Rob Elliot

Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot made an appearance at Hill Top Specialist Arts College on Monday afternoon, where he watched a disability football session ran by Newcastle United Foundation.

Hill Top, in Gateshead, is a school for pupils aged between 11 and 16 with special educational needs. The school is one of 29 special schools across the region who are part of the Foundation's disability football initiative, funded by BBC Children in Need and the Football League Trust.

The project, now in its second year, means the Foundation can offer schools free coaching sessions, both in school time and after school. Players can then join one of seven satellite coaching centres and go on to compete in monthly fixtures.

The emphasis is on fun and building fitness and self-confidence, while ensuring there is a pathway for gifted and talented players via the FA's Disability Football Player Pathway.

Elliot spent time chatting to the youngsters, as well as facing some of their shots, and the player who was signed from Charlton at the end of August was only too happy to lend a hand.

He said: "While I was at Charlton I was involved in their community work in a big way, so I really enjoyed going to Hill Top.

"Football is a sport which can bring people together, regardless of ability, and it was great to see the kids enjoying themselves."

Newly-appointed disability football development officer, Reggie Dornan, said: "We at the Foundation want to ensure football is accessible for all.

"This project is all about supporting young people with disabilities to enjoy the sport just as much as other children do. Football is an excellent way to increase fitness levels, improve balance and coordination and promote team working."

"Sessions focus on improving technical skills but also encourage the children to develop their own leaderships skills and confidence, skills which are transferable into everyday life."

Every special school in Gateshead, Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside has been invited to sign up to the scheme and benefit from free coaching.

Schools taking part include Collingwood School and Dilston College in Morpeth, Southlands and Silverdale in North Tyneside, Hadrian School and Charles Parsons in Newcastle, and Hill Top and Cedars in Gateshead.

Foundation staff are skilled and experienced at working with children with a range of disabilities, and to find out more email foundation@nufc.co.uk.