Fully engaged

15th July 2005 at 01:00
Caroline Spanton wants girls to get even more involved in sports. She tells Anne Horner why

Caroline Spanton's day begins with an early-morning training session on the river Taff at Cardiff. She rises at dawn in the hope that she will be selected to row in a pair for the Welsh national team.

The 25-year-old recognises that her height - a mere 5ft 7in - means that she won't get into the British team. To do that she would need "an extra five inches", she jokes.

Training finished, Caroline drives to her base at Ystrad Mynach, where for the past two years she has worked as the borough's women and girls sports development officer.

For Caroline, who grew up in the prosperous South East of England and rowed at Pangbourne College near Reading in Berkshire as a sixth- former, the Welsh valleys are a completely different world.

Her independent alma mater boasts that it is a "four times Henley winner".

Such elite aspirations are far from the reality in Caerphilly.

"It is a very, very different area," she says. "It was a huge culture shock coming from that background to the upper Rhymney valley and Caerphilly... "There is a lot of deprivation and the whole outlook on life is different.

Some girls don't realise what's out there for them. They just finish school and have a baby and think that's all there is."

She has a mountain to climb changing attitudes but the need is clear. In Year 7 there is 84 per cent participation in extra-curricular activities, but by Year 11 the figure falls to 55 per cent.

The borough has above-average rates in Wales for female participation in indoor exercise, such as dance and pilates, but she considers it is still very low. Participation in health-related exercise, dance and indoor games can offer her some comfort. The 2004 figure of 23.8 per cent is slightly above the Welsh average of 22.7.

"I work very closely with the schools to make sure that they provide high-quality extra-curricular activities and to make sure that girls are developing habits to last them a lifetime."

Over the past 12 months she has focused on the hard-to-reach areas of the upper Rhymney valley which are more deprived, and where there are high levels of inactivity and poor health.

Caerphilly has a higher incidence than average of heart disease. Of its population, 23.2 per cent have received treatment for cardiac problems - the Welsh average is 20.8 per cent.

The borough has 19 Community First zones, areas that receive funds because they are deemed to have high levels of deprivation. Girls' rugby has been developed in the area and she says that the under-14s and under-16s Caerphilly Tigers team are now quite strong. "The girls seem to love it," she says.

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