A scheme that uses rugby to provide mentorship for children from difficult backgrounds or suffering from mental and physical illness has been shortlisted for the 2021 Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award.

The Star Scheme, set up by Somerset side Chew Valley RFC, aims to remove the barriers to playing that exist for some children and then offer a structured support network with trained mentors to aid their life beyond the rugby pitch. “We’re really just formalising what already exists: young children benefitting from mentorship through rugby,” explains Dan Wooler, manager of the Star Scheme at Chew Valley RFC. “Coaches are already role models and mentors for young players, so we know the benefits that can be gained from our sport.
“Within every age group of our club, we have children who have experienced difficulties, and this scheme means there’s now a pathway for similar children to discover and benefit from rugby.”

Coaches are already role models and mentors for young players, so we know the benefits that can be gained from our sport.

The initiative, which has been supported by the Bristol Bears Foundation and Barnado’s, together with former players Jason Leonard and Gareth Chilcott, has seen Chew Valley RFC provide their coaches with formal training to help support children and also employ a community liaison officer in a paid role. “The officer is trained and experienced at dealing with kids from difficult backgrounds,” explains Dan. “They’ll work with the player, parent(s), teachers and the coach to create a personal development plan that will help them become responsible adults and leaders in the community.”

To remove barriers, Chew Valley RFC has partnered with local taxi and minibus firms to provide transport for players on the scheme, together with raising funds to cover the cost of kit, subscriptions and meals.  They’ve also developed a support group for the parents of the children on the scheme. “We held our first event at a local school and over the course of a day, we coached 240 kids,” says Dan. “And from that we had 24 applicants to join the scheme.”

Chew Valley RFC Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award

The goal of the Star Scheme, aimed at children from five through to seventeen, is to not only target schools in deprived areas of Bristol, Bath and Somerset area, but also help other clubs set up their own programme. “We’ve already been approached by three clubs asking how to set up a Star Scheme,” says Dan. “This is something that we want to roll out not only regionally, but even nationally, as we feel it’s so important.”

“Rhino are delighted to nominate Chew Valley’s Star Scheme for our Grassroots Rugby Award 2021,” says Reg Clark, CEO of Rhino. Dan and his team deserve every encouragement and support for this excellent initiative.”  

The Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award, now in its seventh year recognises clubs, organisations and individuals globally who show the true spirit of rugby at community level.

Past Winners:
2015: TAG RUGBY TRUST (UK)
2016: KAMPUCHEA BALOPP (Cambodia)
2017: SKRUM (Eswatini/Swaziland)
2018: SHIBUYA INTERNATIONAL RUGBY CLUB (Japan)
2019: KHELO RUGBY (India) 
2020: RICHMOND RUGBY (UK)

September 28, 2021 — Alex Mead