Little Fitness

Little Fitness: Promoting Physical Activity for Children in Emergency Accommodation

Submitted on Wednesday, 26/06/2024

Promoting Physical Activity for Children in Emergency Accommodation: A Collaborative Effort

Dr Stephen Behan, Assistant Professor in DCUs School of Health and Human Performance, Funded Investigator with Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics 

 We are thrilled to be collaborating with Little Fitness as part of the Moving Well-Being Well (MWBW) project. The core mission of MWBW is to promote physical activity among all children in Ireland, including those who may not have the stability of a permanent home. Our initiative aims to ensure that every child, regardless of their circumstances, has access to opportunities for physical development.  

 Though our partnership with Little Fitness is just beginning, we are committed to supporting children living in emergency accommodations. Our goal is to support Little Fitness in providing these children with a variety of meaningful and developmentally appropriate activities. These activities are designed to enhance their physical literacy, a crucial aspect that equips them with the skills and confidence needed to remain active throughout their lives, in any physical activity they choose to pursue. 

  As we look forward to expanding our partnership later this year, we are excited about the potential to further support Little Fitness in their invaluable work. Together, we aim to make a significant impact on the wellbeing of children across Ireland, fostering a healthier and more active future for all. 

Sinead Ryan Founder of Little Fitness 

Little Fitness is a Social Enterprise which brings fun and inclusive educational fitness to children living in emergency accommodation and marginalised communities. 

A chance encounter with a pair of brothers in 2019 who were living in emergency accommodation opened my eyes to the significant adversities of families experiencing homelessness. This inspired further research and made the decision to target Little Fitness to  children who most needed what we could offer. A successful pilot in partnership with Crosscare in 2019/2020 provided valuable learnings which were then used to refine the offering. 

 Many children in Ireland are coping with one or more forms of disadvantage. Concerning is the record number of children who are experiencing the trauma of homelessness, currently 4,206 children living in emergency accommodation. This typically entails families sharing small, single rooms in hotels or B&Bs with little privacy and limited, if any, space for children to mix and play. 

 Little Fitness offers practical opportunities to tackle the problem and close the gap, thereby improving things for children, their parents, service providers working with these families and others more generally. 

The programme is designed to include eight-week educational fitness programmes that are delivered for one hour each week to groups of up to 15 children between the ages of four and 12 in homeless service settings, pre schools and other organisations based in areas of deprivation. 

Children are provided with a welcoming environment in which they are taught fundamental knowledge and skills about bodies, health and nutrition through enjoyable non – competitive physical games -skipping, running, balancing, followed by appropriate wind down activities such as colouring, crafting, relaxation exercises, etc. 

 It offers them a much-needed break from the norm.  It is an injection of fun and excitement in what could otherwise be a bleak existence.  It allows them to release energy through physical exercise and be soothed by relaxing creative activity.  The children gain a basic understanding of how their bodies work and why looking after themselves is important.  They might also begin to learn some physical skills that they have not yet had the opportunity to develop. The activities on the programme are simple, but nonetheless challenging.  This helps them to build their confidence week on week, whether it be through gradually improving their balance or learning how to design, build and demonstrate an obstacle course.  Their sense of pride about minor achievements can be palpable. 

 Little Fitness has already worked with an impressive range of service providers: Aspire, AsIAm, Ballymun Family Resource Centre, CLG Na Fianna, Connections Arts Centre, Crosscare, Dublin City Council, Dublin Northwest Partnership, Dublin South City Partnership, Focus Ireland, Frontline Make Change, Mellow Spring Childcare, Rugby Cubz NI, Salvation Army, Sillogue Neighbourhood Centre, Ozanam House, North East Inner City (NEIC) and Young Ballymun.  By trusting and choosing to involve Little Fitness in their work, these organisations have been enabled to achieve some of their strategic goals.  The experience has clearly also been very positive for frontline staff, who as a result were more motivated in their work.  The coming together of Little Fitness and the service providers also led to the opening up of new communication channels and the sharing of useful information, which in turn helped to support the families both care so deeply about.