From lockdown fundraising idea to the launch of his own website, Special Olympics GB athlete Niall Guite shares his brilliant story

Today is a big day for Special Olympics GB athlete, leader and talented artist Niall Guite. Today, is the day Niall launches his website as part of our Special Olympics GB new Social Enterprise – among one of the first of its kind across the global Special Olympics movement. So, it’s a huge day all round!

Called Niall Guite – ‘Art with a Special Goal’, is a sport lover’s dream and features a wide range of Niall’s distinctive and beautiful drawings of well-known and iconic sports stadiums from both home and abroad across a range of products including prints and mugs.  With bespoke commissions also available on request.

The launch of Niall’s website is the culmination of 18 months of Niall’s hard work for the passionate artist, which all started out as a simple fundraising idea to support Special Olympics GB during the nationwide 2.6 Challenge, which organisers of the London Marathon launched on what would have been the 40th anniversary of the London Marathon. 

As part of that challenge, Niall - who has been drawing football stadiums since he was eight years old - came up with the idea to draw 26 football stadiums to raise £260 for Special Olympics GB. And it was not long before the idea took off and at last count Niall has raised more than £6,000 single-handedly.

Because it turns out that Niall is not only a talented artist, but he is also brilliant user of Twitter and social media in general. By sharing his images, posting polls asking what to draw next, tagging in official club accounts, football stars, managers old and new and celebrity fans, not only did Niall smash his fund-raising target, but he has also managed to build up an impressive list of celebrity fans. Including Rodri Man City's Spanish defensive midfielder; Sevilla manager and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Julen Lopetegui; Kadeem Harris former player at Niall’s beloved Sheffield Wednesday; BBC Radio One DJ and I’m a Celebrity runner-up Jordan North; and none other than world famous artist Grayson Perry who has been incredibly supportive of Niall since announcing on Twitter that he “loves” Niall’s art.

“I’m so excited to launch my business. It means the world to me. This is a Social Enterprise business, and I am hoping to show that people with intellectual disabilities can be successful not just in sport but in employment too,” said Niall.

And if all of that wasn’t incredible enough, this whole idea started and has been developed to this stage during a global pandemic. A truly incredible and surprising outcome, considering the devastating impact of Covid-19 has had on so many of our athletes.

With everyone’s lives reduced to self-isolation and communications carried out virtually, calls and meetings via Zoom allowed everyone at Special Olympics GB National Office to get to know Niall and our other members of the Athlete Leadership Team in a way that hadn’t happened before. And in conversations with Tom Casson, our Athlete Leadership and Enterprise Manager and Niall’s mentor, it was clear to see Niall’s passion and drive for this project.

As his Mum, Michelle explains: “This whole project has been a phenomenon that came together as a result of the pandemic. And what it did, was make it crystal clear what Niall’s skills were, what his drive was and how we could help him moving forward. When Special Olympics GB mentioned the Social Enterprise idea and that they’d like to help Niall build a website, we were all buzzing with excitement after that meeting. It was almost like some kind of magic happened during the pandemic.”

And it was over these Zoom calls that Niall’s confidence with other people grew, as Niall’s mum Michelle explains: “Niall finds it really difficult talk about a lot of things and formulate views but when he’s sat with his family, Niall talks in a really relaxed way. He’ll say all sorts of things. We talk politics, football, life, love, books, cats – anything. But over the Covid period, and during these Zoom calls, what we noticed was that Niall started to talk a lot more. I could hear him laughing and he got more and more comfortable.”

“It’s really easy to think that someone’s not really capable with an intellectual disability. Over time we all realised we wouldn’t be pushing Niall on this project. It was actually Niall pushing himself.  That it was Niall who had the ideas and passion and drive and capabilities and that came across in the Zoom calls.

“The pandemic allowed people to see Niall’s skills and who he could be. It also showed how skilled Niall is. Not many people would get a super famous person to chat to them in the way Niall did.”

Looking back at all the elements to this story that have all come together for this business to launch, it genuinely feels like “the stars just aligned,” reflects Niall.

Can Niall actually believe everything that has happened over the last year and a half and that his idea is now being turned into a business and a career for him. “No!” laughs Niall! “It means a lot. It’s like a dream come true.”

And what does he think of the support he’s received from Special Olympics GB throughout this process? He answers without hesitation: “I’m really proud and excited. It’s a special moment from Special Olympics GB!”

Niall’s Mum, Michelle adds: “For me, Special Olympics GB has given Niall an outlet to show his drive and passion in his sport, in his life and now in his art. It’s been an amazing platform and a showcase to allow Niall to be seen for the person he is. Because he is special. He amazes people all the time.”

Niall, who is a gold medal-winning Special Olympics GB World Games basketball player turned cyclist from Sheffield, has always been creative with a big imagination and a love for colour. Each drawing can take up to two days to complete depending on the complexity of the stadium. And every element is thought through in detail, especially the colours he uses, as Niall explains: “The club colours are used for the stadium.” And for the opposition? “Sometimes Niall will use their strongest rival team – like a local derby,” adds his Mum, Michelle. “Sometimes, people ask him to do a special picture – like the first game they went to, or a really good cup run - and the colours will be the final match between the two teams who played.”

“As a family and as a mother of someone with an intellectual disability I’ve had people say to me ‘I’m really sorry’ because people think and say the most hideous things about people with intellectual disabilities and they do assume that you are burdened by it. That your life is difficult. I’m not saying that life hasn’t been difficult or that there haven’t been times when I do worry about a future and worry about how life will be for Niall. But the positives and just the pure love we have in our house is phenomenal,” continues Michelle.

“We do feel blessed. Our lives are better as a result of having Niall in it. Niall is phenomenal and everyone else gets to see that now and that’s beautiful. That’s all you want people to see. You don’t want someone to go I’m sorry. Sorry for what? Life can be good in so many ways for people with intellectual disabilities if we just listen a little bit more, give time, energy, drive. Self-belief gets you a long way and Niall has that in spades.”

All in all, this is a truly lovely and remarkable story.  And so, when we asked Niall what his ambition for his business is, Niall pauses and then with his big, lovely trademark smile he says: “I just want it to be a success!”

We wish you all the best Niall!

If you’d like to support Niall and his new venture, please click HERE. And if you’d like to learn more about the Special Olympics GB Social Enterprise, please click HERE.