Meet Hannah- Disability Sport Officer at University of Nottingham

Hannah Webber is the disability sport officer at the University of Nottingham. She was recently interviewed by the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA). It provides helpful insight on developing disabled students, as well as supporting lifelong enjoyment in sport.

Meet Hannah...

Tell us a bit about your responsibilities - what does your role entail?

The key aim of my role as Disability Sport Officer is to develop sporting opportunities for disabled students attending the University of Nottingham.

One of my main responsibilities is to get out and speak to students on a regular basis. Their feedback and experiences very much help to shape the programme of activity that we run at the University.

We have set up a referrals process at Nottingham which entitles some disabled students to a 50% discount on their sports membership. It is my responsibility to manage this process online and liaise with the students in person to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible and that they get a good quality service.

I also have a remit for promoting what we as a higher education institution have to offer elite disabled athletes. To date we have been working hard, internally to develop the accessibility of our facilities, sports bursaries, physiotherapy and strength and conditioning support.

I work closely with our Operations Director to ensure that our sports facilities are accessible and I am also currently liaising with him to develop a programme of staff training and awareness sessions. By combining these, we are looking to break down some of the perceived barriers to participation and create a more welcome sporting environment for disabled students and staff.

Continuing on the accessibility theme, I also have a responsibility for developing printed and online literature in the relevant formats. We have a growing number of visually impaired students engaging with sport at the University, so making sure that they are able to view information in large print or Word format is an important element that I need to deliver.

What does a typical day involve?.

Today I arrived in the office just after 9am. I spent the first hour or so catching up on emails and phone calls. I then went over to see my line manager to submit my request for facility bookings for my initiatives for the new academic year.

Just before lunch and after my second coffee of the day, I met with Ben the new Sport and Lifestyles Officer from My Sight Nottinghamshire. I give him a guide of the sports facilities at our University Park campus and then we discussed getting some training dates booked in for a new football project that My Sight are starting up. We’re looking to work in partnership on this project and open up opportunities to Nottingham students in a playing, coaching and volunteering capacity.

I then made a quick dash over to the Student Union building, where I had a brief chat with one of the University’s Mental Health Advisers and then went on to meet our Sports Marketing Officer. We have just produced a brilliant (yes I’m biased!) video of one of our disabled sports bursars – Thomas Green – which we are looking to actively promote within the higher education sector and out to potential students, coaches and national governing bodies of sport. We agreed a promotional plan and identified that we just needed to confirm timings with our Undergraduate Recruitment team before we progress this.

Pleased with the outcome, I then rushed back to my office to meet with our Operations Director, to speak to him about facility costings for a goalball leaders course that we’re running at the University in October 2013 and also confirm a swimming session for our disabled students network. There were some more positive outcomes, so I was pretty chuffed with what I’d achieved by 4pm.

Finally at 5pm, I’m packing up and heading over to our Jubilee Sports Centre, to help run a goalball session for our Active Universities programme – Nu2 Sport. The aim of this project is to introduce the sport to new people and try to encourage them in to our club – the Nottinghamshire Sheriffs – so that they can continue playing this brilliant Paralympic sport longer term.

At 7.30pm once the goalball kit’s packed away, I’m off home!

What time do you get to work, what kind of tasks are you involved with? Is it a 9-to-5 role or do you find yourself working late nights/weekends?

My days and the hours that I work tend to differ quite a lot. On an “average” day, I tend to get in for about 9am and usually work through to until about 5pm. I do, however, work some late nights and weekends, especially if I’m running training sessions, focus groups or meeting with students. The need to be flexible and fit in with when the students are available comes with the territory.

I work within the University’s Department of Physical Recreation and Sport. We have three main sites, which I work across, although I am based on our main campus – University Park. Although I don’t have responsibility for any staff at the moment, I do recruit and manage teams of volunteers for my “Any-Body” projects. This has been challenging but so worthwhile. It’s always great to see that so many students are interested and want to support the initiatives that we run.

I also work closely with a number of other teams within the University including the Disability Support Team, Mental Health Advisers and Marketing Team.

What attracted you to the job? How did you get into the industry?

I had always wanted to work in sports development and the role at the University was advertised at just the right time. My previous role had been desk based and I wanted a role where I was actively working with people and sharing my passion for sport. The fact that the post was based at the University in Nottingham, with one of my previous line managers, was also a big draw.

What would you say is your top perk at work?

I enjoy numerous aspects of my role, but I would have to say being given the autonomy to go out and work with people, and develop my own programme of work has been one of my top perks. Through my developmental work with the University’s goalball club, I was also lucky enough to be chosen as an official at the 2012 Paralympic Games, which proved to be an absolutely amazing opportunity.

Pictured: Goalball participants at the Paralympics

What has been your biggest career challenge to date? Or give us a feel for the challenges in your role?

I think that the challenges that I face are similar to a lot of other people in the workplace. I find managing different personalities quite a challenge, particularly if they have different goals and ambitions to you. Learning what makes people tick and how to negotiate effectively with them to gain a positive outcome, has definitely been a skill that I’ve had to work to develop.

I’ve also had to work quite hard to develop the trust and interest of disabled students in sport and physical activity. A lot of them have had negative experiences of accessing sport previously and are often reticent to engage when they come to University. I’ve tried my best to overcome this by talking to them, finding out what the perceived barriers are and trying to work on removing those or at the very least making them less significant.

If you weren't doing this role, what would you do? Dream job?

I love what I do now and I think that my dream job would involve continuing to work in the disability sport field. Following on from my experiences at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, I would say that some kind of management role within ParalympicsGB or a national governing body for sport would be that dream achieved!

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Within the higher education (HE) sector, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure disabled students have fair and equal access to sport and physical activity. For me a lot of the work that needs to be done is around developing strong networks, effective communication structures and changing peoples’ perceptions around disability sport. We’re lucky enough to have some great support from our senior management team at Nottingham and I hope that what we do will become common place within HE.

Post-Olympics - how do you think the industry/sporting landscape will change in the next five years? What are the challenges you’re seeing in your role?

 That’s difficult to answer! I think that since the Paralympic Games, more national governing bodies, higher education institutions and other organisations are starting to look more seriously at their disability sport provision and pathways.

Within the HE sector we are becoming under increasing pressure to demonstrate value for money to students and a positive University experience - sport is a significant part of this process. I hope that the relevant pathways will be put in place by NGBs, NDSOs and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) to facilitate the development of more sporting opportunities, both participative and competitive, for disabled students.

I think that there will be some challenges along the way, in terms of funding, changing people’s perceptions, making facilities more accessible and also getting some groups of disaffected disabled people to engage with sporting activity.

(Transcript provided by Hannah Webber.)

CIMSPA

CIMSPA is the chartered professional development body for the UK’s sport and physical activity sector. We provide leadership, support and empowerment for professionals working in sport and physical activity AND a single unified voice for the sector.

The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity launched in January 2012 and celebrated its first Chartered Members and Fellows in January 2013. Find out more on their website

Live in Nottingham and want to find participation opportunities for disabled people? Sport Nottinghamshire's website could help you find a sport.

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