In late 2019, before Covid Life struck , I met with Joeri Peperkamp, the Founder of a project based on rugby and its values in Holland, aimed at helping young people onto a different path. At that time he was hoping to start the project in the UK after it had proved to be a success in his home country. Nearly 2 years have passed and a lot has happened here, with the project running with its’ 4th cohort. My friend Mary Goldie had given me the initial contact so I was pleased to hear from her again, she put me in contact with Roger Roberts the Chairman of Trustees. We settled on a date, the final day for Cohort 4 and plans were made for me to visit Staines Rugby Club.

My initial ‘homework’ involved a visit to the UK site of the charity.

A quote from Joeri on that UK site by way of explanation.

What we stand for

Our roots are based on the core rugby values: Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship. Our course are about YOU and helping to take control of your life. The courses include mentoring, boxing, personal training, football and rugby, ‘lived experience’ guests and more. We guide your trajectory into a more positive direction.

Looking at exclusion figures in the UK there were 7,894 permanent exclusions from school in 2018/19 (most recent figures), with 438, 265 Fixed Term Exclusions. Exclusion from school means removal from all of the support within, including friendship groups, and that. as a teenager is hard. There are 12 distinct reasons listed for permanent exclusion, with the most common being persistent disruptive behaviour, that accounted for 2,800 exclusions in this year, a total of 35%. There have been many studies on the effect of permanent exclusion but it will more often than not lead to lost educational opportunities, stigmatisation affecting job prospects etc (taken from this study sadly it also often leads to time behind bars.

Project Turn-Over works with young people at risk of exclusion as well as those excluded and also with Young Offenders from Feltham Young Offenders Institute. Remarkably the young offenders are given permission to leave the prison on licence to attend the course. Therefore their behaviour within that institution is taken into account, giving an incentive for good behaviour.

The programme has evolved and is working in partnership with other local initiatives. To take more detail from the site, there are 3 strands.

Talking Control is a 12-week programme at Staines Rugby Club, Snakey Lane, Feltham, TW13 7NB and runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9.30-3pm. We work with one group of up to 18 young men who are from Feltham YOI or we run cohorts for young men at risk of or have permanent exclusion from school.

CALMS (Community Action Lead Mentoring & Sport) is a rolling programme which runs from the Hanworth Centre, 64 Hounslow Road, Feltham, TW13 6QQ on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-1pm. This provision is for young males or females who are not engaging in education or need respite from their education setting.

Introduction to Construction is currently a pilot programme of 5 weeks hosted at Hounslow Heath Community Centre, 190 Edgar Road, Hounslow, TW4 5QP for young men aged 14-17 years, max 14. This provision includes construction, woodwork, tilling, plumbing etc (dependant on the group) to give them a trade skill.

I arrived at Staines Rugby Club just before most of the participants, giving me a chance to meet Roger face to face and to chat to Steve Leach the UK Programme Director. Steve is a Director and Chair of Staines RFC and had been involved in banking as his career. As Chairman at the club he was given the job description to share with likely candidates and saw an opportunity to bring two of his passions, charity and rugby together. He applied and was successful – lucky man! We chatted about my experiences both as a parent of 2 sons failed by mainstream education and as someone who worked in 3 schools across 10 years. He told me about 2 of the first ex-graduates Mj and JoJo who took part from Feltham. More of them later.

Uk Head of Rugby Paul Taylor, an imposing figure, has played rugby for 33 years at Staines and is ideally placed as an ex-prison officer, in his own words “We, as a country, lock them up and then leave them to their own devices and wonder why they are back in prison, when spending some time and effort on them is all most young people need” He’s now in a perfect position to do that.

