We use rugby to show that young people matter

For the last 15 years, the School of Hard Knocks has been supporting vulnerable and disenfranchised young people using the values of rugby and weekly classroom sessions.

Set up originally to help young men who were long-term unemployed, life-changing programmes have been extended to support both men and women, adults and children.

In August 2019, Wooden Spoon donated £25,000 to the schools’ programme after organising the longest ever game of rugby union against a team made up from the School of Hard Knocks.

Wooden Spoon Ambassador Shane Williams teaching girls rugby

At the time, it was to support disengaged children improve their attendance and behaviour at school.

While still a priority, the pandemic brought another huge issue into stark focus – the mental health of young people.

Francesca Keynton, behaviour specialist at the School of Hard Knocks, explained: “Mental health has been at the forefront since the pandemic and means we are often dealing with young people in crisis.

“The biggest impact has been the amount of disclosures we have received. We are referring to the safeguarding team at least once a week and we have seen a rise in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns.

“These young people are witnessing some really difficult times and this has led to a huge rise in self harm, issues around eating and sleeping and other risk-taking behaviour.

“We talk to them to start addressing some of these problems and our resources are there to give them the tools and the knowledge to start helping themselves.”

Thanks to the support of Wooden Spoon, the School of Hard Knocks has been able to extend its programme and help many more young people in schools in Bermondsey, Westminster and Croydon.

Wooden Spoon supports mental health programmes

Francesca said: “It has enabled us to access more students, in some cases double the cohort in the schools we are working in.

“For instance, we were never able to work with Year 7 pupils in Bermondsey before the funding. Now we can work with girls from across Year 7 to Year 10 which means we are embedded within that school.

“We run a series of weekly classroom sessions looking at a range of topics including understanding emotions, managing anxiety, body image and lots more. We also run one-to-one mentoring.

“We use rugby as a vehicle because of the fantastic values that underpin the sport. It is also physical so it allows our young people to let off some steam. It has been really powerful.

“The biggest thing we see is the relationships that young people start building with us. Schools, understandably, don’t always have the time to stop and listen and these young people all have amazing stories to tell – they just haven’t always had anyone to listen to them. We are a bridge between teachers and the young people we support.

“We have seen youngsters getting better quickly, they often just need that extra support.”

Funding from Wooden Spoon has helped to pay for equipment and branded kit – which is used to incentivise the young people and reward good behaviour.

As the School of Hard Knocks’ slogan says: ‘Life is an uneven playing field. We help level it out.”

And Wooden Spoon is very proud to help support that mission.

You can help us fund more children’s mental health projects like this by becoming a member.