Wheelchair rugby

Going for inclusive gold!

Welsh Rugby can be proud of its efforts to become more inclusive towards young people and adults with additional needs. That is the view of many within the sport, political and education sectors as the governing body aims to become the first to achieve Disability Sport Wales’ insport Gold equality standard.

Having achieved the insport ribbon and bronze equality awards in 2018, the WRU gained the silver standard last November and is now going for gold.

WRU Community Director Geraint John said, “We are extremely proud of the progress made so far to make Welsh rugby truly inclusive. We know the difference being part of a rugby team or group makes to the physical and mental well-being of all participants and especially those who can often feel on the outside of mainstream offerings. Rugby is our national sport and it is vital that everyone in Wales feels they can be part of the brilliant benefits we know it can bring.”

The WRU Disability Rugby Strategy was published just over two years ago with the clear aims of becoming a more inclusive sport for all with a ‘Jersey for All’ culture throughout the game and ensuring everyone in Wales has a chance to be involved with the national sport.

Rapid yet sustainable progress has been made in that short amount of time and community and education-based inclusive opportunities have seen a marked rise. There are now mixed ability rugby teams for adults and Inclusive Community Clubs for young people in every rugby region.

The WRU’s workforce has become skilled at delivering inclusive opportunities and the Hub Programme has seen hub officers offering rugby opportunities to young people all abilities within their schools and to neighbouring SEN schools. These growing relationships have had numerous benefits with learners themselves become qualified rugby leaders and delivering some of the rugby activities, extending the inclusive rugby workforce.

The WRU and its partners now offer Wheelchair Rugby opportunities throughout Wales having secured a bank of purpose-built rugby wheelchairs and trained staff, apprentices and community coaches throughout Wales.

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WRU Disability Rugby coach Darren Carew delivers the first session in the Jersey For All series

Closer relationships have been forged with affiliated organisations such as GBWR and Wales Deaf Rugby Union to grow those opportunities. The WRU has ensured mixed ability and inclusive opportunities are central to its major national calendar of events, such at the Road to Principality series of community festivals and matches at Principality Stadium, and at Urdd WRU 7s events, through a hugely successful partnership with Chwaraeon yr Urdd. There is also an SEN element of the WRU Digital Classroom resource, available to all schools.

One hub officer, Martyn Cooke has been providing tailored rugby activities to the older learners at Pen y Cwm SEN school in Ebbw Vale, and as is so often the case, the school has seen palpable benefits on many levels.

Pen y Cwm Head teacher Darya Brill-Williams said, “As well as the inevitable benefit of improving physical health and well-being, we have seen an improvement in physical development, social development and communication skills.

“Along with enjoying their own regular rugby sessions, the students have derived great benefit from helping to train rugby coordinators and hub officers throughout the region. This has had a significant impact on their well-being, enhancing their confidence and social skills. The learners have clearly been very proud to be able to give something back and be part of the wider WRU community.

“The whole experience has given our students a sense of tangible self-worth, palpable pride and an authentic sense of community and belonging – being part of the Pen-y-Cwm ‘team’ and more importantly, the wider WRU family. In a world which sadly so often ‘excludes’ those with additional learning needs, this is something that our students rarely get to experience.

Pen y Cwm

A Pen y Cwm student taking part in the 2018 Disability Six Nations festival in Ystrad Mynach

“Pen-y-Cwm is a community underpinned by a commitment to lifelong learning and Martyn has also provided invaluable opportunities for the learners to engage in wider community activities such as visiting Principality Stadium. Of indescribable significance and unimaginable worth are the opportunities seized to meet and greet WRU players, host the Six Nations trophy, watch the Welsh team train – the learners’ wildest dreams made reality! Some students have even used the experience facilitated by the WRU to move on and join teams within their own communities.”

There has been a huge growth in Walking Rugby, a new format of the game which greatly benefits physical and mental well-being, especially amongst older or socially isolated groups. [READ about the Pontyclun Walking Rugby group.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “I am pleased the WRU has made so much progress in bringing the strategy to life and giving everyone the chance to enjoy the sport of rugby.  The last few months have been a challenging time for us all.  I hope those opportunities can resume shortly because rugby union is a sport that contributes to our physical and mental wellbeing as well as our vibrant culture and resilient communities.”

While all rugby activities have been suspended during lockdown, the work hasn’t stopped at all levels to ensure the participants, many of whom experience social isolation, are as engaged as possible in physical and well-being activities.

Darren Carew, the WRU’s Disability Rugby Coach, has been integral to upskilling the WRU’s workforce in inclusion activities, and after completing a period of rehab of his own, is now back to work. He has filmed a series of fun and inclusive Jersey For All rugby sessions that can be done from your home or garden (CLICK HERE to watch and take part in the sessions so far.)

Darren Carew

Darren Carew is the WRU's Disability Rugby coach

WRU coaches and volunteers have been integral to providing a range of engaging video content for this year’s virtual insport series of events; the latest Coaching Corner interview on the WRU Game Locker is with Wales Deaf Rugby head coach Robert Coles, complete with sign language, and the WRU will host its first Disability/Inclusion Coaching Conference – online – on Sunday August 23. The clubs themselves and community partners have also worked tirelessly to ensure everyone is as connected as possible. Check out Port Talbot Panthers’ Mixed Ability team efforts and Gareth Sullivan’s work as Dragons Inclusion officer.

Inspirational coach and army veteran Carew said, “As a community coach previously I recognised a huge desire for inclusive rugby in Wales and over the last two years I have been proud to be part of a team who have worked hard to help unlock that potential through not only increasing the number of inclusive offerings across the whole country, but also looking inward and really buying in to the ‘Jersey for All’ ethos at all levels.

“We have achieved a great deal thanks to the tireless efforts of the volunteers at our clubs and our ongoing partnership with the regions, Disability Sport Wales and GBWR.  Working together we will strive to continue on this upward curve to provide more positive rugby experiences for people with disabilities in Wales.”

WRU Enterprise manager Greg Woods is confident the only way is up from here, increasing sustainable, inclusive opportunities around Wales. He said, “Working towards a ‘Jersey for All’ has been a real positive step forward in making our game as inclusive as possible.

Walking Rugby

Walking rugby is just one of the variations on offer within the inclusive programme

“We are thrilled with the outstanding difference we are seeing in communities and educational settings through embedding inclusive rugby opportunities. However, there is still work to be done to ensure all our groups and activities are sustainable in the long-term. We will continue to work hard throughout the game and in conjunction with our valued partners to grow the formats on offer  – for example we will now look to develop more visually impaired rugby – and make Welsh rugby even more inclusive.”

There is significant praise from Disability Sport Wales’ Tom Rogers who added: “The Welsh Rugby Union continue to make great strides towards ensuring that rugby is genuinely accessible to everyone in Wales. Successfully achieving the insport NGB Silver standard demonstrates their commitment to continually identify and develop the range of inclusive opportunities across the organisation and the wider rugby community.

“Throughout the process the Welsh Rugby Union has shown a genuine approach to the continued growth of sustainable inclusive provision enabling everyone to access the wider benefits of rugby through their Jersey for All approach.”

“Disability Sport Wales look forward to continuing to work alongside the Welsh Rugby Union as they continue to develop and grow this provision alongside working towards becoming the first National Governing Body of Sport to achieve the insport Gold standard.”

Click here to watch Inclusive Coaching content