Three World Cup winners were among those to celebrate the inspirational work of youngsters from across the country at the 2016 HITZ Awards in Canary Wharf on Thursday night.
World champions Lewis Moody, Rachael Burford and Danielle Waterman, as well as Tonga prop Halani Aulika, presented awards at the celebratory event in Barclays’ office in the heartland of London’s financial district.
Premiership Rugby's multi award-winning HITZ programme utilises rugby to increase young people's resilience, self-reliance and confidence and has been providing them with the skills to get back into education, apprenticeships and employment since 2009.
HITZ supports the development of 5,000 targeted young people every year and an incredible 90 per cent complete the course, of which three quarters will go on to achieve a positive progression into further education training and employment.
Moody, who won the 2003 World Cup and earned 71 caps for England, presented the Young Ambassador of the Year Award to Harlequins’ Steph Rawlings on behalf of Land Rover, who supports the award.
Moody, a Land Rover ambassador, said: “The people on the HITZ programmes are always inspiring and so are the stories that come through it.
“Whether it’s people who have been in gangs, or had problems with drugs or crime; their lives have been changed by coming onto this programme
“There’s also a massive focus on making sure it’s not just this short integration, and when they get home from the programme it finishes, it still continues; there is work and life beyond this.
“To hear the stories is always incredibly inspirational. To see all these young people who have gone through adversity and seen how they have overcome it and actually taking responsibility themselves to better themselves is something I love to see.”
Burford presented the Community Impact Award, which was supported by Wooden Spoon and won by Katie McGrory of Sale Sharks, and Waterman revealed Joe Melfah from Worcester Warriors’ HITZ programme was Young Achiever of the Year, as supported by Barclays.
Aulika is now a regular for London Irish in Aviva Premiership Rugby and appeared for Tonga in the recent World Cup but growing up he had his own troubles before the sport helped get his life back on track.
The 32-year-old spoke passionately about the HITZ programme after naming Lacey Marshall of Sale Sharks as HITZ Champion, an honour supported by Comic Relief.
Aulika said: “I wanted to be a part of the HITZ programme because I wanted to be able to help people change their lives and that is what it does.
“HITZ helps these people to know that their future is not decided and they can achieve their dreams.
“I went through the same thing when I was around the age of 15 and wanted to make a name for myself but I was doing it in the wrong ways. I joined a gang and was trying to mess with people bigger than me to make a name for myself.
“But rugby helps you learn a lot of things like teamwork and discipline and that helps you achieve what you want in life.”
The fifth winner on the night was Govinda Kay from Exeter Chiefs’ HITZ programme as she picked up the Premiership Rugby-backed Best Rugby Performer award, presented by Premiership Rugby’s Wayne Morris and HITZ programme manager and ex-England international, Helen Clayton.
The host for the night was another former England international and now respected TV pundit David Flatman.
The ex-Bath stalwart said: “When I was a player you would be down to do an hour-long appearance but when it came to the HITZ programme, you would still be there two or three hours later and realise it was one of the best appearances you have ever been a part of.
“The next morning you would send an email to the club asking to be put down for more of those appearances and it ended up to the point where players were competing to go to the HITZ sessions because often these kids go from having so little to getting some attention at the HITZ programme and going on to be successful.
“When you have kids like I do, it is really inspiring to see.”
The annual HITZ Awards recognise some of the most inspiring young people in England. The HITZ programme delivered nationally by Premiership Rugby and funded by national partners Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today – unemployment, crime and disillusionment. See hitzrugby.com