Saracens programme at Feltham Young Offenders Institute praised

Saracens aren’t just doing their tackling on a rugby field as the club’s Get Onside project takes on Feltham Young Offenders Institute’s re-offenders, earning them an All Parliamentary Premiership Rugby Community Award nomination.

Running for the first time in September 2011, Get Onside teaches 15 to 21 year olds at Feltham rugby’s basic skills, the rules and the sport’s values in a ten-week course.

Saracens’ link with the institute’s PE department has the specific aim of building young offenders’ confidence and improving their social inclusion, helping bring down the alarming statistic that 70 per cent of youngster who leave Feltham are back within three months.

Although shortlisted for the Land Rover Innovation Award, Get Onside faces stiff competition to win the accolade outright from Northampton’s Club Apprenticeship Scheme.

Saracens has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Aviva Club of the Year award, while its Love To Dance programme could pick up the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Impact Award at an evening reception in the historic Churchill Room at the House of Commons on June 27.

Saracens sports development officer James Coles has seen Get Onside grow from a pilot scheme last year to now having helped 24 young people, of which only one has re-offended, but admits it only came about in the first place by a chance conversation.

“We were working at Datchworth RFC and I was chatting with someone who was involved at Feltham,” said Coles.

“I asked if maybe I could come down and do a session. I ended up doing it as a one off but then thought, ‘actually there is a real opportunity there’.

“There are about 650 lads there and current statistics say that 70 percent will be back in three months.

“I thought there must be something we can do to make a difference because that is ridiculous.

“It would be fantastic to see the programme recognised with the award and great for us because it gives it a bit of credibility.”

Although each Get Onside course has a ten-week life span, Saracens’ commitment to its youngsters extends well beyond.

Of the 30 participants who’ve started the two courses; 24 completed it, of whom 12 were released early and seven remain in contact with the club.

“Once they’ve finished the programme we help them in locating and joining a rugby club and supporting them in education or employment,” added Coles.

“That can be through helping them write their CV or giving them a job reference or getting them involved as a volunteer with the Hitz programme.

“We are learning as much as the lads though and we’re changing a few bits and pieces all the time to make the course better and hopefully it will be around a long time to come.”

As part of the programme a rugby team made up of inmates from Feltham Young Offenders Institute won their first ever rugby match.

Abdi Mohammed, who turned down early release to complete the programme said: “Taking part in ‘Get Onside’ gave me lots of opportunities. I want to do some coaching now and pass on what I have learnt but have only just started playing rugby so I will need a lot more practise.”

Feltham lined-up to face Southgate College in the match.The Feltham team consisted mostly of the programme participants, but had three prison officers integrated into the squad to add much needed experience and leadership.

The unique dynamic between the young men and officers was clear from the outset, with the team pulling together to record a well contested 15-5 victory for Feltham.

The day was rounded up with a presentation from Saracens star Hayden Smith, who has regularly visited the prison to mentor inmates and aid with coaching.

Hayden Smith said: “This project has shown to be a shining light for the young men involved. Sport can often provide the discipline and inspiration to get on in life, and I’m impressed by the hard work shown by the inmates at Feltham.”

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