When you think of Liverpool you can’t help but associate the city with football – but one Toxteth teenager and Sale Sharks are looking to change all that through Premiership Rugby’s innovative Rugby4All programme.
Growing up Wesley endured some difficulties as moving around the country meant he found it hard to fit in and make friends, the youngster eventually moving into a children’s home.
After a couple of years Wesley moved back in with his parents and things really started improving for him after stumbling across a Rugby4All session hosted by Sale Sharks at Toxteth’s Fire Fit Hub.
Fast forward to the present day and Wesley hasn’t missed a session and is improving day-by-day, with the teenager urging more youngsters from the area to follow suit.
"I had people who really didn’t like me at all and kept on bullying me,” Wesley said. “So a few weeks after the social services got involved and that’s when I moved into a children’s home.
“After a few years I decided to move back to my parents’ and when I found out about the Fire Fit Hub it was a new place for me to meet new people, get to know the staff and get back into sports.
“Rugby is a new type of sport that has come into the Fire Fit Hub and I went to every one of the sessions they were running.
“Nowadays with the Sale Sharks that have been coming here, I have brushed up on my passing skills and communication skills.
“What I would say to people is ‘if you haven’t tried it before then just give it a go, play, meet new people, learn new skills, communicate with other people and just get involved and enjoy the game’.
“If we do have enough players we might be able to build our own rugby team.”
Rugby4All is Premiership Rugby's innovative programme backed by Department of Culture, Media and Sport, in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Lord Holmes, former champion Paralympic swimmer and Disability Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
“Wesley’s story is a great example of how Rugby4All is changing young people’s lives. Rugby is a fantastic way of bringing people together whatever their background to make friends, learn new skills, get fit and enjoy the game.
Sport inspires young people, and not just with dreams of becoming an athlete. It can influence how they approach everyday decisions and equip them with life-changing skills.
Everyone should have the same opportunity to get involved in the game and we hope Wesley’s story encourages more young people to participate regardless of their ability, gender or social background.”
The programme aims to promote diversity and equality in rugby, increase the number of women and girls involved in the sport, provide better access for disabled people and to promote the game among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups.
Delivered by Premiership Rugby clubs, the programme aims to recruit and train 240 BAME coaches while in high BAME communities, 1,800 primary school children will be given opportunities to try rugby, and there will be taster sessions for 600 11-15 year olds with 240 of them progressing into a player development programme.
The new programme will also provide 7,200 secondary school girls with the chance to play rugby, and support female players to join local rugby clubs.
In addition, 480 teachers and volunteers will be trained to support the growth of girls rugby, and Sale Sharks community trust coach Vicky Irwin insists that Wesley is the perfect example of how the programme can bring about change for good.
“The programme at Fire Fit Hub has been very well received,” she said. “The kids were a bit wary at first but you have obviously got to adapt your sessions to what they want.
“First and foremost you are trying to put through the rugby core values of teamwork, respect, discipline, sportsmanship and enjoyment.
“I meet Wesley every day at the door; he greets me in his Sale Sharks hoodie and a rugby ball.
“Wesley has had quite a hard life up to now so it is quite inspiring to see him being very respectful and down to earth given what has happened in his life.”
And Fire Fit Hub sports coordinator Lisa Smith is delighted to have the Rugby4All programme within her facility.
“Rugby coming into the Fire Fit Hub is actually brilliant,” Lisa said. “I thought it was a fantastic idea because it is something that we never heard people talking about in the centre so I thought what a great opportunity to give young people an insight into a different type of sport.
“The young people, when I first mentioned it to them, they said they didn’t like rugby. But I thought let’s bring Vicky down because they might like it and honestly it is one of the best decisions we have made.”
For more information about the Rugby4All programme including how to get involved, please visit premiershiprugby.com/rugby4all