Written by Jo Crowley on 05 Sep 2023
Photographs by Charlie Gilmour


Nineteen Syrian children and teens have have been working hard in North Ayrshire, Scotland, supported by the Loretta Doyle Judo Foundation, towards earning their first judo grades.

The successful integration of refugees into many communities around the world is facilitated by local and national governments, by schools, by sports clubs, charities, social care teams and many more. It’s a complex and usually stressful process triggered by the need for relocation to preserve life and or ensure human rights are upheld. West Kilbride is becoming a real centre for stability for many refugees, due to the sport of judo.

Loretta Doyle, Sarah Adlingt and the group of successful, graded judoka

Last week double Commonwealth champion Sarah Adlington (GBR) presented the 19 Syrian refugee youngsters with their first belts. They have all just completed a life-affirming 16-week course organised by the Loretta Doyle Judo Foundation. The charity has only been established for a few short years but is already making a significant positive impact for people arriving in the UK from challenging circumstances elsewhere in the world. Syria has been in the news for several years but thanks to thousands of good people and a lot of positive media coverage, there is hope and a lot of rebuilding in the UK for many.

The presentation of the children’s new judo grades was held with parents, siblings, and judo stars, with some pizzazz thrown in for good measure and it crated a lot of smiles and a buzz for their judo futures. The first belt is just one step, an important one, but now the whole group is ready to continue their judo lives in a community which has welcomed and included them, ensuring they have a home in their judo family.

The charity’s founder, world champion Loretta Doyle, is committed to enhancing lives and offering inclusion through free access to judo. This awards event was a small part of that and was also attending by Judo Scotland’s CEO Judith McCleary.

Sarah Adlington, Judith McLeary and Loretta Doyle

Loretta said, “Our 19 young Syrian ‘New Scots’ have been exemplary pupils of the sport and discipline of judo over the past 16 weeks. They have magnificently earned a coveted first coloured belt, awarded not just for their ability to take a fall without hurting themselves, or techniques to grip and throw, but for their sporting friendship and the courtesy shown to their opponents.

To engage in judo requires courage balanced with self-control, modesty and honesty.  These children have demonstrated all of that.”

Further activities for Syrian and a new group of Ukrainian refugees are happening at this time; the great work continues in West Kilbride.