Teenagers from across the country enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk in the footsteps of rugby greats on Saturday as part of Gallagher Premiership Rugby’s award-winning HITZ programme.
Delivered nationally by England’s 13 professional rugby clubs, and sponsored by Land Rover, Comic Relief, and Wooden Spoon, HITZ uses sport as a way of engaging and supporting youngsters who are not in education, employment or training to get back on their feet. And as part of this year’s programme, teenagers representing each club were invited to London for an action-packed weekend, including a chance to walk out at the Home of England Rugby.
The group were able to walk out onto the Twickenham pitch ahead of Saturday’s end-to-end Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final between Exeter Chiefs and Saracens, as well as make the most of a day of team-building activities with the Royal Navy and an inspirational talk from Paul Vice, an ex-Royal Marine and Invictus Games gold medal winner.
Casey Treadaway, who represented Harlequins at the weekend, was over the moon to be a part of the unique experience: “I had a great couple of days. It was great to see parts of London I had never seen before,” he said.
“I loved taking part in all the activities – Bucket ball was great, but the best bit was, of course, seeing thousands of fans cheering at the Final.
“It was my first time going to Twickenham and it was a weekend I will never forget.”
As well as attending the thrilling Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final, on Friday the youngsters spent the afternoon at the Royal Docks in Woolwich with London Youth Rowing and the Sea Cadets.
The youngsters, many of whom had never experienced any form of watersport before, took part in rowing, kayaking and sailing activities, before heading to Hazelwood where they played a range of sporting activities on the London Irish pitch.
Matt Russell, HITZ officer at Gloucester Rugby, said the experience for those attending the Final was bigger and better than ever before.
“It was my third time involved in the Premiership Rugby Final with HITZ at the weekend and every year it seems to get better and better,” he said.
“The HITZ family is really growing. All the staff are more in line with how we want to run the programme across the country and the participants are getting a chance to mingle more, especially with people outside their comfort zone.
“We only had one child from Gloucester participating in the final, but he was surrounded by other young people to have fun with.
“They were getting along together as a team and cheering each other right from the very moment they first met.”
Having been involved with HITZ for several years, Russell is confident about the long-lasting benefits the programme can provide.
“I was talking to a Gloucester participant from last year’s trip recently, and she said she still talks to some of the boys she met from London Irish at last season’s Premiership final,” he added.
“She suffered from severe social anxiety, so taking her to a game that has 80,00 spectators and staying at a residential with people from across the country pushed her so far out of her comfort zone that she adapted and made friends for life – helping people out of those situations really sums up the HITZ family.
“It’s all about giving people opportunity for growth. We give opportunities that other programmes and courses don’t offer.
“We want to help people who have had a bad start in life realise their potential even if they don’t see it themselves.
“It’s great to step back and see their progress. Last year at Gloucester Rugby, 95% of participants who completed the programme went back into work or full-time education.
“We want to let people know that a bad start in life won’t be a barrier to success. HITZ really is their second chance.”
Image credit: Seconds Left