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From Project Rugby to virtual HUBS, The Harlequins Foundation inspires Jovana’s passion for rugby

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniably detrimental effect on people’s lives, livelihoods, mental and physical wellbeing. So, it should come as no surprise that it has had a negative effect on young people too.

The Harlequins Foundation has witnessed this first-hand with some of their participants, including 14 year old Jovana Madarevic.

Jovana was first introduced to rugby through the Project Rugby programme delivered by The Harlequins Foundation. Quickly developing a natural aptitude for the game, her passion grew, and she went on to join a satellite club at Grasshoppers RFC where she played regularly until the pandemic put a stop to all grassroots sport.

Premiership Rugby’s Project Rugby is one of the game’s big successes, in partnership with Gallagher and the RFU, and recently reached a major milestone as the 50,000th young person was engaged in the programme.

Project Rugby is designed to increase participation in the game by traditionally underrepresented groups, such as people with disabilities or from ethnically diverse or low socio-economic backgrounds, The programme provides opportunities for them to try and play the game through sessions delivered by community staff at each of Premiership Rugby’s 13 shareholder clubs at more than 200 locations across England.

Jovana is a great example of how rugby can have a hugely positive effect on the lives of young people in many ways and she is one of the inspirational young people that we will be turning the spotlight on across Round 12 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby (5-7 March) when all matches will be dedicated to our award-winning community programmes that benefit around 250,000 people annually.

Jovana said: “If The Harlequins Foundation never existed, I would probably never have tried rugby and it’s a sport I have come to love!”

She has however, like many people, struggled with the isolation of lockdown. The lack of social interaction with her peers and access to physical activity led to Jovana suffering with low moods and finding it hard to stay positive, feeling out of touch with friends.

Jovana said: “I am a very sociable person and hanging out with friends gives me a lot of energy.

“Lockdown meant I felt extremely sad that I couldn’t see my friends, I also felt disappointed because I had just started my rugby journey and was looking forward to seeing where that took me.”

The Harlequins Foundation has helped support Jovana during this time with their virtual rugby HUBs.

James Collins-Clark, Foundation Development Officer, said: “When we were able to start up our Rugby HUBs again (virtually) it was a great feeling.

“This meant we could re-engage with our participants and more importantly they could re-engage with each other. 

Jovana said: “I felt very anxious about joining the virtual HUBs because I didn’t know how it was going to be, as well as not knowing or speaking to people for such a long period of time.

“But when I saw that James was delivering rugby starter packs on Instagram, I was really excited along with my new friends from the HUB.

“We were texting each other throughout the day checking to see if James had been!” 

The Harlequins Foundation is currently delivering a virtual HUB session each week for regular attendees to join so they can reconnect with the club and more importantly each other until face-to-face training can resume. The sessions offer a positive and safe learning environment that provides young people with structure and the opportunity to develop the essential skills through sport and physical activity.

Jovana said: “Since starting up the virtual HUBs with James and Hollie, (The Harlequins Foundation’s wellbeing coach) my self-confidence has gone up so much, I have never been a big fan of fitness, but Hollie made it so fun. I look forward to the HUBs each week.”

Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby, said: “It is fantastic to hear Jovana’s story and the way she looks forward to her sessions with The Harlequins Foundation.

“She shows exactly how important it was for Premiership Rugby to launch Project Rugby and we are thankful for the vital support we have received from Gallagher, the RFU and of course our clubs, like Harlequins, who bring it to life.

“Project Rugby succeeds because it engages and develops new audiences through rugby and stimulate a lifelong interest in the game and Jovana is the perfect example of this.

“We’ve engaged thousands of participants per year through the delivery by community staff from Premiership Rugby’s 13 shareholder clubs at over 200 locations across England, providing accessible opportunities for people to participate in the game at a time and place that can be easily accessed by target audiences. We look forward to introducing many more to the sport we all love.”

Steve White, EMEA Head of Marketing at Gallagher added: “Project Rugby continues to play an incredibly important role in bringing communities, teams and people generally into sport. Aside from the physical play of the game, this is about bringing people closer through teamwork and forming lasting friendships between individuals who may have otherwise been left watching from the side-lines.”

“There are many ways to get involved, including coaching, volunteering as well as participation on the field. Although the current situation prevents us from being together in person, the switch to virtual engagement is helping Jovana and the 50,000+ Project Rugby participants stay energised and connected. It’s terrific to be part of something that builds communities across the UK.”

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