09/11/2020

Will Bayley drops in for fright night at Freewheelin

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Members of inclusive dance club Freewheelin were this year treated to a special Halloween surprise they won’t forget in a hurry.  

The Birmingham-based club has shifted sessions online during COVID-19, running virtual weekly classes, but last Friday was no ordinary workout with Paralympic champion and Strictly Come Dancing star Will Bayley making a surprise guest appearance.  

The table tennis star took part in the Halloween-themed session which featured dances including the Monster Mash and Ghostbusters as well as ballet and samba, before answering questions in an engaging Q&A to finish.  

The class proved a smashing success and has had a huge impact on all the spookily-clad dancers who participated.  

“We managed to sneak Will Bayley in and their reactions were priceless,” Freewheelin founder and director Helen Mason said.  

“Ellie, one of the girls, told me that she screamed so loud when she saw him that her mum asked if she was alright!  

“They just loved it. You could tell they were loving the fact he was dancing with them and getting involved.  

“The Q&A session where he answered all of their questions was really valuable. The questions they came up with were just brilliant.  

“Some were about his sporting career, some were about his dancing on Strictly, about how you cope on a bad day and how you cope with being different.   

“All of them took something away from that, it was a big confidence boost for them all to feel that ‘if a Paralympian and Strictly star has bad days then I don’t feel so bad when I’m having a bad day’.  

“It was exactly the highlight of the week they needed. It boosted everyone’s mood and I’m sure all they’re going to talk about for weeks is that session.  

“What was so lovely was that he’s a celebrity but by the end of the conversation it was like just talking to anybody else, talking to another human about shared issues.  

“It was just the perfect person to come to one of our sessions at the perfect time. I think it will really stay with them.”  

Formed by Quinton-based dance instructor Helen in January 2017, Freewheelin caters for disabled and non-disabled people of all ages and from all walks of life.  

With a multitude of classes on offer, including a specifically tailored wheelchair session, the club has grown from its humble beginnings over the past few years.  

However, the outbreak of COVID-19 in March threatened to halt proceedings with all classes forced to move online.  

Despite this having had its fair share of positives and negatives, the move to online classes has proven a real success with attendance numbers increasing due to reduced barriers to participation.  

The sessions have also been key for providing a sense of community and belonging in tough times.  

Helen added: “Attendance has actually gone up in my group because it’s reduced the barriers to attending.   

“Some of my group have different medical conditions and disabilities or carers to assist them in attending or rely on travel to get to the venue and all these can be barriers. With online it suddenly took that all away.  

“With online you can access it anywhere. One lady in particular is from Leicester, she’s heard of us but never joined because that’s quite a commute. When we went online she was like ‘oh my gosh, can I join you?’  

“She’s attended every single session since March because she could and she said it’s been so great for her.  

“Some members of my group are quite isolated anyway because of being disabled but when you add on top of that a pandemic and you’re in the shielding category and you’ve got to stay at home you’re really stuck.  

“Some of the ladies have said to me if it wasn’t for the classes online they wouldn’t have spoken to anyone all week. The fact they’ve had that interaction every week, it’s given them structure. It’s a community.  

“The negative is you are at the mercy of technology. Luckily everyone has been able to access it but that would’ve been a factor if somebody hadn’t had a computer or internet. But you’re in the hands of the gods with internet connection!  

“Overall we’ve found it really positive and it’s helped us through lockdown.”  

Freewheelin are just one of the many online activities included in the Inclusive Home Workout Zone - Check it out now!