Project Rugby, Premiership Rugby and England Rugby’s inclusivity programme, is today celebrating its ongoing success, reaching the landmark of 25,000 new players.
Since its launch in 2017, it continues to challenge under representation in the sport from BAME, low socio-economic backgrounds and people with disabilities.
In the last two years, 3,340 participants from BAME backgrounds, 17,715 from low socio-economic groups and 4,652 people with disabilities have picked up a rugby ball and become involved with the game through the project, which is run in partnership with Gallagher.
Delivered in local communities by the 13 Premiership Rugby clubs, Project Rugby sessions provide easy to access playing opportunities for people new to rugby, no matter where they are. Free coaching provision delivered in high density BAME areas and in partnership with specialist community groups is linked to grassroots rugby clubs, 137 of which have benefitted from new players so far.
15-year-old Seth Mensah recently spoke about how Project Rugby has helped him overcome his traumatic childhood and gang involvement, saying: “Project Rugby has made me the person I am today. Without it, I would be lost. I feel as if I haven’t properly begun my journey and I can’t wait to see where it leads. I owe Project Rugby and Harlequins so much for helping me through the tough stages in my life and making me happy again.”
In the most recent phase of Project Rugby (2018-19 season), young women and girls made up 41% of participants, the highest proportion to date.
“Project Rugby has been an overwhelming success since its launch,” said Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby. “The fact that we’re seeing so many new players take up rugby is fantastic and we’re taking huge strides in making the game more accessible, as well as engaging communities with no background or history with rugby.
“It’s about giving rugby union a try and once people change their perceptions that it isn’t a sport for them or overcome the trepidation they feel about stepping onto the pitch, they are converts and reap the full benefits of the game.
“We are incredibly proud that Project Rugby is delivering tangible results. We want rugby to be a positive catalyst in these participants’ lives and our initial research has shown that new players are enjoying benefits to their wellbeing such as increased confidence and social connectedness.”
Examples of the life-changing effect of rugby is shown across key target groups of the programme in these compelling stories from Project Rugby participants.
SETH MENSAH (HARLEQUINS) – PROJECT RUGBY HELPED ME OVERCOME TRAUMATIC CHILDHOOD AND GANG INVOLVEMENT
15-year-old Seth Mensah endured the most difficult of upbringings with the devastating tragedy of losing both parents at a young age. This led to a downward spiral in his academic studies, losing focus on his education and falling into the trap of gang culture around his hometown of Croydon.
However, positive change was just around the corner in the unlikely form of playing rugby union at his school Riddlesdown Collegiate. Delivered by Harlequins’ community coaches, Seth initially attended an after-school Project Rugby session and became hooked on a sport that he’d never considered playing before.
Seth quickly began to experience huge benefits to his wellbeing from the game and an upturn in his academic work, subsequently asking his teacher to represent the Project Rugby as an ambassador for the after-school rugby club and recruiting his peers into the sessions.
As well as his excellent playing skills, Seth’s dedicated commitment to Project Rugby meant his attitude and behaviour stood out amongst his peers resulting in Seth now acting as vice-captain for the Harlequins’ ‘Project XV’ U16’s, a side made up from boys who are not currently at a rugby club and are seeking to transition into a grassroots club.
AMY HUC (WASPS) – PROJECT RUGBY GIVES FATHER AND DAUGHTER WITH DOWN’S SYNDROME UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY SIDE-BY-SIDE
Having been born with Down’s Syndrome, 17-year-old Amy Huc has struggled to socially interact and participate in sport and physical activity throughout her life.
A lack of accessible sporting opportunities has represented a real challenge for Amy, until her local Premiership Rugby club Wasps began delivering Project Rugby sessions at Leamington-based rugby club, Old Leamingtonians. Despite having no previous rugby experience, Amy took to rugby almost immediately and enjoyed the camaraderie of playing alongside other young people in a similar position to herself.
Fast forward a year later and Amy found herself playing in a milestone fixture between her current team Old Leamingtonians Hornets and Broadstreet RFC, based in Binley Woods. Both clubs , who have created mixed ability teams following the success of Project Rugby in the area, feature players with and without disabilities across a broad age range.
The fixture was both sides’ first competitive match and the game was well attended by friends and families of the players who watched on and joined in with the celebrations of Project Rugby’s positive local impact through Wasps’ tireless community work.
One of those people was Paul Huc, father to Amy and a Support Worker at Entrust Care Partnership in Cubbington. The father-and-daughter duo played alongside each other as part of a squad filled with players galvanised together by the project.
“The work that Wasps are doing with the community is fantastic,” says Paul. “I really can’t fault them for the effort that they’ve put in. Everyone joined in and loved being part of the day.
“The project is a great way to help the kids experience being part of a team. I’ve seen first-hand how it’s helped them grow – their communication and teamwork skills have come on leaps and bounds. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Sean Noone and Jordan Young from Wasps, and Emma Smith and the Old Leamingtonians committee for their vision and support of this project.”
SID RAI (BRISTOL BEARS) – FROM PUNJAB TO BRISTOL BEARS’ DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME: PROJECT RUGBY HAS MADE ME REALISE WHO I AM
Sid Rai was born in Punjab, India and at the age of seven, moved overseas to England and initially lived with his uncle in London. One year on and Sid relocated to the south-western coastal town, Weston-Super-Mare, due to his uncle starting his own business.
Sid joined Worle Community School, a co-educational academy which was thrust into the public eye after an unfortunate student stabbing in 2016. It wasn’t long before Worle’s PE Teacher introduced Sid to Project Rugby.
Despite previously never playing and possessing an interest in rugby, the Project Rugby sessions enabled Sid to develop various skills such as passing, kicking and scanning off the ball.
Sid’s enthusiasm for the game grew and he subsequently joined his local rugby club, Hornets RFC. In no time at all, Sid’s outstanding performances for Hornets became noticed as he was invited to join Bristol Bear Rugby’s ‘Developing Player Programme’.
Now 14 years old, Sid outlined why Project Rugby has had an extensively positive impact upon his lifestyle: “Project Rugby has demonstrated how there is always something new to learn. My confidence has significantly increased throughout all aspects of my life, especially when considering I previously used to be too scared to participate in rugby!”
Sid additionally spoke of the reasons he is thankful to Project Rugby: “Rugby is now a sport I love. I have (had) occasional anger issues and I use rugby as a way of alleviating this. I appropriately release my anger on the pitch and leave it there when I walk off. Project Rugby has provided a comfortable platform for me to fully express myself.”
He added: “For anyone considering participating in rugby, just go for it! I can guarantee you will learn something new and have a great time meeting new individuals or playing with friends. We always have a great laugh!”
For more information on Project Rugby and to find a session near you, visit www.projectrugby.co.uk