Community Integration Through Judo

BJA member club Simply Judo in Northern Ireland recently launched a new integration initiative aimed at connecting refugee families with the local community.

The initiative, called ‘Simply Judo Connects’ came to light when one of the Head Coaches Mark Montgomery was visited by refugee children at his fire station in Belfast.

“I saw these kids visiting the station and looking around and I thought our club could do something to help these families, and myself and our other Head Coach Scott Mayne put our heads together.  After a few weeks of asking around I found out they went to a school in West Belfast, St Paul’s Primary School. It turned out that the Headmaster’s daughter did judo, and I taught her, so he was very helpful.”

The initiative sees 60 children, 30 from refugee families and another 30 from local families, taking part in two classes every Monday evening with the sessions split between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 age pupils. The sessions are run by Head Coaches Mark Montgomery & Scott Mayne with help from three other coaches Alan Kerr, Ryan Mawhinney & Joe Millar.

The club also made a conscious effort to ensure there was a 50/50 split between refugee and local children in each class. Children from refugee families come from as far a field as Syria, Somalia, Sudan, China, Congo and Nigeria.

Mark found that, at first, it took a bit of time for the children to get fully comfortable around each other.

“At first whenever we said ‘find a partner’ the children would look around and find someone they knew. So local children would partner up with local children and refugee children with other refugee children. However, after a few weeks when we said ‘find a partner’ the kids would just train with the person next to them. It didn’t matter who it was.

“It’s made a big difference and we find that the parents are also sitting together and speaking to each other. I went on a fire call recently and saw two kids, one from a refugee family and another from a local family, watching us deal with the incident, so it proved they were spending time together outside of the judo class.”

The initiative has enjoyed great support from Sport NI, the Department of Communities, Blitz Sport and AVA Sports to date. Funding secured through the Department of Communities and time volunteered by coaches has ensured the club can provide free weekly judo lessons, free judo suits as well as licences for the next year for each of the children on the initiative. They have also been able to purchase three gradings for each of the children as well as mats for them to practice on.

Simply Judo would like to thank the following, because without them this wouldn’t be possible. Thank you to SportNI for their continued support and sourcing funding, the Department of Communities for financing the project, St Pauls Primary School for the free use of their facilities, Blitz Sports (Suits) and AVA Sports (Mats). The club are also looking at how they can continue the initiative and make it sustainable long term

To find out more:

We’d like to thank Simply Judo and Mark Montgomery for taking the time to speak to us about the initiative