Towards the end of last year, DT headed to The Garden House cafe on the High Road to talk to the people behind youth project, Saracens Hitz Learning Academy.
Lauren Briggs and Gregory Roach told us all about the programme, run out of the Tottenham Community Sports Centre, that helps 16 to 18 year old NEETs and youth offenders (as well as up to age 24 via the health education plan) to gain qualifications in English, Maths and Sport and puts them on a path to further education or employment.
The HITZ Learning Academy runs four days a week from 9.30am to 3.30pm. They also have another programme, HITZ on Track, an in school six week provision for 14 to 16 year olds. HITZ On Track are issue based sessions with a rugby participation.
Lauren has been working on the HITZ programme for the last year and a half and, at the time we met, Gregory, from Creative Sport and Leisure (CSL), had just joined the project a few weeks earlier.
DT: How did the HITZ programme get started?
Lauren: About eight years ago, there was a weekly pitch up and play session in Hackney. There was a girl that used to attend the sessions and she needed a bit of help with her reading. The HITZ officer at the time went along to the library and helped her do some studying and it developed from there.
What was initially just rugby participation, became an eduction programme where we now deliver level one and two functional skills, literacy and numeracy and sports qualifications. It developed organically and was amassed into this personal and professional development programme.
DT: Did it start as a Saracens project?
Lauren: It did… and then went out to all the premiership rugby clubs across the country. We look at what the community need and deliver qualifications relevant to that.
DT: When did it start?
Lauren: The HITZ Learning Academy started in September and it follows the natural academic year. We keep taking HITZ students on until March and continue rolling to July.
DT: What does a day as part of the HITZ Leaning Academy in Tottenham involve?
Gregory: A general day would consist of a number of different activities, playing basketball or football. Although it’s linked with Saracens it’s not just rugby, it’s sports in general.
We’ve spoken to the young people on the programme and asked “what do you specifically want to do?” One of them is particularly interested in mountain biking so we’re going out and doing things like that.
A couple of weeks ago they dragged me to the white water rafting at Lea Valley. All the different groups came down and we did a whole day for the kids where we went out on the boats, had safety training covering things like, what do to if we fell out and how to survive going down the rapids.
DT: I don’t think that one’s for me.
Gregory: Nor did I and a couple of students, but that fear itself is what’s empowering at the end of the day. Come on, let’s try it at least once and go down it a few times and actually by the end of the whole session you’re like “wow”.
What we also try to do is incorporate Maths and English, but not in a conventional way… We look at various ways of incorporating Maths and English, employability skills and try to almost take some of the leads from the kids on the programme. “What is it what you want to do?” “OK, how would you write a CV for that job, a cover letter” and things like that.
DT: So it’s about confidence building as well as training?
Gregory: Yeah it’s basically what would be the best training for you as an individual. Our group is small. The aim is not to have 20 or 30 kids in the room – it’s probably about ten or less and we can give them that individual time or support.
Lauren: It’s making sure we can support that person best to their needs. It’s different to college in terms of you get taught something and then go home. It’s looking at how can we help them develop as a person along with the learning side of it. [We hope that they will] be able to go to an interview and think right I nailed that. We try to get them to that place.
DT: How often do you run the big days out, like the white water rafting?
Lauren: It can be anything up to six planned trips across the year. We’re quite flexible in our approach to it. We understand we’ve got to deliver for the young people. It’s looking at how we are going to get them to the next positive destination and what’s going to work for them in terms of support.
Gregory: Learning support, confidence building, encouragement – let’s learn this together or this is an experience I’ve had, what about you guys.
DT: What are each of your roles in the project?
Gregory: My role is to teach Maths and English and to assess the BTEC Sports qualification.
Lauren: My role is to provide all the enrichment activities and the soft skill development side of it. Whether it’s from nutrition to how to stand up and give a presentation. Myself and Gregory are very similar in our mind sets so we’ll both work together. It might be something in the session I’m delivering, but I know Greg will always be in the knowledge of what I’m doing and there helping out. It’s a really supportive team.
[It’s] finding positive progressions for the young people. Asking them “what goals do you have?”
How can we get you to your goal? For example, you might have someone who says I want to be a mechanic so I’ve used contacts and my network to find the way to get that person into a mechanics.
DT: Do you collaborate with any other organisations?
Lauren: We’re working with the Fire Brigade in March, the Royal Navy, the Army, Nandos… It’s really diverse because we don’t want to pigeon hole. You might get a young person saying “I thought I’d hate that but I loved it.” It’s about giving them opportunities to try different things.
Gregory: That diversity is what’s exciting.
DT: How can rugby, or sport, help the young people you work with?
Lauren: In my experience, we’ve been into quite a few young people’s referral units and delivered a rugby session, and some of the young people have aggression issues.
Rugby can be used as a controlled aggression. It has a very high level of respect. You might want to take out your opponent, but when you do take out your opponent you still respect them and understand you’re here you’re playing a game, you’re against each other but that’s OK.
It develops a lot of resilience and discipline. Ruby discipline is incredible. You do the smallest thing wrong and you’re penalised. You don’t talk back to the referee, you respect the referee and it’s those things, when you’re teaching a rugby session, young people can take on.
Sport in the wider spectrum is about confidence.
Gregory: Other disciplines such as karate or martial arts have that same sort of ethos as well.
Lauren: It’s all about discipline and respect.
Gregory: Working in a team and those kind of ethics.
Lauren: And it’s OK to fail. To build the resilience to say I’ve been knocked down, but I’m going to get back up and carry on. Hopefully it makes them healthier as well.
Gregory: Hopefully it channels that aggression to be more controlled and therefore channelled in a more creative way.
Lauren: It’s also about communication.
Gregory: Communicating effectively within that team aspect is really vital. For example, if you work in a mechanics, if someone is saying pass me a tool and you don’t know what that is, and you then don’t ask, there’s a breakdown of communication. The job you’re doing isn’t being done effectively within that team.
DT: Could you summarise the key aims and objectives of the project?
Gregory: My key aims are to get the students, that haven’t attained the level of Maths or English grade C, to the level of C grade functional skills – minimum government requirement for any job. To make sure that they’ve got the employability skills and that they’re ready for job interviews.
Lauren: To provide them with a programme that enables them to not only develop in their education, but also personally and socially, and get them to a point where they’re confident enough to recognise their dream and go for it.
Gregory: I’d like to see my students in six months to a year with their certificates, having proudly achieved their qualification and go on to the next stage. Be it they go on to college, be it that they find some other training or a role that they actually desire. It’s seeing them grow and develop.
Lauren: Grow, develop and realise their dreams.
Gregory: Achieve and succeed.
Lauren: Every week you might see a different progression in them – it is incredible, the journeys that they go on.
If you want to volunteer or find out more, all the details can be found on the website. They are open to suggestions and are also looking to work with local businesses to provide work experience for the young people.