Dallaglio RugbyWorks is an intensive, long-term skills development programme based on rugby, through which we aim to get teenagers outside of mainstream education into sustained education, employment or training.

Tom Bray gives an insight into his first year as a Dallaglio RugbyWorks Coach in the North West.

It’s not every new job you start where your first day is to attend the annual party but, luckily for me, this was my introduction to life with Dallaglio RugbyWorks. After accepting the offer to become a coach in the North West, three days later I went down to meet not only all the staff members but the board of trustees as well. As this was a little daunting, I dragged my girlfriend with me, but any nerves and apprehension I had about this soon evaporated when I realised what an amazing team and family spirit I had just become a part of. Having spent the last few years working for various businesses in the telecoms industry, it was odd to be in a room full of colleagues who actually liked and supported each other. After spending a great day meeting everyone, showing off my awful table tennis skills and hearing stories about the schools and young people we work with, my nerves resurfaced slightly when mentioning I was the new coach for the North West I was told about the specific and challenging issues facing the young people in the region. Luckily for me again, as it turned out they were also an incredible group of young people to work with.

After a more formal introduction to life at the charity learning about our core values and processes, I was introduced to the remarkable schools, staff and young people we work with in the North West. We work in a wide range of educational settings, such as; Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), exclusion units within mainstream schools, Secondary Special Schools and Secure Care Centres. This, as I was quickly about to find out, would pose my biggest challenge but also, in my opinion, the most rewarding part of the job. All these different settings mean we meet a lot of different personalities and characters who can be extremely enthusiastic for any activities we attempt one week and the next can think everything is “dead.” Being able to adapt sessions on the spot based round the feeling in the group and not take any lack of enthusiasm personally was the biggest change I had to make. If someone is having a bad day, they don’t always want an over-excited rugby man-child trying to get them to join in a game of Bulldog, but they may want somebody to talk to. This might not seem like something important, just a chat about how their weekend was or their interests, but hopefully you get some information that you can start to build into a conversation that continues over the next few weeks, you build trust and then this turns into a positive relationship where involvement within sessions gradually improves.

Success isn’t always achieved as quickly as we’d like, so patience is a key element of our work. We work with Millie, one of the few girls on our programme in the North West, in a school in Liverpool. She had already been on the programme a year when I met her so Rory, my fellow coach in the region, had already built a good relationship with her which I was able to dovetail on to. Despite this good relationship, Millie was still reluctant to join in all activities or sessions. She’d been involved in an incident with another school at one of the tournaments we run which had discouraged her a little. We would both continue to encourage participation from Millie and over time our unique brand of unfunny comedy managed to break her down into taking full part in all sessions, and being genuinely excited by our arrival every Thursday morning. Millie’s commitment and enjoyment of our sessions was particularly heart-warming, so much so that we nominated her for an award at the annual DRW awards which she very deservedly won. It’s this type of positive change we hope to initiate in all our young people that make the patience so rewarding.

Not all our work is based in the schools; we also engage with businesses to kindly host Career Taster Days. A group from one or two of the schools will visit the business to get an understanding of some of the job roles available, the career path you could take and most importantly to a lot of the young people - the earning potential. These are a great way for our young people to learn about career opportunities but also pushes them way out of their comfort zone. Some react brilliantly to this and even develop a maturity that we haven’t seen previously, and some don’t. Seeing Rian, one of our loudest and most lively young people, turn into a mute at the sight of a stranger will always make me smile. We’ve been fortunate enough to have relationships with great partners such as BT, Bidfood and Laing O’Rourke who have put on truly inspiring days for us and the schools. Seeing how capable the young people we work with really are when given a chance motivates me massively to continue to work hard and challenge them to achieve something they might not think possible.

Not all aspects of my first year with Dallaglio RugbyWorks have been as rewarding and positive for me as this. Working within a Secure Care Centre, where the young people are court ordered to stay there, has proven to be the most enjoyable sessions I have. The enthusiasm the young people have for the sessions is unrivalled and our biggest challenge there has only been to curb their natural competitiveness. Couple this with the brilliant support we get from all the staff at the centre, it’s made a brilliant environment for us to deliver sessions in. The downside to working in this setting is the high turnover of young people we work with. The first time this happened was with a very friendly and good-natured young person who, after turning 18, was moved to an adult facility for the remainder of their sentence. In some ways, it was very naive of me not to think about this as it was a natural end to the work we do, but it was still difficult to lose continuity with someone who you believe had made extraordinary progress throughout the time you had known them. This situation isn’t specific to working in this type of facility as it will happen with everyone we work with, this one just happened more suddenly than I expected.

This brings me to the next step of my career and the thing I’m most looking for to for the next year: the mentoring. After being with the charity for a year and developing relationships, we offer a mentor year for those on the programme in year 12. When we speak to the schools we work with, it is this side of the charity that they appreciate the most, a continued relationship and dialogue with students even when they have left school. The ability to continue to shape and positively influence their pupils’ lives is something schools and teachers lose which must be a struggle after having known and helped develop some for nearly 5 years. We’re able to bridge the gap and, hopefully, continue to make positive steps with each one of the mentees on our programme.

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