Rugby Club Takes Lifestyle Message to Pupils; COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT: Scheme Focuses on Giving Youngsters Positive Role Models and Teaching Them to Stand Up for Themselves as They Prepare for Secondary Education

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Byline: TOMOS LIVINSTONE

AN AMBITIOUS project by one of Wales's leading rugby clubs has been bringing benefits to schools across the south-east Wales area.

Gateway Rugby is a project run by Newport Rugby Club which aims to teach children in the region both rugby and life skills.

Since its launch in 2000, the scheme has grown to include the Monmouth, Torfaen and Newport education authority areas, and has been used by more than 9,000 children.

The scheme is based on fortnightly visits from the club's community development officers, often accompanied by one of the club's high-profile stars.

The children, mainly aged nine and 10, are taught rugby skills along with a powerful lifestyle message which encourages them away from vandalism, drug-taking and criminality.

Phil Davies of Newport Rugby Club said the scheme was part of a wider responsibility the club feels as a major presence in the region.

"It's about us recognising we have a corporate social responsibility, " he said.

The scheme is also part of the club's attempt to bring its message to a wider area than the town of Newport itself. It reaches out to areas like Monmouth, Caldicot and Abergavenny.

"In Gateway Rugby we're not just trying to create rugby players - the best will always get to the top so this is not an elite project, " Mr Davies said. "It's a social development scheme."

The project focuses on giving youngsters positive role models and encouraging them to stand up for themselves as they prepare to move to secondary education.

"We're trying to use our position and influence to have a positive influence in a key stage in that child's life, " said Mr Davies.

"We're trying to give those children improved self-esteem to be able to resist some of those peer pressures."

The key to the success of the project is the full-time development officers who visit schools throughout the year, allowing them to build relationships with the children.

The scheme costs the club pounds 250,000 a year to run.

The club strives to send one of its high-profile stars along on the school visits wherever possible.

The players have photographs taken with the children and the teachers, and take part in training sessions. Newport employs five full-time community development officers to run the scheme.

At present, 86 primary schools, 15 comprehensive schools and two private schools are involved.

The club estimates that the total number of children involved in the project is more than 9,000.

The fortnightly visits take the form of talks and skills sessions. …