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From the Irish Independent, April 29th

A Dubliner says her after-school fitness programme is having a positive “ripple effect” on homeless families.

Five years ago, Sinéad Ryan, from Santry, began working on Little Fitness, a social enterprise which is helping children in emergency accommodation to keep active.

During a trip to a private crèche in 2019, she noticed two boys who were “upset because they couldn’t run or jump” in the emergency accommodation they were living in.

“It was really emotional for me. I spoke with the Montessori teachers after listening to the stories of families who were in emergency accommodation, and I knew I needed to do something,” Ms Ryan said.

From this point on, Little Fitness has been growing strong, with the Dublin mother hosting over 800 kids in her classes in the past year.

“We saw that the programme was having a positive impact on the kids, and the ripple effect it had on parents and the workers in these services,” she said.

“Children seem happier, and parents could communicate more by having a cup of tea and a break, knowing their children are in a safe environment.”

She said time spent in emergency accommodation can be “isolating and lonely”, and this programme is a positive service that helps them feel like they belong and brings with it a sense of community spirit.

The latest homelessness figures from the Department of Housing show a total of 13,866 people accessing emergency accommodation at the end of last month.

This figure includes 4,147 children, an increase of 675 since March of last year.

As well as accommodating families in hotels and B&Bs, 37 family hubs are still in operation, with many families staying in these circumstances far longer than expected.

Little Fitness said supporting such families is what “drives them”. The group also focuses on the social, emotional, and language side of things so that children can feel free, be able to play, and switch off.

“It doesn’t matter about background, all children want to engage and have opportunities, and Little Fitness can help support children to be more confident and feel that sense of belonging,” Ms Ryan said.

The programme also encourages children living in emergency accommodation to explore other hobbies like GAA, dance, and more.

Children attending the classes also get some education on their different muscles and the correct ways to perform different exercises, warm-ups, and warm-downs.

The founder of Little Fitness added that she feels especially “honoured” to work with the children that she does.

“The children are the priority and our future, and if we make them feel like they don’t belong now, then they won’t belong as adults,” she said.

“We need to create change and a positive for these children going through difficult times.”