Preston Panthers disability sports group is marking 20 special years

Marilyn Gregson, far right, with members of 'Preston Panthers
Marilyn Gregson, far right, with members of 'Preston Panthers

Feeling frustrated at the lack of sporting clubs for her daughter Helen who had special needs, Marilyn Gregson set up her own group.

With the help of other parents, she formed Preston Panthers Disability Sports Club, offering multi-sports for children and young adults with a wide range of disabilities and special needs.

Good memories: Coaches and members show off their certificates at the end of the Preston Panthers Fun Day held at West View Leisure Centre, Preston in 2006

Good memories: Coaches and members show off their certificates at the end of the Preston Panthers Fun Day held at West View Leisure Centre, Preston in 2006

Since then, the group, aimed at five to 25-year-olds, has grown from strength to strength and is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

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Emily Jane Cowan, Preston Panthers media and fund-raising officer, says: “While we are still only a small club, Marilyn has spent the past 20 years nurturing its development into a key part of our community.

“Children can be a part of a group without fear of being rejected or isolated. They can join in with sports at their level, without any fear of judgment or restriction.

I really like going to Panthers because I get to chat to people, like me.

Marilyn Gregson

“Once the Panthers grow older, they are taught coaching skills, and are then able to volunteer coaches.

“The club is also vital for parents and full-time carers, because it provides them with a safe space too, where they can sit and discuss the events of the week with parents who understand, without any judgment.

“It also provides them with a network to discuss various types of support available, and places which are accessible and inclusive to visit, which is so important, because there is no ‘manual’ for how to raise a child with special needs.

“Speaking to parents who have already experienced what you’re going through is invaluable.”

Marilyn Gregson with her torch for the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Marilyn Gregson with her torch for the London 2012 Paralympic Games

To mark two glorious decades, the club is holding a special anniversary event at West View Leisure Centre, Preston, on Saturday December 1, from 5pm until 7.30pm. In the sports hall during the dry-sports session, the Panthers will be taking part in a sponsored obstacle course, where non-members are invited to have a go at the course for 50p a go.

In the pool, Panthers will be taking part in a sponsored swim.

There will also be a big celebration in West View’s events room, with music, refreshments and memories of Panthers from the past 20 years on display.

Members will also be shaking buckets all night to raise as much cash as they can for the club, and drawing a Big Birthday Raffle.

Preston Panthers

Preston Panthers

Emily adds: “We are opening the doors to everyone to come and see what we do, join in the fun, and help us raise some money. We particularly welcome anyone who was previously associated with Panthers to come down.

“We really wanted to celebrate this milestone and involve the community.

“As we are a small, self-funded club, we also need to hold fund-raising events to keep our club alive. Holding a fund-raising event to celebrate our anniversary would be a fantastic way raise some extra funds.”

Marilyn Gregson, who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Preston Sports Awards earlier this year, says: “I’m thrilled to bits that the club has come so far, and that Emily has organised this event to celebrate it.

“It will be nice to see people who have helped us along the way, and the people who helped us at the start.”

Marilyn’s daughter, Helen Gregson, now 36, says: “I’m glad my mum started Panthers for me. I really like going to Panthers because I get to chat to people, like me.

Preston Panthers

Preston Panthers

“I like all of the different sports we do and I love going to the Calvert Trust in the Lake District. Panthers is really special and I’ve made lots of friends.”

Ruth Cowan, 24, has been a Panther for seven years, and has developed into one of the ex-Panther volunteer coaches. She adds: “I love Panthers because I now get to volunteer, after being a Panther myself, and look after the little ones, running the activities.

“It makes me feel more confident and like I have a proper job. Panthers makes me feel happy and safe being around people like me.

“I’m not in danger of bullies and I feel happy. Twenty years is a long time, and Marilyn and everyone have worked so hard.”