Sport may appear to be about winning and losing on the field, but there is so much more to Premiership Rugby clubs than what happens for 80 minutes on the pitch every weekend.
Not only do the Premiership clubs want to excite the watching fans with their talents on the field, but they strive to give back to their local communities and bring people together.
Wasps are one such club who work hard within their local area to help people of all abilities and ages get involved in rugby, including starting a mixed ability side - Old Leamingtonians Hornets. Wasps formed the Hornets as part of Premiership Rugby’s ground-breaking award-winning Project Rugby community programme, which is run in partnership with Gallagher and the RFU.
As part of Project Rugby, The Hornets are a side based in Leamington Spa who welcome anyone to come and play rugby, whatever your circumstances, and among the stars of the show is 23-year-old Jack Griffin.
Jack has Down’s syndrome and autism and was born with a hole in his heart that needed major surgery to repair at just three months old. After being in and out of hospital in the first three years of his life, Jack still has ongoing health conditions, but has always been determined to be active and is passionate about watching and taking part in sports. He was never able to play rugby during his school years, but after developing a love for the sport - especially the tackling and scrums - Jack jumped at the chance to try it when Wasps got involved at his local club.
Jack is one of the inspirational young people that we will be turning the spotlight on across Round 12 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby (5-7 March) when all matches will be dedicated to our award-winning community programmes that benefit around 250,000 people annually.
As someone who finds it difficult to attend new activities, Jack was anxious at first, but his growth in confidence since those early days has been huge, as Wasps senior community development officer Jordan Young elaborates.
“We’ve been working with Jack for four years now. At the beginning Jack was always keen to try out rugby, he’d always liked it but had never had the chance to do it before, especially in an environment that was catered to him and with people that understood his needs,” Young said.
“To see him grow from someone who liked the idea of rugby and was desperate to play, to have the chance to play some fixtures and put on a kit and play for a team was great. His confidence has gone up so much, and his communication has been massively improved as he’s become comfortable in a social environment. Rugby is that kind of game where you can’t do everything on your own, so you need to learn how to interact with other people and work well as a team, and you certainly see that in Jack and his teammates at Old Leamingtonians.”
The highlight for Jack and his teammates was the chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage, as they took to the Twickenham field at half-time of the 2019 Gallagher Premiership Rugby final on a memorable occasion for all involved.
It’s not just on the field that Jack has excelled since being involved with Wasps, with his leadership and communication skills in everyday life improving through his time spent with Young and other members of the Old Leamingtonians team. So much so, that as well as playing rugby week in, week out, Jack also turned to coaching before lockdown hit; enjoying a six-month stint helping with a number of sessions Wasps held in the local area, as well as at his college.
Young added: “Jack used to be someone who was quite shy and didn’t really say too much, but he’s come out of his shell and his college tutors said he’s started to take on some different work experience tasks at the college gym. That led to him doing a six-month placement with us in the community, and he was an assistant coach for us during our disability rugby sessions at local groups. That was a big step up for him, and even in the short space of time that he was doing that we were really impressed with him. He was really comfortable in his role, encouraging other people and was considering all people in the group at all times, and by the end he was even making up his own games for everyone to take part in, which was great to see.”
Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby said: “Jack shows exactly how important it was for Premiership Rugby to launch Project Rugby and we thank the vital support we have received from Gallagher, the RFU and of course our clubs in bringing it to life.
“Project Rugby succeeds because it engages and develops new audiences through rugby and stimulates a lifelong interest in the game and Jack is the perfect example of this. We’ve engaged thousands of participants per year through the delivery by community staff from Premiership Rugby’s 13 shareholder clubs at over 200 locations across England, providing accessible opportunities for people to participate in the game at a time and place that works for them. We look forward to introducing many more to the sport we all love.”
Debbie Moss, Gallagher’s local Managing Director in Coventry, added: “Jack’s story is one of a real passion for rugby, personal determination and amazing, life-changing experiences. It also highlights what a brilliantly inclusive initiative Project Rugby is and why we are so proud to help deliver it on the ground in our local communities through Wasps and the other Gallagher Premiership clubs.
“Our own research found that 90% of young people experienced increased confidence, self-esteem and resilience as a result of being involved with playing sport – something which is more important now than ever in these challenging times. And Project Rugby is helping take those benefits to an ever growing audience of young people who might not otherwise have been able to access the game and all it can offer.”