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Rehabilitation through rugby and role models

“Sport is a great leveller,” says 3 Pillars Founder and CEO Mike Crofts. “Prison officers have said, ‘He’s a completely different person when he steps on that pitch’. To me, that’s the wrong way round. They’re a different person when they’re in prison. On a sports pitch, everyone can be who they really are.” 

It is in this egalitarian environment that 3 Pillars aim to reduce violence and reoffending among prisoners in HMP Wormwood Scrubs and Cookham Wood YOI. By combining the benefits of sport (primarily rugby) and positive role models (some of whom are ex-offenders themselves), the project instils self-discipline and determination in participants, encouraging them to reach their full potential. 

The project’s titular 3 Pillars refer to: 

  • Exercise: rugby training and British Army-inspired teamwork enable the realisation of each prisoner’s sporting potential, with the release of endorphins boosting confidence and self-esteem. 
  • Education: leadership and team tasks build strong bonds and personal development, preparing and inspiring participants to ongoing academic and employment success with self-confidence and contentment. 
  • Ethos: the course helps participants define their own ethos of right and wrong, based around the discipline, loyalty and integrity of a team environment. 

3 Pillars was founded two years ago after Crofts had spent eight years as a Captain in the Royal Tank Regiment of the British Army, serving twice in Afghanistan. While volunteering as a rugby coach at Feltham YOI, he was struck by the opportunity to help the young men reach their potential.


3 Pillars was founded to realise that potential, not just with disciplined coaching and the innate power of sport, but through mentors and positive role models. 3 Pillars was bolstered early on by Army Physical Training Instructor Will Mclay and Barrister Bex Norris. The team also includes ex-prisoners who have refocused their lives and offer the most powerful kind of legitimate inspiration to inmates. 

Crofts explains: “We wouldn’t want our role models to be perfect people. Someone who has made a conscious effort to improve is a far more effective and relatable role model. A prisoner is more likely to want to change their behaviour because they’re aspiring to be like them.” 

To aid this sense of relatedness, 3 Pillars are developing a Trauma Informed Approach to coaching, which will allows their staff and volunteers to better understand the psychological drivers behind why people react in certain ways. “There is potential for flare-ups in a sporting environment and this will give our coaches, mentors and role models better empathy, and the ability to support participants in the best way,” explains Crofts. 


IMG-20170815-WA0010Participants can earn sports qualifications on the course, but the principal intended outcome is personal development. “That’s what we prioritise over qualifications that some employers won’t value,” says Crofts. 

“One of the early realisations was that if someone doesn’t acquire the self-discipline to turn up to work at 9am every day or isn’t able to interact with people in the right manner, then it doesn’t matter what qualifications they’ve got. 

“We try to focus on holistic skills, like self-esteem and wellbeing, as well as communication skills and teamwork. We think they are most central to reducing offending behaviour and violence.” 


Photo 07-04-2017, 13 35 1562 prisoners have completed the 3 Pillars course in two London prisons in the past year. 

Of those, 100% said the course had had a positive effect on their physical fitness and 95% said the effect on their mental wellbeing was positive. 80% said it had impacted positively on their relationship with prison staff and 84% said it had enhanced relationships with family and friends. 

Interestingly, Crofts states that reoffending statistics are “not the best way” to assess the project’s impact, despite being regarded as a key measure by some in the sector. “They can stop good organisations engaging with those people who need engaging the most, because those who are most likely to reoffend can be harder to reach,” he said. 

“By focusing on measures that we know reduce offending, such as improving self-esteem, engagement with education and family, and quality of relationships with prison staff, we can create better outcomes for those who really need them.” 


Participant: “The course has made me remember never to give in in achieving my goals in life. I get so much more to focus on and try to be better day by day. It really got me interacting with other inmates in a new and positive way.” 

Participant: “I was very lucky to be part of this course. I met a lot of guys of all ages, ethnicities and culture, and it brought us together. Many of them will hopefully keep in touch even when they’re out.” 

Prison officer: “It has given several prisoners the opportunity to be purposeful and do something they enjoy which has prospects for the future.” 

For more information on 3 Pillars, go to: