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Homeless Rugby to forge links with criminal justice

The Alliance of Sport has started working with Homeless Rugby CIC to discover how rugby can provide support for people in, or exiting, the criminal justice system. 

Homeless Rugby is a network of clubs, volunteers, coaches and partners who use rugby to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of people who have experienced homelessness. Being part of a team helps participants’ personal development and grows their social network, and participants are linked with education and employment opportunities. 

The charity has teams across England, Scotland and Wales, many of which are affiliated to professional rugby clubs, including Premiership side Worcester Warriors and Guinness PRO14 sides Dragons and Cardiff Blues. 

Homeless Rugby is constantly looking to expand its network and has been in initial discussions with the Alliance of Sport about forging partnerships with prisons, probation and young offenders’ institutes. The aim is to use rugby – and the supportive community of a team – to smooth offenders’ transition out of the criminal justice system and back into society. 

“Many guys have told us that without Homeless Rugby they would probably have been dead within six months,” says Director, Martin Warren. 

“It’s changed their lives and put them in a position where they feel better about themselves. Just because they’ve suffered homelessness, there are always avenues to re-engage and move forward. 

“Rugby is such a powerful tool, with its strong ethic of teamwork and the community aspect. Rugby creates a special kind of community, one that I believe is unique and distinct from any other sport.” 

Initially, Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, will link Homeless Rugby with other organisations in south Wales who are currently engaging with criminal justice, such as Homeless Football and Cardiff City FC Community Foundation. 

“We need to build strong relationships with everybody but most of all connect with people who are involved in offending,” commented Martin. 

Justin added: “Homeless Rugby has a growing network and we’re hugely supportive of these kinds of initiatives, helping build links with criminal justice and provide through-the-gate support to those most in need. It’s about rugby but it’s also about the supportive community that creates.” 

Homeless Rugby organise an annual International Cup, which England won this year after beating Wales 6-3 in the final in May. That was followed by a combined ‘British Lions’ team taking on an XV from the charity’s funders, construction firm Meinhardt, in London in September. 

Money raised from those events is ploughed back into development and coaching, with many participants being put through their coaching qualifications in order to assist local volunteers. 

A Homeless Rugby coach’s role extends way beyond the training pitch. They must engage with potential players in the community, many of whom have hectic lifestyles and issues such as substance abuse or mental health problems. 

Martin says: “It’s a job that’s not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s a different set of rules to coaching children. They need to be more open-minded, they will need to lend an ear, give advice and be an advocate for them with other people. There’s a strong mentoring aspect. 

“We have to use our savviness to start a conversation and use sport as the connector. We ‘sell’ it to them by saying, ‘There’s a community here which you can be part of. We can get you into employment or training. It’s about using the power of rugby and sport to get them back to where they want to be.” 

For more information on Homeless Rugby CIC, visit http://homelessrugby.org/ 

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