting ways.
Changing lives for the better
As a DSUK employee of eight years’ experience, Steve oversees the smooth running of all DSUK snowsport schools on a daily basis, while also working as a ski instructor for the organisation in Manchester. As such, he has plenty of first-hand experience of the kind of transformative impact the charity’s work can have on those it supports.
Over the past few years, Steve has been working with Amelia, a girl with autistic spectrum disorder from a family of winter sports enthusiasts. Amelia’s autism diagnosis at the age of three had resulted in the family’s regular skiing and snowboarding trips being put on hold, but her parents were determined to help Amelia experience the pleasure of skiing and enjoying the slopes - which is where Steve and DSUK came in.
Under Steve’s careful tutelage at Manchester’s indoor Chill Factore facility, Amelia has made steady progress with her skiing lessons, with the activity helping her leave her worries behind and build her self-esteem, fitness and stamina.
In Amelia’s own words:
I really enjoy skiing, because it gives my brain a rest and I feel less anxious. I enjoy skiing on real snow at Chill Factore; going there gives me the opportunity to learn, so I will be ready for a family skiing holiday in the future. I like Steve, as he gives me lots of encouragement and he is really nice and gives me confidence to learn something new and challenge myself!
The DSUK team do amazing work for people with disabilities every day - but they can’t do it alone. With the specialist equipment used by each ski school costing in the region of £50,000, the charity relies heavily on fundraising activities and grants to make lessons affordable to all clients and members.
If you’re involved with a charity organisation and would like to be considered by Potter Rees Dolan as a Featured Charity, drop us a message using our online enquiry form.