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Two-time English national champion Suzanne Louis-Williams had never coached anyone in a wheelchair until she met para badminton ace David Follett.

Now, offering a growing hub of inclusive badminton based in Exmouth, Devon, the 1994 mixed team Commonwealth gold medallist is giving children and adults with physical and learning disabilities the opportunity to get active.

Louis-Williams set up the Inspire Badminton Academy around 15 years ago with Darren Peterson and the operation has gone from strength to strength in recent years.

Working with Devon Racqueteers’ Sharon Hawkins and Follett, Louis-Williams, 59, branched out to set up the Visions Inclusive Academy, a group for those with physical and learning disabilities, who now host more than 40 active members each week in Exmouth.

She said: “I love coaching from the primary school children to working with adults.

“Because I love badminton, I want to make it accessible for everybody and at the moment it is not accessible.

“These children were not able to access sport outside school, which is tragic, so Visions Inclusive was set up.

“We’re still learning too. When I first started coaching David, he’d recently had his accident and I’d never taught anybody in a wheelchair.

“All the time we’re adapting the activities we know and the techniques to suit players that have complex disabilities.”

Mum to England men’s doubles Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Ben Lane, Louis-Williams has always been a natural mentor and trainer.

Thanks to a recent injection of funding from Badminton England, Visions Inclusive have been able to sustain and expand their operation.

The coaching organisation will use the money to partner with a local residential deaf school, The Gateway Club for adults with learning disabilities and the Esteem Team, a mental health provision, to roll out further badminton opportunities.

Louis-Williams also works closely with the local secondary schools in Exmouth and puts badminton players through young helpers and young officials awards to contribute to the success of sessions and build pupils’ confidence.

She said: “With some of our adults, it’s actually getting them into the hall and that is a major achievement when they actually start playing badminton or catching a ball or interacting with somebody, they love it.

“It’s not just the physical element, for a lot of our children as well, a lot of it is more social.

“These children don’t get many opportunities to mix with children of similar disabilities and in a safe environment.

“Our local community are really good at supporting because we can’t run these sessions with 15 kids and one coach, some of our kids need one-to-one support.”

The Visions Inclusive Academy would not be possible without the tireless efforts of Louis-Williams and the team around her.
Louis-Williams will also be part of rolling out the Sense programme to develop sensory badminton for those with complex needs, adapting the game for all after receiving specialist training.

The proud badminton legend is humbled to be part of a growing movement within the sport which is just the start of making badminton, the country’s favourite racket sport, an outlet for people from all sporting and social backgrounds.

She added: “It’s very rewarding with the children because they give you so much back and it’s just the small things that count with our inclusive sessions.

“We started it at primary school for players but because they can’t go anywhere else to be active but now we’ve got a lot of older players too.

“We’re not going to all of a sudden say they can’t go anymore, because where else will they play their sport?”

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