Rugby vet Stephen harnesses Project Rugby to grow disability rugby in Newcastle

Rugby vet Stephen harnesses Project Rugby to grow disability rugby in Newcastle

Tuesday 26 March 2024 Written by: Tom Grisedale

Involved in grassroots rugby for over 30 years and passionate about the game, Stephen Parsons is now instrumental in delivering disability rugby at Newcastle Falcons.

With previous experience from working for a disability charity, Stephen now facilitates the Project Rugby programme in his role as Community Development Officer within Newcastle Rugby Foundation. From day one Stephen demonstrated real enthusiasm to deliver sessions for mixed-ability players who would not otherwise have given rugby a go. Quick to engage with participants, as a coach he empowers them to find confidence and aims to inspire them to continue playing rugby after their initial Project Rugby experience.

By running sessions in community clubs and SEN schools, Stephen helps fill a gap in the provision of disability sports within the region, providing all-year-round opportunities for disabled participants to play rugby. Indoor winter training provision at Tyneside Badminton Centre has resulted in newly formed partnerships with other local providers and the creation of a North East Disability Sport Forum, that exists to increase the offering available to in the region.

Stephen is now a valued member of the Falcons community coaching team. His dedication to his mission to transition players with varying disabilities to a grassroots club or into the Newcastle Falcons mixed-ability team is to be admired.

“Seeing the smiles on the faces and the sense of achievement when learning new skills or achieving a task makes delivering Project Rugby both rewarding and enjoyable. I am proud there are now opportunities for participants with disabilities to play fixtures and festivals against other teams that before never existed.” Says Stephen.

Stephen is just one inspirational individual being celebrated during Community Weekend Round 14 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby (29th – 31st March). Over the weekend, all games will be dedicated to the award-winning community programmes run by Premiership Rugby in collaboration with its shareholder Clubs and Club Foundations. The weekend celebrates how the rugby community is one big family – giving support, instilling confidence, improving mental wellbeing and providing a sense of belonging. Stephen’s story showcases how rugby can change lives.

Project Rugby is delivered in partnership with Gallagher, title sponsor of Premiership Rugby, and the RFU and is designed to introduce as many people as possible to the benefits of rugby. With a specific focus on engaging participants from traditionally underrepresented groups, no matter their background or disability. Project Rugby sessions introduce rugby to novices at easily accessible, familiar locations within local communities, run by coaches and volunteers from Premiership Rugby Clubs and Club Foundations spread across the nation.

Since its inception in 2017, over 100,000 people have participated in Project Rugby sessions held at over 200 different locations across England. Harnessing rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline, and sportsmanship, the programme has welcomed, inspired and motivated many young people to seek out local teams so they can continue to play regularly.

Wayne Morris, Community & CSR Director, Premiership Rugby says “Driving inclusivity within the game is a top priority for our community programmes and it is only possible with the support of outstanding Individuals like Stephen. Rugby is a game for everyone no matter their ability or disability – the game can be adapted to various formats making it possible for people with disabilities to play.

Project Rugby has helped create 22 new mixed-ability teams nationwide to increase diversity in the sport. We are committed to supporting coaches like Stephen at Falcons to continue to inspire a new generation of rugby players who will then reap the many benefits of playing the sport we love.”

Frank Firth, Managing Director of title partner Gallagher’s Newcastle branch, adds: “We are passionate about Project Rugby and how it enables all abilities to play.

“Stephen is a great example of how the programme is not only rewarding for participants but the coaching teams too. With people like Stephen involved who have expert knowledge and authentic passion for the game we have an opportunity to increase the number of people with disabilities playing rugby and live and breathe that rugby is a sport for all.”

About Project Rugby

Project Rugby is a Premiership Rugby community programme which aims to increase participation in rugby by traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and girls, people with a disability or from ethnically diverse or low socio-economic (DEC/LSEG) backgrounds. It provides accessible opportunities for people to try rugby and play the game regularly through sessions delivered by community staff at each of Premiership Rugby’s shareholder clubs and club foundations in 200 locations nationwide.

To find your nearest Project Rugby session click HERE

*Project Rugby Interim Report, March 2023, SPEAR