The Saracens Foundation – the charitable arm of Saracens Rugby Club - works tirelessly to reach out to all sectors of the community and make positive and lasting changes to people’s lives through sport, with the mixed ability rugby team at Harpenden RFC the prized jewel in the crown.
And the man behind the success of the team - founded in January 2018 - is coach Carl Peter, who can be found on the Redbourn Lane pitch morning, noon and night, inspiring every player to love rugby just as much as he does.
Carl is one of the unsung heroes involved with the Saracens Foundation and Project Rugby - Premiership Rugby's Project Rugby programme, delivered in conjunction with partner Gallagher and the RFU. The initiative is designed to increase participation in the game by traditionally underrepresented groups, such as people with disabilities or from ethnically diverse or low socio-economic backgrounds, with community staff at each of Premiership Rugby’s clubs delivering sessions at more than 200 locations across England, in welcoming and supportive environments accessible to participants.
Mixed ability rugby is a fully inclusive form of the game, which aims to change the perception that rugby is not a sport for people with disabilities. The team provides a fun and safe environment for the disabled community to come together and enjoy the many benefits of rugby both on and off the pitch. The team welcomes everyone regardless of their previous rugby experience, skill level or type of disability, with the mission of creating memories for the players and their families.
From having five participants in the first session three years ago, the Harpenden RFC Mixed Ability Team welcomes over 20 players on a regular basis each week as part of Project Rugby, with Carl’s infectious enthusiasm helping everyone involved to enjoy their rugby experience.
Carl regularly commits an estimated 14 hours per week volunteering at Harpenden RFC. He does it all for the love of the game, and has even declined payment for coaching - donating that money directly back into to the club.
Carl commented: “Our aim is to give people a great experience so they love the game as much as we do. If we can grow the game and give people the experience of being involved in rugby, because it is the best team sport in the world, we all gain a lot from it as coaches, as players and spectators. Watching our players’ reaction to the team sport element, and the camaraderie that goes along with that has been fantastic.
“We’ve got a wide range of abilities, and I love the way that they all have empathy for one another, they’re all highly competitive but they all look out for one another.”
For Carl, his pride comes not only on the pitch, but in seeing the benefits from being involved with the club spreading into the players' everyday lives as well.
“You can see when they’re at rugby they love it. They not only really enjoy it but they get a lot out of it - talking to the parents afterwards and they say how their child has changed outside of rugby,” he said.
“How they are growing in confidence, how they are doing things that they wouldn’t have done before, and how it’s made their life better, it doesn’t get much better than that. Seeing these players grow in confidence and personality is exactly why I do it, I can see on a weekly basis we are helping these people.
“It’s about making sure that people who wouldn’t usually have that opportunity are offered and can benefit from all the reasons that we’re involved in rugby and sport in general. We are all one big family and we all look out for each other, and that’s brilliant to see.”
Saracens Foundation Development Manager Charlie White believes the hard work of Carl has been a major factor in the mixed ability group growing so rapidly at Harpenden, as he continues to inspire the next generation of rugby stars.
“Carl is absolutely incredible - the work he does within the community impacts the lives of so many people, both on and off the pitch. He’s nurtured all forms of rugby at Harpenden RFC, building community spirit and helping others to understand the individual needs people have in order to be able to access rugby.
“Everyone that speaks about Carl always gives us so much positive feedback and praise about him for his dedication, enthusiasm and drive to ensure rugby is accessible to all.”
Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby, said: “It is through people like Carl that Project Rugby has become the success it is today. We wouldn’t be able to offer these fantastic opportunities to trial or play rugby without the commitment and passion of the club community teams. The understand and know the change that can happen within all areas of a person’s life when they find rugby and Carl strives hard to ensure as many people as possible have this experience. We can’t thank him enough for his hard work.
“The Harpenden RFC Mixed Ability Team shows exactly how important it was for Premiership Rugby to launch Project Rugby and we are thankful for the vital support we have received from Gallagher, the RFU and of course our clubs, like Saracens, who bring it to life. Project Rugby succeeds because it engages and develops new audiences through rugby and stimulates a lifelong interest in the game. We look forward to introducing many more to the sport we all love.”
Christian Kaye, Senior Regional Development Executive at Gallagher and club liaison for Saracens, added: “As the proud title partner of Premiership Rugby, encouraging people to get involved in rugby – regardless of background, gender or ability - is something we’re passionate about at Gallagher. It’s brilliant to see the impact Project Rugby is having in terms of breaking down barriers to participation in the game, and engaging so many players at grassroots level.
“We continue to be blown away by the passion and commitment of community coaches running these sessions – and Carl is no exception. His enthusiasm and dedication has been instrumental in ensuring the Harpenden RFC Mixed Ability Team continues to go from strength to strength. From everyone at Gallagher, thank you for everything you do.”
To find out more about Project Rugby and to find a session near you, visit www.projectrugby.co.uk.