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Home > News > Warrington prison scheme opens new horizons
Your News Warrington prison scheme opens new horizons

RUGBY Union has been reaching out to all aspects of community life for many years now and it continues to impact positively on the lives of many youngsters who are working to get their lives back on track.

A perfect example of that outreach activity has been in place for several weeks now in Warrington and involves a partnership between the local RU club and the nearby Thorn Cross Open Prison and Young Offenders Institution.

The first important milestone for the project came recently when three players from Thorn Cross represented Warrington RUFC in a first team league game, when the players were not only new to Walton Lea Road, but also fresh to the game of rugby union having arrived at the club via the programme.

Through that association, three Thorn Cross players were able to make their debut against Sale RFC and the number later swelled to four.

Ex-Sale wingman and Warrington Community Rugby Coach Simon Verbickas was the instigator of the link and when he made the initial approach to Thorn Cross, Brian Grieve, the Resettlement Manager at the prison, was quick to establish a working relationship that would drive the project forward.

“The progress made by Simon and Richard Woodward, the Warrington RFC Community Volunteer Coordinator, has been unbelievable.” says Brian: “When Simon visited us, we agreed that we could work together, not only within the establishment, but also outside it as our job is to help prisoners attain the necessary skills to be able to work/train/educate in the open community.

“We want to give our people the tools to help change their lives around and rugby is such a fantastic game which extends beyond simply playing. The prisoners loved the idea and they’ve been well supported by the gym staff, management and the prisoners.

“Now everyone is on-board and the staff are really positive. Discipline has never been a problem on the pitch and the lads are enthusiastic and fully engaged with the coaching programme. The attitude is fantastic and the lads are well motivated and keen to show what they can do.

“The prison management are fully behind us and the support from Governers Mick Povall and Andy Fletcher ultimately came in the ground-breaking decision to allow a team from Thorn Cross to visit Warrington RFC on December 27 and play a match.

“That will be a great day for everyone involved, not just personally but also professionally because you can see the prisoners are getting a huge amount of enjoyment, discipline, training and social skills out of the project. The fact that they take some of the skills taught at Thorn Cross and put them to use at the club on days when they are not training and playing gives them huge encouragement and learning opportunities, not only in life skills but also rugby skills.

“There’s no doubt that Warrington and the RFU are improving people’s lives by giving them the confidence through rugby to make huge changes. Their confidence is sky high since the partnership has been set up and everyone involved can be proud of themselves.”

“A huge amount of credit must go to Warrington RUFC management, players and staff for the way they’ve embraced this partnership and welcomed the lads openly and treated them with massive dignity and respect. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved.”

Said club CVC Richard: “This is a fantastic initiative, a real win-win project which demonstrates the community benefits generated by the club’s close partnership with Lancashire and Cheshire RFU and Thorn Cross.

“This programme, although in its relative infancy, is regarded as being the premier programme of the many the prison runs because it delivers more benefits than anyone can imagine. Rugby is almost the perfect vehicle for rehabilitation of young offenders and that has become apparent to us as the programme continues to develop and evolve.”

Said Ian, Man of the Match against Sale: “I played as a youngster with Keresley RFC and Old Coventrians RFC, but I gave it up and wouldn’t have got involved in the sport again without the help of Warrington. They’ve been very welcoming and helpful since I arrived and to win the Man of the Match award on my debut was a real thrill.

“I think the scheme is very good and Simon deserves a lot of credit for the work he’s done in setting it up and getting us organised to play.”

For Simon Verbickas, December 27 is certainly a Red Letter day. He said: “I wasn’t surprised by the ability of the lads when they pulled on a Warrington shirt. They’ve been getting better and better with every session and it was really pleasing to see them perform so well against Sale.

“Every week we get more lads choosing rugby over other sports at the prison and they are loving it and really do get stuck in. There has been real progress within the group. For the Thorn Cross players to be allowed to play as a team at Warrington RUFC is a great accolade for them and the project. That’s one game I’ll definitely be playing in.

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