Local footballer aiming to buck a worrying trend
Recent research found that children are losing 80 per cent of fitness gained during term throughout the six-week summer holidays.
The study — carried out by ukactive — showed that left to their own devices, children are slumping into inactivity.
Meanwhile, as of October last year, NHS figures revealed that obesity levels among children from reception up to Year Six is on the rise.
Those are worrying trends, ones that Premier — a UK-wide sports coaching organisation with links in China, USA and India — are trying to combat.
Heading up the company’s work in many of the schools in Newmarket and the surrounding area is Gareth Simpson, currently a footballer with Mildenhall Town.
Simpson and his team of 38 coaches, who deliver 300 sessions to 1,500 children in 65 schools during a single week, are celebrating picking up the Premier Performing Arts Award — ahead of more than 100 competitors — for the third year running.
Performing Arts is a relatively new addition to Simpson’s portfolio, having taken it on in 2014 alongside its long-standing sports coaching segment.
“Our main aims are to get children active and to tackle child obesity,” said the 38-year-old.
“One for the quality of their life, but two because of how much it costs the NHS later in life with the diseases that can come from having a bad diet.
“Holidays are a big thing. There is a major problem with children being inactive when they are not at school and with half-term just gone and Easter coming up, it is a worrying time.
“Sometimes it is more convenient for parents to sit children in front of a PlayStation or the latest gadget instead of getting organised and attending or paying for holiday camps.
“I really believe in this and want to get kids active.
“Everything we do has an impact — the facts and figures are there for all to see.
“Sport is a big driver for us, be it football, hockey, netball etc.
“But we have also taken on the performing arts which encourages kids that perhaps do not like the competitive side of sport.
“We really want to get that target group involved and hopefully winning that award again shows our commitment to that.”
One school currently enjoying a fruitful relationship with Simpson and his coaches — which includes Ely City goalkeeper Harry Reynolds, Soham Town Rangers midfielder Callum Russell and Mildenhall team-mate Jake Kerins — is St Christopher’s Primary School in Red Lodge.
Premier linked up with the school 18 months ago — a rapport that has since expanded to after school clubs and holiday camps.
And head teacher Caroline James has seen nothing but positive results from the partnership.
“The impact Gareth and his team have had has been massive,” she said.
“The children are talking a lot more about being active and are also more active when they are not here.
“I think they look up to Gareth because he is still playing football to a good standard.
“I rely on him and his team a lot in terms of how they deliver sport to the pupils.
“We both have the same goals and through sporting sessions and the extra curricular work, that is what is happening.”
While much of the focus has been on the children, Simpson is now also reaching out to parents under the Premier Wellbeing umbrella — an initiative fronted up by British Olympic gold medalist Sally Gunnell.
Youngsters, ultimately, can only do so much, with the reliance weighing heavily on parents when it comes to diet and ensuring activity levels remain high away from school.
“We have a good base and some really good staff, but we are always looking to grow,” added Simpson, whose schooling network includes the likes of All Saints Primary School, Fordham Primary School, Isleham Primary school, Kennett Primary School and Paddocks Primary School.
“We have been delivering sport for a long time with the children and now we are looking to get adults on board with things like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for parents and teachers.
“We need the parents to understand.
“If the kids go home and just eat crisps and chocolate, the good work we are doing at school is being undone.
“The nutritional lessons tell the kids what they should be eating.
“And it engages parents because it is them that feed their children, put their lunchboxes together and things like that.”
Any schools wishing to find out more information, including details of a free taster session, can contact email@example.com
Meanwhile, details of upcoming Easter holiday camps in the area can be found by visiting www.premier-education.com/camps/ with a 20 per cent off discount running before Monday, March 19.
And for employment opportunities to join Simpson’s team, visit indeed.co.uk and search ‘Premier Sport’.