More than 100 students turn out as Harlequins Foundation hosts rugby festival

Twickenham Stoop opened its doors to host its first disability rugby festival for more than 100 pupils with learning difficulties last Friday.

The festival forms part of the Project Rugby initiative, in partnership with Premiership Rugby and England Rugby, which aims to encourage children to learn about this sport in a space where they did not feel intimidated but valued and welcomed.

Coming from 13 schools, many of these children experienced the game for the first time and the feedback from them, the staff and the supporters was very positive.

Matthew Williams, foundation coordinator and disability rugby lead, said: “It’s been amazing, if I can sum up in one word.

“As soon as they were on the pitch, running, having fun, automatically the smiles were on their faces and the confident was a standard in all of the groups.”

As well as introducing students to rugby, Harlequins Foundation hopes to find potential players for Surrey’s first fully inclusive mixed ability team, Surrey Chargers.

The Chargers provide rugby opportunities for disabled and non-disabled players of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and trains every week at Chobham Rugby Club.

Mr Williams believes the festival was an unique opportunity for many of those children to explore their talent and eventually be recruited for the Chargers.

But the original idea of this event came from Chessington.

Richard Murr, rugby lead at St Philip’s School in Chessington, said that the whole idea about the rugby festival started at his school and it was originally a celebration at St Philip’s but it developed in something bigger.

Mr Murr spent a lot of time and organisation to let the children spend the day out, play rugby and make this event happen.

Mr Murr said: “I’m really really happy of how things came out.

‘I think they all have done very well, I think they will memories of playing here for a long time,” he added.

Marc Leckie, head of the Harlequins Foundation, also shared his views about the event.

He said: “Personally, I love events like this and festivals like this because it gives you such a real strong sense of why we do our job every day.

“People think it might be a really aggressive sport and you’re going to be hurt but actually it is a sport with tremendous values and those values really teach people about dignity, teamwork, respect and humility.”

About the number of women in rugby, Mr Leckie said the foundation is developing a programme to encourage girls and young women to play rugby and provide them leadership skills to make sure there are female models for the next generation coming through.

After all, most of them were excited with the idea to continue participating in more rugby festivals to keep on giving children with learning difficulties the chance to play and learn about one of the most popular sports in Britain.

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