A new initiative has been launched in Darlington, using archery as a way of helping disabled people to socialise and engage in sport. Peter Barron reports

TAKING careful aim from his wheelchair, Marc Lambert-Clarke releases his arrows from his bow with a flourish and can’t wait to get to get up close to the target at the other end of the hall to see how he’s done.

The result is impressive, with three arrows nestling in the inner circle, three more just outside, and no misses.

Marc, who has suffered from a condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3 since birth, is one of the members of a new initiative in Darlington, using archery as a way of helping the disabled and those with special needs to focus on sport, alongside able-bodied archers.

Inclusion Archery has been launched by husband and wife Steve and Ann Ward, who have turned a manufacturing unit at Cleveland Industrial Estate into a fully-equipped archery centre, with an 18 metre range.

Steve got addicted to archery as a hobby a few years ago after being invited to give it a try at an event. He was a leader with the 19th Darlington Cubs at the same, so he ended up taking his qualification as an instructor in 2013.

Interest in the activity continued to grow, with parents asking how their children could get more involved. Steve, who has an autistic son called Scott, 16, was also working part-time for the United Response disability charity and discussions began about how archery could help those with physical and mental difficulties.

After years of planning, he and Ann have now taken the plunge and launched Inclusion Archery as a business. It is open seven days a week, with adults being charged a basic rate of £7.50 per hour and juniors £4.50. All the equipment is provided, from small bows for six-year-olds, up to a full range of adult equipment.

The centre is open to anyone, with stag parties, weddings and parties all catered for. Instructor will also take the archery experience out to different locations, including school visits.

But, as the father of an autistic child, Steve is clearly passionate about the particular benefits of archery to the disabled.

“It helps with focus, and hand-eye co-ordination,” says Steve. “There is also a great sense of achievement which builds confidence.”

Keith McCullagh, who has learning difficulties, is another of those who are benefiting from being involved in archery. He comes down to the centre every Saturday and it has become his favourite day of the week.

“He’s always up early and is raring to go because he loves it so much,” says Steve, who quietly guides and encourages Keith. A smile breaks out on his face when he hits the target.

Marc Lambert-Clarke, 31, had tried the sport at fetes and became hooked after meeting Steve when he was giving an archery session at Catterick two years ago.

“I just loved it. It’s something I can do despite my disability and I and wanted to take it more seriously so coming here is ideal,” says Marc, a freelance videographer with a masters in television production.

Due to his brittle bone condition, he was born with 22 broken bones and has always been in a wheelchair but describes himself as “naturally competitive”.

“Having health problems means I can’t always get out but there’s no pressure and, because you pay as you go, you don’t have to pay out a lot of money up front.

“It’s a sport I can do from my wheelchair and excel at but, as well as the sporting side of it, I really enjoy the interaction with other people.”

Marc now intends to go through his instructor training and get involved in competitions, with the ultimate aim of taking part in the Paralympics.

“Marc has picked it up really quickly – he’s a complete natural so who knows how far he can take it,” adds Steve.

For Steve, Inclusion Archery is a business, open to all, but it’s also a passion which he firmly believes has all kinds of social benefits for the disabled and those with learning difficulties.

His message is simple: “Just get in touch and come and give it a go.”

To find out more about Inclusion Archery, go to www.inclusionarchery.co.uk, search for it on Facebook or call 01325 628850.