My Foundation Story: The Jesters

  • Disabled adults are almost twice as likely as non-disabled people to be physically inactive
  • 78% of disabled people “would like to be more active”
  • Just one in four disabled people had taken part in an organised activity session in the last year, compared to 36 per cent of non-disabled people
    Disability Sport FAQs and Statistics – Activity Alliance

We’re excited to introduce you to The Jesters, The Harlequins Foundation’s wheelchair rugby team. Wheelchair rugby is a full-contact, mixed-gender team sport in which teams of four battle to get the ball across the opposing team’s goal line. Founded in 2019, our team has been growing by the year and have started taking on regular tournaments. But The Jesters means so much more than competitions and climbing the ranks: it’s an opportunity to get active and be a part of a team for wheelchair users who may not have that opportunity elsewhere.

We asked several members of The Jesters what they enjoyed about playing wheelchair rugby. Here’s what they said:

I like that it’s keeping me fit. It’s getting me out to meet people that I wouldn’t usually see. And it’s nice to see a different strength in everyone. We’ve got a good team, and we’ve got good people coming here.” 

Having a group of people who understand not only you as a person but you as a disabled person and how much that impacts on your life is quite nice. Just being able to rock around with a load of people and not feel completely inadequate.” 

“It gives me a release of energy for starters. But it’s a good way of making friends and socializing more than anything. Meeting other people who are going through the same sort of experiences as you. I like the social element, meeting new people, and being part of a team.” 

“I think there are lots of disability sports out there, but wheelchair rugby is the only contact sport. And I think as a disabled person you get wrapped in cotton wool in day-to-day life. Then you come to wheelchair rugby, and you’re encouraged to crash into each other, and break all those stereotypes about disabled people.” 

Why is it so important that we offer wheelchair rugby sessions? The benefits of taking part in team sport cannot be overstated, but all too often there is no option for disabled people to take part in sport. A major barrier for many disabled people is access; before The Jesters, there were no disability team sport opportunities in or around Twickenham. And many disabled people worry that their abilities do not align with their sport of choice. For example, Matt, a new player, was concerned that his disability was not advanced enough to allow him to play: “I worried that other people would view me as not being disabled enough, but there was nothing like that. Everyone is really welcoming.”

By offering inclusive disability sport we can give disabled people the access to physical activity they need, as well as provide spaces for people with similar experiences to bond.

Claudia, Captain of The Jesters, says, “For a lot of these players, before we had The Jesters, they didn’t have access to a team sport. Purely down to the challenges or equipment, or not enough resources, or it’s too far away. And I think for these players to come and be around people that understand them, and have that team camaraderie, is so important for their mental health and for them socially. This is a really vital resource for disabled people.”

Our team has gone from strength to strength. Thanks to funding secured by Big Give, we were able to buy all-new wheelchair rugby chairs for the team. Having unique, professional chairs for our team has made a massive impact, both on The Jesters’ enjoyment and their performance; Colin, a long-term player, compares the chairs they used previously to “pushing through treacle. So it was good to get chairs that we could use. As soon as we got into these ones, we were flying around.”

Matt concurs; he says, “It’s like going from a bus into a Ferrari. I went flying down here at one point because of the agility of it all and the speed. They’re brilliant. The difference in the chairs is huge.”

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