Hitz awards joy for Newcastle contingent

Hitz awards joy for Newcastle contingent

Wednesday 22 November 2023 Written by: Mark Smith

Two inspirational role models from Newcastle Rugby Foundation, the charitable arm of Premiership side Newcastle Falcons, won a national Premiership Rugby HITZ Award at an emotional ceremony held at Twickenham Stadium.

In the moving celebration of young learners and mentors involved in the Premiership Rugby flagship education and employment programme, Jan Farkas was presented with the Physical Activity Award and Reece Wray with the Young Achiever Award.  

Securing two out of the four award wins the Newcastle Rugby Foundation shone as the achievements of 12 outstanding shortlisted individuals were recognised during the evening.

A highlight of the Premiership Rugby calendar, the ceremony showed films of the journeys the shortlist had been on to be nominated, showcasing the challenges they had overcome along with their hard work and commitment to the HITZ programme. 

Hosted by Topsy Ojo and attended by Premiership players, including Harlequins winger Cadan Murley, Saracens prop Ollie Hoskins and Northampton Saints prop Emmanuel Iyogun, it was a night filled with emotion, pride and jubilation.

Wayne Morris, community & CSR director at Premiership Rugby, said: “Congratulations to Jan and Reece on their much-deserved award wins, and indeed to all those shortlisted in this season’s HITZ awards.

“Over the last 15 years the success rate of the programme speaks for itself, HITZ has helped over 80% of the learners move on positively. The HITZ Awards are an annual celebration of just how much rugby can change lives, highlighting the difference HITZ makes to young people like Jan and Reece.

“Everyone involved in the programme should feel proud of the impact that they have made, we are delighted for Newcastle Falcons on their double award win here tonight.”


Jan has been on a remarkable journey of self-discipline and belief, never giving up on his goals.

During pandemic lockdowns, Jan gained weight and subsequently lost confidence, mentally and physically, to participate in sport. One day, he decided to take control of his situation and make a positive change to his health. This consisted of devising his own food and exercise regime which provided the structure he lacked and motivated him through challenging times. Jan lost an impressive 75kg resulting in him feeling fitter, healthier and having higher self-esteem when it came to playing sport.

Before joining HITZ Jan also struggled with education and feeling like an outsider due to his size and English not being his first language. His love of rugby provided an outlet, but the pandemic caused him to fall out of the game and lose all confidence in his abilities, as he didn’t find another club. His sense of despair was compounded by his father becoming seriously ill which required Jan to take on care responsibilities for his younger brother, act as a translator and do regular housework.

Despite all this Jan never gave up, honouring the promise he made to himself, and continues to maintain a positive attitude since enrolling on a Level 2 sports coaching course. HITZ provided Jan with a focus and purpose during difficult times, and he consistently continues to receive positive feedback from coaches and participants at the Falcons Community coaching camps.

Jan said on winning his award: “I’m in shock. I never thought I’d get an award for losing weight and playing rugby. The journey has had ups and downs in terms of my mindset so winning the award means everything.”


Reece has shown bravery beyond measure in the face of adversity and despite challenging times, has embraced the HITZ programme to better himself.

After the tragic losses of his father and grandfather, Reece joined HITZ at his darkest time mentally, with his confidence at an all-time low. Unsurprisingly, the events had impacted his relationship with his mother and his education suffered as a result. Reece left school with no Maths or English GCSEs and despite his best efforts, caused a further plummet of confidence that left his future path uncertain. 

Once at HITZ, Reece grew in strength, embracing the programme and saying yes to every opportunity. Volunteering at his local rugby club and on Newcastle Falcons match days as mascot ‘Flash the Falcon’ as well as speaking in front of large groups, Reece has been pushed out of his comfort zone and demonstrated commitment to improving his confidence.

With his change in attitude and passing his maths qualification, he now sees the value of focusing on academics first and allowing friendships to develop naturally at the appropriate time, rather than during classes at the detriment of others’ learning.

Reece aspires to become a professional coach after discovering his passion for nurturing others in sports by mentoring U8s at his local grassroots club. This formed part of his Level 2 sports coaching qualification and he now plans to progress to Level 3 on his quest to carve out a much brighter future for himself.

After winning his award Reece said: “I feel starstruck winning this award. I can’t wait for the future. I’m at Falcons coaching at the moment and I want to build my skills up and help the community as much as possible. Having this is going to motivate me every day.”

Shortlisted from Newcastle Rugby Foundation

Lauren McLean was shortlisted for HITZ Academic Achiever Award, supported by Central YMCA.

Lacking the qualifications needed for her preferred further education route and being a victim of bullying, Lauren arrived at HITZ withdrawn and struggled to form friendships. After volunteering in coaching camps to help other children struggling with nerves, Lauren is now a popular friend encouraging others to be themselves. With aspirations to become a police officer, Lauren is now progressing onto Level 3 Law.

David Wilson was shortlisted for HITZ Champion Award, supported by CVC.

David’s unwavering dedication to HITZ has been evident for all since he joined as a volunteer after hearing of the programme’s impact on the local community. David’s caring and empathetic nature leads many to describe him as ‘inspiring’. He is constantly connecting with participants to provide encouragement and guidance, shaped by his own experience.

Melanie Magee, head of Newcastle Rugby Foundation, was amongst guests celebrating, saying: “We are incredibly proud of Jan and Reece for winning a HITZ award. Their hard work and perseverance to overcome the challenges they faced when they joined HITZ and to go on to win these awards is a testament to their character and strength.

“Congratulations to all the nominees shortlisted including Lauren and David from Newcastle Rugby Foundation. We have an amazing HITZ team and we couldn’t deliver the programme without the support of people like David who help set young people up for life. It is motivating to see the positive impact the programme has not just on the individuals involved, but on the wider communities.”

HITZ is Premiership Rugby’s flagship education and employability programme which for 15 years has supported young people to make positive changes in their lives. Working with more than 2,000 14–24-year-olds across England every year, the programme uses rugby’s core values to develop invaluable personal, life and employability skills, that help young people get back into education, training, apprenticeships and/or employment.