WHEN Sale Sharks HITZ officer Tom Leader thinks about all of the young people he has worked with, there are few who have undergone such a complete transformation as Inaam Ulhaq.
When the youngster from Manchester arrived for his first day on Premiership Rugby’s award-winning programme, HITZ, two years ago, he was shy, withdrawn and found it difficult to communicate with others.
Now Inaam is thriving, having completed the HITZ programme and landed a full-time job with Timpson after a successful apprenticeship.
Tom insists all of the credit should go to the 20-year-old.
“The aim of the HITZ programme is to help young people get the education they need to get them into a job, an apprenticeship or further education,” said Leader.
“They’ve left school without any qualifications so they are coming here to better themselves.
“Despite being painfully shy when he first came onto the programme, Inaam really enjoyed the sporting side and this helped him to develop confidence, start to learn and get his education.
“Inaam was always on time and wearing the right kit, and whenever I needed a hand he was always there to help me.
“He used to help me plan the sessions and coach the sessions, and he was always a credit to the HITZ programme and Sale Sharks.”
HITZ was launched in 2009 and is supported by Wooden Spoon, Barclays, Comic Relief and Land Rover. The programme is run by 12 Premiership Rugby clubs.
HITZ uses rugby as a tool to give NEETS (not in education, employment or training) young people a chance to make a brighter future for themselves.
As well as sessions helping them with their English, maths, IT and employability skills, the students also work to boost their self-confidence by taking part in rugby and a host of other sports.
“In school I was a bit naughty, I didn’t talk to anyone and I just stayed by myself,” admitted Inaam, who found it hard to integrate into the education system after arriving from Pakistan.
“When I got used to everyone at HITZ that’s when I started to speak to people and feel confident in myself.
“I’m a very cheerful lad and I like to get on with stuff. I’ve grown in lots of ways and taken on more responsibility.
"I learnt English, maths and IT as well as rugby, football, boxing and taekwondo.
“I started an apprenticeship with Timpson, did some work experience, and that’s how I got the job I have now and the past year has been bang on.
“If I wasn’t here working, I’d be outside on the streets with my mates. Now I have my own money I use it wisely.”
Someone else who has been following Inaam’s progress closely is his boss at Timpson Steve Ainsworth, who added: “He’s a really good lad, he comes across really well, he tries hard, and I can’t fault him in that respect.
“His work ethic is good and he gets stuck in. You don’t have to chase him around and ask him to do it. His strength is his personality, he has come out of his shell and has definitely grown in confidence.
“You do four or five jobs at one time in this job and you have to concentrate but he’s come on in leaps and bounds.”
Jai Purewal, head of community investment at national HITZ partner Wooden Spoon, believes there will be more success stories like Inaam coming out of the programme for years to come.
“When we first met Inaam there was no eye contact and getting a handshake out of him was difficult,” said Purewal.
“If you go and see him working in the shop in Manchester, he’s engaging, and he’s thriving in an environment that’s alien to what he was used to before he came to HITZ.
“HITZ targets young people in areas of social deprivation who haven’t had the chances in life most of us are used to.
“The programme creates an opportunity for that young person to step out of their comfort zone and then supports them as they develop, and it’s testament to the young people that they have gone on and made such a success of it.”
The award winning HITZ programme tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today – unemployment, crime and disillusionment. Delivered nationally by Premiership Rugby and funded by national partners Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon, HITZ uses rugby to increase young people's resilience, self-reliance and confidence. It gives them the skills to get back into education, vocational training, apprenticeships and employment. Please visit hitzrugby.com to find out more.