Premiership Rugby's Project Rugby programme, backed by Gallagher, has been one of the game’s great success stories in recent years – introducing thousands of young people every year to rugby as a game for everyone regardless of background or ability.
Delivered by Gallagher Premiership Rugby clubs at more than 200 locations across the country, the programme has already changed many young lives for the better – including Rebekah Elsdon’s (pictured above), and this is her story.
Today, Rebekah has a real spring in her step – especially when she plays for Grasshoppers RFC.
As recently as a year ago, this wasn’t the case for the Hounslow teenager who lacked confidence and struggled to fit in at school. But thanks to Project Rugby, and sessions carried out by Harlequins, Rebekah is now fully immersed in a sport she loves.
Since taking up rugby only a year ago, the 15-year-old has gone from knowing very little about the sport to representing Middlesex and is now dreaming of one day becoming a rugby superstar.
“I’ve got a lot more confidence in speaking to people and have found new friends,” said Rebekah who plays hooker. “I didn’t feel like I fitted in with anyone but now I have got a group of girls that I can relate to and I am finding it much easier to communicate.”
Project Rugby is a joint initiative launched in 2017 by Premiership Rugby in collaboration with England Rugby, and Gallagher adding its backing in March 2019 as part of its commitment to support not only the professional game but also champion rugby at the grassroots level as a truly inclusive sport.
Since launch, more than 45,000 young people have been introduced to rugby through the initiative who wouldn’t otherwise have had access.
Project Rugby is also one of Premiership Rugby’s Community programmes that together form the Plan to Improve a Million Lives. This ambitious community strategy is Premiership Rugby’s commitment to make a positive impact, through rugby, on the lives of one million people by the end of the 2020/21 season.
In developing her passion for rugby, Project Rugby has helped Rebekah become one of those people. Rebekah’s mum Mandy has witnessed her daughter’s transformation on and off the field and is delighted to see her flourish under the guidance of Quins’ coaches.
“I’m told she’s one of the first girls from Harlequins that has stuck with the programme and is succeeding,” Mandy said. “I remember Rebekah telling me some months ago that she didn’t know anything about rugby and wasn’t sure whether she was going to like it. Now she tells me she wants to be the next rugby superstar!
“[Harlequins’ Foundation Development Officer] James Collins-Clark is really good at giving her that confidence and backing her abilities when she’s quite shy and doesn’t really accept that she is doing well at something. She’s even spoken to some of the Harlequins women’s team and they’ve told her they all began where she is now, so she can do it.”
Rebekah attends Kingsley Academy in Hounslow, just a few miles from Twickenham Stadium and The Stoop (Harlequins’ home ground). Despite its location, Mandy said rugby wasn’t taught in the school until Quins came in last year. Her daughter was not the only youngster to benefit from Project Rugby.
The programme aims to increase participation in the game from traditionally underrepresented groups – specifically by people from traditionally underrepresented groups including Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic people, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and disabled people.
“Rugby is a big thing in this area given that we are near both stadiums,” Mandy said. “But the school didn’t have rugby as part of their curriculum.”
Rebekah – whose favourite player is Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler – trains three times a week with sessions with Osterley-based Grasshoppers and Middlesex Under-15s.
“She’s definitely improved her health and fitness and attitude to life as well,” Mandy added. “She was in a bit of a down moment for a few years and didn’t have a focus. As a family we’ve been through a lot and it’s been hard for the kids, especially for Rebekah who’s the oldest of four. Rugby has given her the focus she had lost.”
“It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing or the time of day, she wants to play rugby.”
Project Rugby provides accessible opportunities for people to participate in the game at a time and place that can be easily accessed by target audiences.
To find out more about Project Rugby and to find a session near you, visit www.projectrugby.co.uk
For more information on the Plan to Improve a Million Lives, follow #improveamillionlives and visit www.premiershiprugby.com/community