This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald and Petersfield Post editions:
"Many of the individual and team performances by GB’s Olympic sports men and women in Tokyo have been truly inspirational, and not just those who won medals.
Hearing about the years of dedication and sacrifice involved in preparing for the games, the amazing support of family and friends, the role played by Sport UK and the National Lottery, has I hope shown many young people that there is an opportunity to follow their sporting dreams.
With the Paralympic Games starting this week, we have another chance to see some amazing people achieve their own dreams, including two athletes from East Hampshire.
Already a gold medallist from the 2012 games in London, 25 year old Olivia Breen will be competing in two events in Tokyo – the long jump and the 100m sprint – with 33 year old Ali Smith also taking part in the 400m track event.
It was evident from many of the interviews with GB team members that they often started their pathway through grassroot sports clubs and initiatives, which remains an important route for young people to experience different sports.
This is true also in East Hampshire, with a host of different local clubs and groups offering the chance for children to try and experience sport, and the amazing work done by the hundreds of volunteers who turn up each week to help run and organise sessions is something we should be very grateful for.
Sport in school is also key, as we know that a positive experience of sport and physical activity at a young age can build a lifetime habit of participation.
The numerous benefits of physical activity for children and young people’s physical health is well known, building self-esteem and emotional wellbeing, as well as helping with anxiety and depression.
Ensuring that pupils have access to sufficient daily activity can also have wider benefits for pupils and schools, improving behaviour as well as enhancing academic achievement.
During my time as Education Secretary, delivering the School Sport and Activity Action Plan was a key priority, setting out the aim to ensure children and young people have access to at least 60 minutes of sport and physical activity per day, with a recommendation of 30 minutes of this taking place during the school day.
The PE and Sport Premium is helping primary schools to deliver this, providing £320m of government funding to make additional and sustainable improvements to the quality of the PE, physical activity and sport offered through their core budgets.
Allocated directly to schools so they have the flexibility to use it in the way that works best for their pupils, the Government announced recently that the premium will continue for the 2021 to 2022 academic year.
With the loss of time at school during the pandemic, it is more important than ever that this is addressed; an issue that I took up through my role on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
Locally, Hampshire’s Connect4Summer programme has been running a series of free Family Festival Days which offer access to arts and crafts, games and cooking, as well as free Youth Events aimed at 11–14 year olds with game and app design, clay modelling, robotics and jewellery making on offer.
Operating through a number of schools and community centres, I’m looking forward to meeting the team and participants at a session at Liss Junior School this week.
I hope everyone can enjoy some activities together over the bank holiday weekend - whether at home or away. Despite some rather disappointing weather so far, we know that the vagaries of the British weather can still surprise us with some magical moments too."