The Gallagher Premiership Rugby clubs make an impact on all 13 communities where they are based and Bath Rugby, like all the clubs, impact individuals like Harry Roberts by supporting positive life changes.
After he joined Premiership Rugby’s Project Rugby programme at sixteen years old, Harry was on a road to building his independence. Despite his physical challenges and learning difficulties, today he now plays ‘proper rugby’ as he calls it as a touch rugby player, alongside full-contact participants.
Project Rugby, which is run by Premiership Rugby in partnership with Gallagher and the RFU, aims to increase participation in the game through delivery of sessions by community staff from each of Premiership Rugby’s 13 shareholder clubs, at more than 200 locations nationwide.
The aim of the project is to provide more opportunities to experience rugby. Bath Rugby Foundation, like all the Premiership Rugby clubs, work tirelessly with Project Rugby to engage participants in the sport from underrepresented groups such as those with disabilities, those from diverse backgrounds and people from lower-social economic groups.
Bath Rugby are delighted to shine the spotlight on Harry during this season’s Community Weekend. All matches during round 21 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby (25-27 March) will be dedicated to Premiership Rugby’s award-winning community programmes, which benefit more than 250k people across England annually.
Harry first experienced Project Rugby in his school and was excited at the prospect of continuing outside of school so that he could meet new people and develop friendships through rugby. Friendships were easily made as Harry soon thrived by joining in ‘with others who are like me’. Harry has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) meaning he requires academic support. No longer did his learning difficulties hinder his enjoyment of being with a group of people his own age.
With his risk of injury high, due to a medical condition that causes muscle weakness; Harry’s parents were understandably concerned about his safety. Growing up he has been severely injured from falls however with the support of Project Rugby his strength, balance and core stability have all improved.
His skills on the pitch improved too as he grew more confident and comfortable with his environment. Harry said: "I now know that within rugby I am safe and supported with the coaches around me. They understand my needs and work with me whatever I need."
Project Rugby helped develop his confidence to such a level Harry secured employment at Bath Indigo Hotel, with a promotion increasing his responsibilities. This theme of growing independence continued as Harry joined Walcot Warriors Mixed Ability team. Here, he is proactive in meeting new people and making his own choices but always knows there is a coach there if he needs one.
"I’m not afraid to approach any of the coaches to help me with new rugby skills. I wanted to learn about kicking and now, with their help, I can do that in a game."
Harry is one determined young man who continues to grow in confidence. He now travels by taxi independently to training. This display of self-sufficiency helped enable Harry to attend his first ever rugby tour to Wales and marked the first time away from his parents. From here, he took the next step in independence and moved into supported living where he does his own laundry and prepares his own food.
Dan Hine, Delivery Lead at Bath Rugby Foundation, said: "Harry has come such a long way in the time we have known him. Project Rugby helped Harry to connect with others, so much so he is the one inviting teammates to social events to make sure they feel included. His newfound independence is amazing to see, we’re extremely proud of him, and his friendly face is always a welcome sight for us coaches and his peers."
Talking of his plans for the future, Harry added: "I never expected I would have a job when I was at school. Now I am going for my second promotion and a pay rise! Hopefully this will help me to go on more rugby tours and travel again with my friends."
Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support Harry on this road to independence. Rugby provides so many avenues for improved personal development. As Harry demonstrates it can help both physical and mental strength.
“He shows exactly how important it was for Premiership Rugby to launch Project Rugby and we are thankful for the vital support we have received from Gallagher, the RFU and of course our clubs, like Bath Rugby, who bring it to life.
“Project Rugby succeeds because it engages and develops new audiences through rugby and stimulates a lifelong interest in the game. Harry is the perfect example of how playing rugby can improve and enrich your life.’
Chris Howard, Development Executive at Gallagher and club liaison for Bath Rugby, continued: “As the title partner of Premiership Rugby, we are passionate about giving something back to the grassroots game, and encouraging more young people to get involved in rugby is a key part of that. Having witnessed first-hand the transformative effect Project Rugby is having on young people’s lives, both in Bath and beyond, we could not be prouder to be involved in this brilliant programme.
“Project Rugby delivers much more than access to a new sport - with many young people developing invaluable life skills and growing in confidence and independence. Harry’s story is testament to the incredibly positive strides Project Rugby is making in engaging so many youth players and opening up fantastic opportunities for them.”