Hft | Stories and case studies | Andrea cheers her way to the top

A cheerleading squad for people with learning disabilities has proven to be life changing for one of its members, who beat the odds to achieve her dreams.

Andrea has been a member of Hft’s Bradford-based cheerleading troupe, the Jewels, for over ten years. Made up of 13 people with learning disabilities, the group has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2010.  Their unbroken success record has earned the troupe a trophy at every competition they’ve entered and includes highlights ranging from performing for HRH The Princess Royal, to taking part in international competitions.

For people like Andrea, the squad doesn’t just provide a chance to socialise and get some regular exercise, but has opened the door to increased confidence and amazing new achievements.  The 49 year old, who has complex autism, joined the team hoping to improve her fitness and have some fun. She was initially reluctant to let anyone touch her and struggled with sensory overload during training. But with lots of support from the team’s support workers and coach, Andrea now takes the lead during stunts and is happy for her arms to be guided when practising new routines.  Large sports stadiums filled with loud music and crowds no longer faze her, as support workers ensure there is always somewhere quiet where Andrea can gather thoughts before performing with the rest of the team.

Andrea’s biggest challenge came a few years ago, when the Jewels won the Special Needs British Championship competition, qualifying for the world championship at Disneyworld in Florida.  Having never left the UK before or been on a flight, there were concerns that the trip would be too much for Andrea. However, Andrea was desperate to go and, determined that she should be a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity, staff set to work preparing her for the journey ahead.

To get her ready to take to the skies, staff arranged for Andrea to go on a short flight within the UK. After weeks of preparation, involving trial runs of security procedures, visits to the airport and detailed explanations of what was going to happen, it was time for the test journey. Thanks to the team’s preparation and despite an initial hiccup, Andrea was soon up in the clouds with a smile on her face.

Three months later, Andrea successfully made the journey to Florida to compete alongside the rest of the team, and even brought home a gold medal!  Her trip continues to make her proud and Andrea often discusses happy memories of the competition with staff members and the squad.

Sally Dyson, Team Leader at Hft, said:

“People like Andrea showcase the impact of being part of a group like the Jewels, which has opened up a whole new world of experiences for our members. Her story really shows that with a little patience and perseverance, so much can be achieved.

“We’re passionate about supporting people with learning disabilities to achieve their goals and are delighted to regularly compete – and win – alongside able bodied teams.  The Jewels are a shining example of inclusivity and a testament to our commitment to supporting adults with learning disabilities to live the best life possible.”