An email from Premiership Rugby with an invite to the HITZ Rugby Awards was answered very quickly!  I knew how incredibly inspiring the evening would be, as the efforts of a group of young people was celebrated at the amazing Barclay’s building in Canary Wharf. So, what’s it all about?  Here’s an explanation –

Premiership Rugby’s multi award-winning HITZ programme utilises rugby to increase young people’s resilience, self-reliance and confidence and has been providing them with the skills to get back into education, apprenticeships and employment since 2009.

HITZ supports the development of 5,000 targeted young people every year and an incredible 90 per cent complete the course, of which three quarters will go on to achieve a positive progression into further education training and employment.

There was an opportunity to chat to some of the people working on the programme before the formal part of the evening began, to a man/woman the enthusiasm for their part in changing young lives shone through.  Having worked in a challenging school myself for a while I know just how important projects like HITZ rugby are – this is literally #rugbychanginglives

There were three World Cup winners present to meet all of the nominees and present an award apiece.  Danielle Waterman and Rachael Burford representing the England Women’s team, winners in 2014 and Lewis Moody representing the men, a 2003 winner.  They were joined by London Irish’s Tongan prop Halani Aulika, he’d played for Tonga during the World Cup.

All of the nominees were dressed in style and all were worthy of winning an award. But there could only be one winner for each category.

First up was the Community Impact Award presented by Rachael Burford, which was supported by Wooden Spoon and won by Katie McGrory of Sale Sharks.  Katie was the first woman to win a HITZ Award, but she wasn’t to be the last.  Part of the evening involved David Flatman – who makes a superb MC – chatting to the award winner and in this case Rachael.  Katie spoke very well, explaining the impact HITZ had on her life.  Rachael was clearly as inspired as the rest of us in the room.

Lewis Moody, who won the 2003 World Cup and earned 71 caps for England, presented the Young Ambassador of the Year Award on behalf of Land Rover who support the award to  to Harlequins’ Steph Rawlings.  I’d met Steph before the ceremony, she was a vibrant, confident young woman, who is clearly going places.  Lewis had this to say about the programme –

“The people on the HITZ programmes are always inspiring and so are the stories that come through it.

“Whether it’s people who have been in gangs, or had problems with drugs or crime; their lives have been changed by coming onto this programme

“There’s also a massive focus on making sure it’s not just this short integration, and when they get home from the programme it finishes, it still continues; there is work and life beyond this.

“To hear the stories is always incredibly inspirational. To see all these young people who have gone through adversity and seen how they have overcome it and actually taking responsibility themselves to better themselves is something I love to see.”

Halal Aulika who is now a regular for London Irish in Aviva Premiership Rugby and appeared for Tonga in the recent World Cup but growing up he had his own troubles before the sport helped get his life back on track.

The 32-year-old spoke passionately about the HITZ programme after naming Lacey Marshall of Sale Sharks as HITZ Champion, an honour supported by Comic Relief.  Lacey walked onto the stage, in style, with the highest heels I’ve ever seen!  She explained how she’d been helping another participant, helping him find his way as far as HITZ is concerned.  Aulika had this to say about HITZ

“I wanted to be a part of the HITZ programme because I wanted to be able to help people change their lives and that is what it does.

“HITZ helps these people to know that their future is not decided and they can achieve their dreams.

“I went through the same thing when I was around the age of 15 and wanted to make a name for myself but I was doing it in the wrong ways. I joined a gang and was trying to mess with people bigger than me to make a name for myself.

“But rugby helps you learn a lot of things like teamwork and discipline and that helps you achieve what you want in life.”

Danielle Waterman revealed Joe Melfah from Worcester Warriors’ HITZ programme was Young Achiever of the Year, as supported by Barclays.  Another feature of the evening was a film of all of the winners, Joe had an interesting back story, it was clear that those running the programme felt that he may have been too much of a challenge for them.  However Joe bought into the programme and was a great success all round!

The fifth winner on the night was Govinda Kay from Exeter Chiefs’ HITZ programme as she picked up the Premiership Rugby-backed Best Rugby Performer award, presented by Premiership Rugby’s Wayne Morris and HITZ programme manager and ex-England international, Helen Clayton.  It was funny to hear Govinda explain what a change playing rugby had made to her life – the funny part?  She enjoyed ‘hurting’ people – in a purely rugby way of course!  It was clear that for maybe the first time in her life Givinda could really be herself.

 

I really can’t emphasise strongly enough how wonderful the work being carried out by each and every Premiership Rugby Club is. The final words go to MC Extraordinaire David Flatman –

“When I was a player you would be down to do an hour-long appearance but when it came to the HITZ programme, you would still be there two or three hours later and realise it was one of the best appearances you have ever been a part of.

“The next morning you would send an email to the club asking to be put down for more of those appearances and it ended up to the point where players were competing to go to the HITZ sessions because often these kids go from having so little to getting some attention at the HITZ programme and going on to be successful.

“When you have kids like I do, it is really inspiring to see.”

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