Julie Elliott, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Rugby Union Group, insisted the outstanding work carried out by all 12 Premiership Rugby clubs is making a huge difference in their local communities.
The MP for Sunderland Central was speaking as participants across England were being honoured at the glittering Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards ceremony, staged at the House of Commons on Thursday.
Now in their 11th year, the Awards celebrate the wide range of development work that the Premiership Rugby clubs deliver locally through ground-breaking schemes such as Aviva Tackling Numbers, HITZ, On The Front Foot, Rugby 4 All, Something To Chew On, Move Like A Pro and Urban Rugby Squad.
From sports participation to education, health and social inclusion, Premiership Rugby is using rugby to change lives and tackle some of England's most challenging agendas.
Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards winners:
Young Achiever of the Year award – Chelsea Parker, Worcester Warriors
Volunteer of the Year award – Nicole Talbot, Gloucester Rugby
PLAY award – Bristol Rugby’s Eagle Project
BreakThru award – Saracens’ Sarrie's RFC programme
Gloucester Rugby’s Nicole Talbot was named Premiership Rugby’s Volunteer of the Year, while the Young Achiever of the Year went to Worcester Warriors’ HITZ ambassador Chelsea Parker.
Saracens’ Sarrie's RFC programme received the BreakThru Award gong, while Bristol Rugby’s Eagle Project scooped the PLAY Award.
Elliott tipped her cap to all the winners and the schemes themselves for helping participants reach new heights both on and off the rugby pitch.
"The diversity, reach and impact of Premiership Rugby’s community programming is superb," she said.
"I applaud the work the 12 Premiership Rugby clubs do with their local communities and disadvantaged groups.
"I also want to highlight the volunteers and young people who have been recognised in these awards for their efforts and achievements.
"The Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards celebrate how professional rugby is a positive force for good, impacting the lives of 310,000 participants globally each year through rugby participation and personal development. Rugby is truly changing lives."
Volunteer of the year Talbot was selected for the gong for her contribution to wheelchair rugby in Gloucester, where she dedicates over six hours per week to helping organise the team.
They now compete in the National League Division 2, as well as a related community project which reached over 400 young people in the 2015-16 season, and Asian Sports Foundation chairman Jug Johal admitted Talbot’s massive impact had made her story sparkle.
"Nicole has been right at the heart of the project," he said. "She is helping individuals with their specific needs, co-ordinating club activity, building confidence, organising events and showing that rugby can have a transformative impact on the lives of individuals."
Worcester Warriors’ HITZ ambassador Parker won the Young Achiever award after she overcame a host of personal problems.
The Award seeks to reward a young participant who has ‘made the most’ from one of Premiership Rugby’s initiatives, and the Movember Foundation’s Emily Cramp believes Parker had done just that.
She said: "Chelsea has had to overcome some very serious obstacles in a short space of time, and the huge progress she has made makes her the perfect recipient.
"She made some bad choices early on but she has since shown she is willing to learn from those and also teach others not to follow those paths, which is a major accomplishment."
BreakThru winner Saracens were rewarded for their Sarrie's RFC project which has empowered young people with disabilities to improve mental health and wellbeing by focussing on the ability of disabled bodies, championing inclusivity and creating opportunity.
Comic Relief’s grants manager for sports change Lisa Bedding was impressed by the programme’s work with young people with autism, and improving both their physical and mental health.
"They had identified a very specific local need and had developed a programme that responded to that," she said.
"In my job I fund a range of projects and I was really impressed by the quality of the Saracens programme, it is a really great example of how rugby is being used to promote social change."
Bristol Rugby won the PLAY Award after their Eagle Project impressed the three-strong judging panel by increasing participation in the girls’ and ladies’ game in the Bristol area.
Rachel Zaltzman, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s head of programmes, said the Eagle Project shows positives signs for expansion.
"The project is smart, sustainable and scalable," she said. "If they have additional funding I think it could go right across the area and really deliver rugby for girls from school, into their communities and up to a county and national level.
"They are going for a real end-to-end approach, working in schools and taking them through to clubs, forging a great retention rate in girls playing through their own initiative."