World Autism Awareness Day 2023: Creating opportunities on and off the pitch

On World Autism Awareness Day, Tim Pemberton, social impact and strategic partnerships manager at the ECB reflects on an innovative coding programme that is helping children with autism in West Midlands schools

Part of my role at the ECB is to explore different ways to use our reach and resources to make an impact beyond cricket. The ECB has a range of diverse partners which share this vision around working collaboratively to go further with our impact. This was the starting point in thinking how we can bring our partners and audiences together in more interesting ways, particularly to benefit under-represented communities.

Evidence shows that neurodiverse children are typically less active than their peers, and in response to this and the ECB’s ambition to be the most inclusive sport, we launched our inclusive ‘schools’ strategy’ alongside charity partners Chance to Shine and the Lord’s Taverners in late 2022. This funded the delivery of cricket in an extra 200 SEND schools.

Autism is one of the most prevalent areas of neurodiversity. A key barrier that people with autism face is around finding employment where they are provided the right environment to thrive. Microsoft is a strategic partner to the ECB and after hearing about its neurodiversity hiring programme, I wanted to understand how we could similarly empower our neurodiverse audiences.

Last year I met with Akhtar, a Microsoft engineer whose experience with his autistic son inspired him to create a coding workshop aimed at engaging children with autism with technology.

Supported by Sport England’s Commonwealth Legacy fund, we designed a programme that ran these workshops in schools across the West Midlands which are part of our SEND ‘schools’ strategy’. This allowed a holistic approach to creating impact. Our cricket delivery promotes health and wellbeing alongside skills such as confidence, communication and teamwork, while the coding workshops encourage curiosity and problem solving, skills that particularly resonate with children with autism.

Alongside partners Chance to Shine and The Lord's Taverners, the ECB's schools strategy will see table cricket delivered in an additional 200 SEND schools

One challenge we face is how to sustain our impact beyond the initial workshop. One avenue is 'train-the-trainer' sessions which allow teachers to continue the children’s engagement with technology. We invited teachers from schools across the West Midlands to come to the world-famous Edgbaston cricket ground for a coding training day. We provided a set of Microbit coding devices for each school and are looking forward to seeing how the teachers embed these coding skills into their schools going forward.

The strength of the England Learning Disability team and huge success of the Disability Premier League – which includes learning disabled players – is central to the ECB's commitment to disabled cricket, and we hope these assets can inspire more disabled children to play cricket. But not everyone can be an elite player. Our ambition is that the impact from our Microsoft partnership can help create a blueprint for other ways of driving equity, diversity and inclusion beyond cricket, and create lasting and meaningful change for the entire disabled community.

The ECB and Microsoft have a strategic partnership which covers high performance, cultural transformation and empowering cricket communities. This project is a part of several live initiatives bringing together the best of technology and cricket.