Over 80 young people from South London and Surrey were given an unforgettable experience as they took part in a mixed ability Project Rugby Festival at The Stoop, home of Premiership Rugby club Harlequins.
Celebrating the success of Project Rugby, Premiership Rugby and England Rugby’s flagship inclusion programme, pupils from seven special education schools basked in the sunshine and enjoyed several fun rugby sessions and non-contact matches to introduce them to the sport.
The sessions were delivered by coaches from the Harlequins Foundation, who have reached over 1,200 children in and around London with Project Rugby this season.
With the participants predominantly comprised of individuals with disabilities, the event coincided with Project Rugby reaching the landmark of engaging 25,000 participants since its inception.
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.
Among the schools present were Oakland School from Hounslow, which provides specialist education to students with severe learning difficulties.
Close to 20 pupils from the school were given the unique opportunity to play on the Harlequin’s pitch.
Hannah Saunders, PE co-ordinator at Oakland School, was full of praise for the impact that Project Rugby has had on the school: “We’ve had Harlequins coming in for the past two seasons and the impact of Project Rugby has been phenomenal.
“I walk down the corridor and I’m constantly being asked ‘are Harlequins coming in this week? Am I on the list for the session?!’ which is amazing to hear.
“We’ve had over 50 students benefit from the programme and they get so much enjoyment and fun from it.
“By having that that excitement from Project Rugby, they work academically that bit harder and mentally, they come away really proud of themselves which carries on into their afternoon classroom lessons.”
Harlequins Foundation’s Project Rugby provision is led by Matthew Williams, Foundation Coordinator and Disability Rugby lead.
Matt oversaw the Festival and was quick to recognise the importance of the experience that the children enjoyed: “Mixed-ability events like these are the perfect way to allow more and more young people to experience our sport.
“Rugby is a game for everyone, no matter your background, and together with our partner schools we are using the power of sport to inspire and equip young people of all abilities to realise their potential.
“We are proud to work with initiatives like Project Rugby to bring people of all ages into the sport and promote the immense social benefits it can bring.”
Project Rugby will play a significant part in the upcoming Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham on Saturday 1st June. Star participants from the programme will have the opportunity to play on the pitch at half time in front of the huge crowd present.