Wales’ first women’s sports conference inspires a generation of young women

As International Women’s Day approaches, Urdd Gobaith Cymru was proud to have hosted Wales’ first-ever young women’s sport conference.

The #FelMerch (transl. ‘Like a girl’) conference was held over the weekend (March 5-6) at the Urdd Residential Center in Cardiff Bay. Its aim was to inspire, support and empower young women between the ages of 16 and 25 to get involved in sport.

One hundred and fifty women from across Wales attended the conference, to benefit from motivational speeches and various workshops led by 20 inspiring and leading experts in their fields. The conference was also an opportunity to share ideas and discuss options and opportunities for volunteering, training and qualification in the world of sport.

The bilingual conference, suitable for Welsh learners, was moderated by endurance adventurer, athlete and presenter Lowri Morgan. Speakers included Gemma Grainger, Hollie Arnold MBE, Laura McAllister, Natasha Harding, Elinor Snowsill and Gwennan Harries.

The national #FelMerch project was launched in June 2021 by the Urdd Sports Department supported by Sport Wales, to tackle the fact that young women are more likely to drop out of sport as teenagers, especially since the pandemic.

Gemma Grainger, National Women’s Director for Wales, said while preparing for the event:

I can’t wait to participate in the Urdd #FelMerch conference. The weekend, along with the wider #FelMerch initiative, is vitally important in increasing girls’ participation and providing more opportunities in all sport in Wales.

“I was lucky enough to see the success of #FelMerch first hand at the Urdd Center in Llangrannog, and the support of Urdd in organizing fan buses for our Cymru matches. I’m delighted to see how #FelMerch will continue to grow in the future.

Four-time Paralympian and multiple world record holder Hollie Arnold MBE added:

Over time, young women were often told that they couldn’t do something or wouldn’t be good at something because of their gender. I had challenges in my life growing up with a disability, but I always used it to my advantage. For me, it’s all about mindset and attitude to any challenge.

“All young women deserve the same opportunities and that’s why I’m delighted to be part of the first ever young women’s sport conference in Wales, #FelMerch, helping to inspire, empower and provide opportunities to help young people women and girls to realize their full potential and achieve their goals.

Giving young people a voice is at the heart of Urdd’s work, and one of the young people who spoke at the conference is Francesca Antoniazzi from Anglesey, an avid netball player who broke her back in an accident 5 years ago. She did not give up the sport and began training as a wheelchair netball player and weightlifter and won two Welsh Championship golds and two British Championship silvers.

Francesca said:

It always seems impossible until it’s done. There is always a way around this, even if you have to ask for help, help is not weakness.

Delegates also heard about women who have succeeded in professional sporting roles, as well as looking at sport in its larger context. Coach Catrin Ahmun will discuss fitness and mental health, a session with Chef Beca Lyne Perkins will teach delegates about the relationship between food and sport, and a session on body image and sport will be hosted by model and former Love Island contestant Connagh Howard.

The event was held with the support of the Welsh Government and Deputy Arts and Sport Minister Dawn Bowden said ahead of the event:

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to speak at this first-ever young women’s sports conference and support the #FelMerch activity program. #FelMerch plays such an important role in encouraging participation in an activity sport of all abilities and to create safe environments in which to do so. It promises to be a very inspiring event.

Siân Lewis, Managing Director of Urdd Gobaith Cymru added:

“Ensuring that young women receive support and opportunities to play sport is a priority for us as an organization – 56% of young people who take part in our weekly sporting activities across Wales are women. #FelMerch has created new opportunities for girls in sports, inclusive weekly activities, discussion forums, community centers during the holidays and much more. The response has been overwhelming, and we hope this conference will help inspire a generation of young women to discover all the benefits of playing sports.

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