London Irish’s HITZ star named a Wooden Spoon HITZ Hero 2021


Darnel Mingle from London Irish’s HITZ programme, has been named a HITZ Hero 2021 by Premiership Rugby, in recognition of his achievements despite the challenges of lockdown.

HITZ is Premiership Rugby’s flagship education and employability programme, working with more than 2,000 14-23 year-olds across England every year. The aim of HITZ is to help young people classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training) turn their lives around through gaining qualifications and developing their personal, employability and life skills. Darnel is one of six outstanding young individuals who have been named a HITZ Hero this year.

With the Government reporting unemployment for young people increasing by 11% since the start of the pandemic, and that by the end of last year there were an estimated 800,000 16-24yr olds in the UK classified as NEET, Premiership Rugby’s commitment to supporting and developing individuals like this has only become more steadfast.

Darnel joined the HITZ programme at London Irish Rugby Club in January this year after being referred to the club by his local NEET reduction team. Previously he struggled with school and college and was often in trouble for his behaviour. Lockdown left him feeling low and unmotivated to do anything, further impacting Darnel’s disengagement with school.

When Darnel first joined HITZ, his Autism made communicating and interacting with others challenging, but he has since gone from strength to strength. As he made friends on the programme his personality has shone through and his sense of humour often lifts the whole group.

Nicole Pattison from the London Irish Foundation nominated Darnel for a HITZ Hero award in recognition of the barriers he has overcome and the progress he has made.

“Darnel was a very shy young man when he joined us and not knowing what to do with his life left him feeling really low. Over the last 15 weeks we have seen such a transformation, his confidence has skyrocketed. Darnel’s continued dedication to improving himself has transformed his attitude. He has grabbed every opportunity with both hands to inspire him as to what to do next. We can’t wait to see where he goes from here.”

Wayne Morris, Community and Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby said,

“Darnel is only at the beginning of his HITZ journey and look how far he has come already, he should be so proud of himself. He is a shining example of how determination coupled with the right support and opportunity can go a long way to turning lives around.”

“Pausing the delivery of HITZ during lockdown was not an option for us and with the help of our partner clubs like London Irish we have continued to provide much needed support. The resilience demonstrated by our HITZ students during this time reinforces the importance of programmes like HITZ and fuels our commitment to supporting vulnerable young people.”

Supported by the CVC Foundation, Wooden Spoon and SCL Education Group, nearly 16,000 young people have engaged in the HITZ programme since it was created in 2008.

Sarah Webb from Wooden Spoon, the children’s charity of rugby, added, “Darnel’s transformation is inspiring and he should be very proud of what he has achieved so far. His success is exactly why Wooden Spoon supports HITZ. Every young person, no matter their background, should have the opportunity to access life changing projects to help set them on a positive path to a brighter future.”

To find out more about the programme and how it supports young people, visit

There are lots of ways you can help Wooden Spoon support more projects like HITZ. You can donate, join our membership scheme or fundraise.