Paul & Steve ready to present

The day started for the attendees with a session with England capped international Topsy Ojo, I was expecting to see him out on the rugby pitch, but that isn’t his role in the scheme. He stood with the lads around him and asked them to tell him what they wanted the future to hold for them. Now this was a group of 8 14-16 year olds who had at least 2 strangers (me being one) listening to and watching them and yet they all put into words what they saw in their future. This intake were all at risk of exclusion and from different schools, so most hadn’t known each other before they joined. One lad had a very clear plan for himself, he wanted to have his own business, the lad sitting next to him explained that he’d promised him some work if he gave up smoking cannabis. He’d been 2 weeks without smoking weed and had a job to do that weekend. That, really is remarkable! Not only has the course helped these young men, but they’re helping each other!

Topsy and I had a chat after he’d done his thing, I asked him how he knew how to bring this out in the lads, he explained that while a lot of it had been trial and error he’d made the most of lockdown to qualify as a Mentor, he was already coaching at St John’s Independent School at Leatherhead. He has his own site showing how he’s giving back both to the game and to wider society, I’d last seen Topsy at Ealing Trailfinders where he commentated on their match against Saracens, we spoke about Maro Itoje, it was interesting to hear his perspective of him being ‘a nuisance’ on a rugby pitch, a tough man to play against! What a coup for the programme to have London Irish’s top try scorer on their team, his good relationship with the lads was clear to see.

From this quiet session things moved onto the pitch, but it wasn’t a rugby ball at the centre, a football style volleyball session took place, this was all about young men having fun, team work was needed no question but it was so good to see laughter at the centre of this activity. Something that doesn’t always come easy for teens full stop, let alone those who feel ‘apart’.

Enter another inspiring man, Garvin Snell, he’s the Founder of No Shame in Running, a Youth Worker for 20 years he hit the headlines when he produced a short video on ‘self defence against knife crime with his then 13 year old son. That self defence involved? Running away, he started his scheme on the back of the traction gained from this video – here’a an explanation from the site

No Shame in Running is an anti-knife crime organisation that’s soul aim is to stop the rise in knife crime deaths amongst young people across London. We aim to do this via our knife workshops, programs and motivational talks to young people in junior school, secondary school, colleges, youth services, youth offending services and any other organisation that works with young people. Our goal is to motivate the next generation to want to do better in a safer environment. We want to reduce the number of young people dying on the streets of London as a result of knife crime.

Garvin’s aims fit in perfectly with Turn-Over’s and he was very hands on in this active session, the boxing gloves and pads came out for a couple of those not engaging with the main game. The joy of seeing young people having fun was worth my trip alone. I had the chance to chat to another remarkable man while watching the boys play, Darren Beecroft works with Garvin, he’s a man with a very colourful past, having spent time in Belmarsh maximum security he has a lived experience to share, one the participants won’t want to follow in it’s bad stages. Anyone who could bottle his passion and enthusiasm for helping young people would make a fortune! He’s a definite book in the making.

Darren with Mary

By lunchtime the lads had enjoyed a great morning, we all then enjoyed a lovely lunch. I’d seen some disillusioned and disaffected young people behaving like kids, they all sat and chatted as they ate their lunch. The final part of the day was the finishing ‘ceremony’ each participant was presented with a voucher and probably the first certificate they’ll have received since primary school, invaluable!

This is where MJ and JoJo come back in, they were there for the ceremony and I managed to grab a few words with them. Both former Feltham inmates, MJ now works with the charity St Giles, sharing his life experiences, and JoJo has just finished his first year at university. Lives that neither could have envisaged from their prison cells.

MJ & JoJo – 2 success stories

I left West London feeling totally uplifted, I’ve been lucky to visit the Dallaglio Foundation at work and to see at first hand the impact Premiership Rugby’s HItz Rugby scheme has, here we have another very special group of people changing lives with rugby at its core. In common with most schemes carrying out this priceless work funding is a battle. Turnover is a registered charity, they have a comprehensive sponsorship programme, which is supported by various grants. I hope to interview one of their main sponsor for another article.

If you’ve been inspired by this article on the same way I was from my visit and want to help Turnover with sponsorship or resources then please contact Mags Davison, Business Development Director. Alternatively here’s a link to the Just Giving page

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