HITZ at Wasps helps Owen tackle his biggest barrier to education

Date: 25 Mar 2022


Any player on the pitch will tell you to score tries and win matches you need both physical and mental strength. Owen Thomas experienced first-hand how Premiership Rugby’s community programme HITZ helps young people to overcome mental health challenges find a better path in life.

HITZ is Premiership Rugby’s flagship education and employability programme, working with over 2,000 14-to-23-year-olds across England every year with the support of the CVC Foundation and Wooden Spoon, and is delivered with official education partner SCL Education Group. Delivered by 13 Premiership Rugby shareholder clubs, the programme uses the power of community alongside rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline, and sportsmanship, to support young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET) get back into education, training, apprenticeships and/or employment.

Owen is just one inspirational young person we will be celebrating during round 21 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby (25-27 March). All matches during this weekend will be dedicated to the award-winning community programmes we run. These benefit more than 250k people across the UK every year and we will be shining the spotlight on some of the individuals supported to celebrate their stories. 

Secondary school proved an environment that was detrimental to Owen’s mental health. He started to struggle with anxiety, leading to regular periods of time out of lessons. Eventually he was pulled out of the classroom to work in a special unit set up by the school. This ironically led to Owen feeling like he was learning very little in school.

A short-term solution of home-schooling got Owen through his GCSEs. He responded well because home was his ‘safe space’ and wanted to try College as a next step.  Sadly, Owen’s mental health deteriorated once again due to the college environment. He was out of his comfort zone and overwhelmed by the pace and volume of people. The anxiety levels became too much to bear, and he stopped attending.

With a determination to complete his qualifications Owen found HITZ, saying ‘I saw the HITZ programme and believed the relaxed environment and small class size would suit me. I felt like I might be able to control my anxiety here.’

Wasps HITZ team picked Owen up from day one of the programme. To cater specifically for his needs, they supported him with virtual learning in the early days so he could get used to it at home. With the support of the HITZ, Owen soon embraced the programme and felt able to attend his new learning environment in person.

Owen talks about the unique delivery of the HITZ sessions ‘When I need support, it is given to me, the lessons are active as well as sitting down to learn. Because of the way they are designed they create conversation with my classmates enabling me to make friends.’

Owen’s confidence levels continued to increase to the point where he was willing to try new things, including completing work experience at Park Sheet Metal which produces luxury car parts. He returned to playing regularly, now playing at a senior level for his local club.

Dom Owen, HITZ Officer at Wasps adds, ‘We will continue to work with Owen and support his mental wellbeing, but he has come so far already, I have no doubt that he is going to achieve great things and go far in life. He is a pleasure to have on the HITZ programme and sums up what we are about.’

Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby, says of Owen’s story: “We are delighted to support Owen to complete his education in a setting where he can excel. Learning through community programmes like HITZ provides a different approach to education that engages and ignites confidence to allow individuals to carve out better life chances.’

Since its inception in 2008 the HITZ programme has helped over 20,000 14–23-year-olds, like Owen, with 75% completing the HITZ learning academy. A huge 80% of participants have expressed improvements in life skills such as confidence and resilience. It is these newfound skills that help 80% of the participants who complete the programme to go straight on to education, employment, or training.