Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards: Unsung heroes of the grassroots game are honoured

Paula Bradbury, winner of the 2017 Community Volunteer of the Year award.
Paula Bradbury, winner of the 2017 Community Volunteer of the Year award

As rugby union fans prepare for the deciding Test between the All Blacks and British Lions on Saturday, the grassroots of the English game were being celebrated in London.

The 2017 Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards recognised those who have contributed to their community programmes and those who have been transformed by them.

"It's about people positively engaging and overcoming adversity through sport," said sports minister Tracey Crouch, who was at the ceremony.

'It will change your life forever'

Ben Nutt is one example of that kind of positive engagement. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was four years old and struggled through school.

Ben Nutt, winner of the BreakThru Achiever award, with mum Joanne.
Ben Nutt, winner of the BreakThru Achiever award, with mum Joanne

"No one would give him the time of day," said his mother Joanne. "All he wanted was for someone to give him a chance."

After a year at college he withdrew into himself and - by his own admission - would hardly come out of his bedroom.

But, after joining the local HITZ programme with London Irish, his confidence improved and he started to find a new purpose in life.

"For a kid with ADHD it gives you a chance to release that energy, so I think it's perfect," Ben said after picking up the BreakThru Achiever award. "I want to recommend this to anyone. Give this programme a try - it will change your life forever."

"I can see a future for my son I didn't before," added Joanne. "And that's all down to London Irish HITZ programme."

Members of Premiership Rugby's HITZ programme attended the 2017 Premiership final at Twickenham.
Members of Premiership Rugby's HITZ programme attended the 2017 Premiership final at Twickenham

'She didn't want to play with the boys'

Paula Bradbury is helping others to participate in the game and was recognised for her achievements in helping to grow the women's game around Greater Manchester.

"Three years ago my daughter wanted to play rugby, but she didn't want to play with boys," explained Paula after being named Community Volunteer of the Year.

"At that point it was her and a few other girls who had brothers who played - and it went from there really."

Paula set up and now runs the girls' and women's teams at Winnington Park RFC near Northwich and gets involved at county level as well. She has even started playing rugby in the past year.

Todd Burge from Bath Rugby's Foundation was named the PLAY Achiever of the Year after embodying the spirit of the PLAY campaign.

Kris Tavender - who gave up his own full-time job to focus on his rugby work - was named Community Coach of the Year.

He was recognised for bringing sport to almost 600 people with a variety of disabilities through Bristol Rugby Community Foundation's Spectrum project.

Chris Pennell, winner of the Premiership Community Player of the Year award.
Chris Pennell, winner of the Premiership Community Player of the Year award

And Chris Pennell picked up the Premiership Community Player of the Year award for his support of Worcester Warriors' work.

The sports minister concluded the event by congratulating all the winners and nominees "who've not only demonstrated the power of sport in benefiting communities beyond the sport itself - but also making the positive change to people's lives".

She added: "It's fitting that we celebrate the wonderful achievements of the inspirational and dedicated individuals who showcase the unique values of rugby as a tool for good throughout society."