Premiership Rugby's Project Rugby programme, backed by partner 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 clubs at more than 200 locations across the country, Project Rugby has already changed many young lives for the better with a number of stars emerging – including Todd, and this is his story:
Todd is a young man who has learning difficulties, who has had a tough home life after his mum left at an early age and who has suffered at the hands of bullies. The bullying often led to Todd eating lunch alone to stop other children picking on him or stealing his food.
Fast-forward a few years and Todd is not only a popular member of a rugby side, he is also coaching rugby. He makes no secret of the fact his participation in Bath Rugby Foundation programmes has transformed his life and given him a social life he would otherwise not have had – with his participation in Project Rugby proving particularly transformational.
Todd may not have any academic qualifications, but he greets everyone with a smile and has an incredibly positive outlook on life. He has taken part in programmes run by Bath Rugby Foundation for a number of years, first joining the doorstep club, moving on to the Hi5! Club and then becoming the first captain of the Walcot Warriors – the first Mixed Ability rugby team set up in the South West.
And it is at Walcot Warriors that Todd has found a way to fully participate in his favourite sport. Until this point, he was often forced to watch from the rugby sidelines as others played.
So when the Walcot Warriors team was created through Project Rugby in 2017, Todd was one of the first players to sign up. And he hasn’t looked back since.
In the past couple of years, Todd and his teammates have played matches across England and Wales; he featured in the Bath Rugby Foundation XV on Bath Rugby’s 2018 Clash shirt; and has even been interviewed by World Cup winner Ben Kay on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight programme.
Todd is now in his second year on the HITZ employability programme and was a finalist in the national HITZ Awards in October 2019.
Last summer Todd undertook work experience as a RugbyTots coach and impressed the team so much they hired him to help deliver sessions as a paid coach – Todd’s first paid employment.
And his positive, can-do attitude doesn’t stop there. Todd was never taught to ride a bike when he was a child. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to take part in a two-week cycle in Chile last November came up, Todd signed up and decided he would learn how to cycle – putting in months of hard work to prepare for this adventurous endeavour.
Lynne Fernquest, Bath Rugby Foundation Chief Executive said: “Despite the challenges Todd has faced throughout his life, he is one of the most positive young people on any of our programmes. His joy is infectious and he brightens up the Foundation office every day.”
Project Rugby is a joint initiative launched in 2017 by Premiership Rugby in collaboration with England Rugby, with 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.
It is designed to increase participation in the game by people from traditionally underrepresented groups including Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic people, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and disabled people.
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.
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