Bethany helps Breathe Magic into disabled youngsters’ lives
Bethany Woodward is patron of Breathe Magic, a project run by the charity Breathe Arts Health Research.
Here Bethany, who has won medals at the IPC World Championships and the London Paralympic Games, talks about her involvement in a charity which has made a real difference to people with hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy which affects one side only of a person’s body.
Bethany mentions her work with the charity when she conducts her many public speaking engagements.
“Breathe Magic is important to me for two reasons,” begins Bethany. “Firstly, it helps people with hemiplegia, which is my disability.
“I got to know about Breathe Magic when I was doing an event for Lloyds TSB and one of the ladies who worked there was involved with the charity to help them obtain funding. She heard me speaking and she put me in touch with the charity.
“I was blown away by what they do.
“Young people who have cerebral palsy can find doing their exercises very uninspiring and lots of people don’t do them,” she explained. “They can be uncomfortable with their disability.”
To combat this, Breathe Arts Health Research, a social enterprise spun out of Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity, linked up with the Magic Circle, the professional body of magicians, to use the repetitive actions involved with practising tricks to help the young people. Doing so increases their strength, dexterity and as a result increases their confidence, self-esteem and emotional well-being. “They put a camp together and for two weeks kids learn the magic tricks,” added Bethany.
“Some children have never seen their palms because their hands are so tightly bound up as a result of their disability and there is such a change in them over that two weeks.
“The second reason I support this charity is even more important – they get to perform to their friends and family at the end of those two weeks.
“The huge amount of confidence and pride they are able to get from putting themselves forward in that way and making their disability part of the showmanship is tremendous.
“Then they can go back home and show their friends. To see these children within those two weeks is very special. It’s really great to see how similar they were to me at their age and it is amazing to see how they have something to help them, just like athletics helped me.”
Bethany, who has attended camps at the Magic Circle headquarters in London and one in Stepping Stones in Surrey, added: “I always mention that I support the charity when I do public speaking, within the value of responsibility to give something back after what I have received, because I can see that through Breathe Magic the young people have benefited in the same way I have done through athletics.”
Using magic is the biggest programme run by Breathe Arts Health Research, which also uses disciplines such as music as therapy to help people with conditions such as hemiplegia or who are recovering from a stroke or brain injury.
Breathe’s Yvonne Farquharson spun the charity out of the Breathe programme she was running at Guy’s and St Thomas’s charity in 2012 to give it a wider profile outside the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.
She said: “It’s been really wonderful to have Bethany’s support as a patron, particularly in 2013 when she came to the camps. She appeared as a special guest for them and they were incredibly excited. She gave an inspirational talk as part of it about her experiences.
“A lot of the young people do suffer with mental health and emotional difficulties, because we live in a mainstream society and they are quite similar to Bethy – they are not seen to be severally disabled. It is quite rare for them to find someone in exactly the same position as them and that’s why Bethy was so important to them, in being able to bring her personal experiences.
“A lot of them went on to say they would love to be Paralympic athletes and one boy was so overwhelmed that he is trying to become part of the Paralympic football team.
“She stayed for the show at the end of the camp and she gave an inspirational speech there too, to the parents and friends of those on the camp which was really important because they also learnt how a disability doesn’t hold you back and that people can achieve perhaps a lot more than people might expect of them.
“When she came to the camps she brought her medals and the children were excited about it. She has a real kindness about her and she was a figure they could look up to but also engage with.
“A lot of these young people lack role models who are really representative of them and she is a strong role model for them.”
For more information visit the Breathe Arts Health Research website.