Sport brings joy to many millions of spectators worldwide on a daily basis, be it summers spent glued to the Olympics, Saturdays singing your heart out a Twickenham or Sunday morning’s football scraps, watching sport is the favourite past time of umpteen people.
However, sport can be so much more, and indeed is so much more, to many people. Daisy UK is a Liverpool born and bred charity, set up by the inspirational Dave Kelly, which uses sport to empower, inspire and support disabled people across Merseyside.
“We get a lot of letters from parents and kids saying we’ve saved their lives”.
That was Mr Kelly’s opening gambit, and it sums up the rest of the interview. His, and Daisy UK’s, emphasis on “reverse inclusion” is refreshing, innovative and hugely successful. Reverse inclusion is based upon disability-led sports, accessible to participants with a range of disabilities, in which non-disabled participants are included. This is an incredibly effective way of increasing understanding about disability, subsequently reducing prejudice towards disabled people, and easing the pressure of finding activities for families with children with varying needs. As he comments, “they help each other”. Indeed, Daisy UK is so much more than a sports organisation; it is a real life social network. The support provided by Daisy UK is comprehensive; Dave comments that “I would rather help one person 100% then 100 people 1%”, and that ethos is clear. Daisy offer highly individual, personal support.
It felt as though Dave took me on a journey of his life while we were talking, the descriptions so vivid and words so honest I may as well have been viewing all he told me through a pensieve. I asked him how he came to establish the charity and he started a few years after he left school, when his trade as a plasterer took him to a job at a school for blind children. He paints a beautiful picture of the workmen playing blind football with the children on their lunch break, but the nostalgia is shattered as he develops the story of how two recessive genes gave him an eye condition that would render him blind by thirty; “I was looking at them through a different set of eyes and it was scary. I used to talk to them, asking what’s it like being blind”. Back then there was a distinct lack of support for blind people and their families, and Dave talks with sincerity and a distinct lack of self-pity about the years he spent alone and struggling as he battled with the loss of his sight. Daisy came to him in a dream in that dark period of his life, and he describes how he “woke up with energy and motivation” for the first time in years. He heard “black birds singing” and “people coming home from clubs”, and he explains his urge to help people by using sport through his subconscious creation- Daisy.
“I was a blind Scouser right, with nothing, I had no money, no education, nothing. I thought how do I do it, how do I do this.”
It is safe to say he overcame the hurdles, and today Daisy is thriving. It in undeniable that Dave is perfectly placed to lead such a project; he has, as he says, “been to hell and back” and that experience has imparted such empathy, such understanding and such passion. “I swore I would do anything, everything, to help people not be in that place that I was in, and that is why I am so determined at what I do”- and such determination.
“The forgotten heroes are the young children who are born with horrendous problems, whose families have fallen apart; they’re the heroes and they’re the unsung heroes, they haven’t asked for any of that and sometimes in society we focus on what’s in front of us now…that’s my battle”. It is clear that Dave finds the people he works with truly inspirational.
Daisy aim to spread their message by going in to schools and teaching inclusion through sport via a programme called Visual Disability Awareness Through Sport, which involves understanding disability, developing communication skills, providing a forum for questions and more specialised training on specific disability groups. This is then developed through accessible sports, such as wheelchair basketball and blind football; empathy particularly is developed by people having the opportunity to experience a disability they have not got, for instance, playing blind football whilst blindfolded. This develops a highly transferrable awareness and understanding of disability that can be utilised outside sporting avenues; “they take the ‘dis’ out of disability and just see the ability”.
When I asked Dave why he chose sport as the key means of promoting tolerance, understanding and empowerment his reply was simple; “I’ve always loved sport”, and perhaps more than most. Dave completed the 874 mile journey from Lands End to John O’Groats on a tandem, to prove to the world that his blindness was not an impediment to achieving his potential. This reflects his hugely positive perspective; “let’s focus on what we can do here, on what we do, and how good we can do it and put a smile back”.
And it’s not just Merseyside in which Daisy UK are making a difference; Dave took Daisy to schools in Belgium, which he described as “100 years behind” in terms of equality and awareness regarding disability. His journey and his achievements write an incredibly inspiring story. He described it perfectly for me; “from a blind Scouser who had no education, no money, no nothing, no hope, trying to beat the system and work my way up, I got everything I needed education wise, met so many fantastic people, started up Daisy, we won awards, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg- there is so much to do and I won’t let the system beat me”.