My interest in what the game of rugby can do for young people over and above the game itself saw me making contact with The Dallaglio Foundation. One of my neighbours at Saracens, MP Sir John Randall is a great advocate of the charity, he put me in contact with them.
Many of us will have heard of The Dallaglio Foundation, due of course to that very famous name. But I’m not so sure many of us know what they actually do, I went along to a Pupil Referral Unit one Friday afternoon on my way to watch Harlequins play Bath. More of that later, but first some background to why I have such an interest in the Foundation and the core work of this wonderful group of people.
The Foundation works with disadvantaged young people, those at risk of long-term unemployment, criminality and Imprisonment. I have a particular interest over and above the rugby side of things. My oldest son Luke was completely disenfranchised from education, in spite of living in a house with a Head Teacher and a Mum who worked in schools. His ‘decision’ to misbehave at school and truant, left him with far too much time on his hands, he got into low level trouble that resulted in him being the 2nd person in Essex to get an ASBO.
The result of breaching what was a civil order saw criminal prosecutions for Luke, and 2 spells in a Young Offenders Institute. That was a hugely damaging experience and effected his life chances. Luke chose the option of travelling as he grew older, taking off to Thailand. He was involved in a fatal accident, to this day I’ll always wonder if his life might have been different if he’d met people like those working with the Dallaglio Foundation. Luke’s story is an extreme one, but young people who are disengaged from education are far more likely to face a difficult life.
So what are the basic aims of the work carried out? There are 3 core aims –
Engagement – minimising the impact of their past
Integration – making better decisions in the present
Achievement – planning for a more successful future
The coaches work in 26 Pupil referral units with a maximum of 10 children at a time, they’re with them for an average of 2 years. Young people who find themselves in such places take a long time to build trust, there is no instant recognition for being an adult on their home turf. That’s true of most young people, but even more so for those who’ve faced adversity.
The aim is to prepare the young people for work with a programme based on playing rugby and developing employability skills through games and workshops. The coaches provide stability in lives that may have experienced little or none.
I have to cut Lawrence Dallaglio’s words from the Foundation website to give a window to his motivation for setting up the organisation carrying his name.
‘There are two passions in my life, family and rugby. Like any young person, there were times where I was heading down the wrong track and it was my family who pulled me back in line. I was introduced to rugby after a family tragedy which quickly made me grounded and focused, and I began to understand the inherent values of being part of a team.
It’s tough being a young person today and I feel passionately that the values of rugby can help young people get back on track just like it helped me in a tough time in my life.
“You are what you’re exposed to” is a mantra I stand by, and it is with this belief we set up the Dallaglio Foundation’s innovative Rugby Programme, which gives self-belief, opportunities and support to young people from all backgrounds. The Dallaglio Foundation’s in-school activity, our Scholarships and our Duke of Edinburgh’s Award partnership Powerful Together are designed to leave our young people more employable, socially responsible and making positive decisions to make the most of their lives.’
As we all know Lawrence went on to be one of the best rugby players we’ve seen in an England shirt, it’s wonderful that he’s built an organisation helping to change lives.
My visit to see Will Smith, Lead Coach and Matt Ryan, Assistant Coach took me to Tooting, a place I’ve never been to, thank goodness my Satnav knew where to go! I was able to chat to Will and Matt before we went over to what would be a classroom session.
I found 2 very passionate young men, clearly they loved the game, but they also spoke eloquently and with great care about their work and the young people they encounter. I go the distinct impression they feel honoured to be in a position where they can have a life changing impact.
The session was to be classroom based due to the scary proximity of GCSE’s for the students, they were preparing for their Short Course PE exam. There was a mixed group of 5 boys and 3 girls, which gave an interesting dynamic. Each of them was pleased to see Will and Matt and the relationships they’d formed was plain to see.
A word for their teacher – Tom – he was amazing with his students; there was a lot of revision to take on board, he was dealing with a group who weren’t always wiling to participate, but he held their attention and got through what was needed! I suspect having a stranger in the room was a bit off putting for the students, but I’d say the session went to plan, with the help of Will and Matt.
I had a throughly enjoyable afternoon, I like nothing more than seeing great work being carried out with young people, organisations showing hope where sometimes it’s hard to imagine any. Next up will have to be a rugby session some time, I’m sure I’m not through with the Dallaglio Foundation!
As a footnote the Foundation sent me the photos included through – they sum up perfectly the difference this wonderful group of people are making in young lives.
Learn more about the Foundation here – http://www.dallagliofoundation.com