Tackling youth crime and antisocial behaviour through the power of rugby

A pioneering early intervention programme, delivered through the power of rugby, has engaged more than 1000 schoolchildren across Wirral. 

Schoolchildren from 12 Wirral schools took part in a rugby competition today, Thursday 4 May.

Due to the success of the prevention programme, it will now be extended and funded for another three years, to reach even more at-risk youngsters in Merseyside.

Merseyside Police launched ‘Rugby Beats Robbery’ in 2022 and teamed up with the Sale Sharks Foundation and Birkenhead Park Rugby Club to pilot the initiative across Wirral, targeting at-risk students from hard-to-reach catchment areas.

The programme – funded by Project Medusa, Merseyside Police’s dedicated team to tackling County Lines and criminal gangs – aims to prevent crime through early intervention and introducing children to an alternative hobby.

The programme has been developed by Schools Partnership Officer, Constable William Hughes, who is passionate about the power of rugby and the positive behaviours it can bring.

Constable Will Hughes, known as PC Will to the kids said, “This is just a great evening to bring parents and schools down to showcase what we do.

PC Will’s job doesn’t begin and end with the rugby event. He explained, “I’ll follow up in the classroom with a lot of the schools. I’ll go in and do some preventative work in the classroom and around social media, raising awareness around knife crime, county lines, etc. I think having police officers at the rugby club humanises the role and that’s really important.”

The number of children caught up in crime is at a historical low – falling by 81 percent since 2010. Research shows 80 per cent of prolific adult offenders started on their path of crime as children, which shows why programmes like this are absolutely vital.

One of the best ways to keep young people on the right path is to give them the skills to succeed in life – something sports schemes can provide, building young people’s resilience, self-confidence and discipline while engaging in a fun activity.

(L-R) Simon Mason (ex-Ireland International), Constable Will Hughes, Neil Shaw and Peter Cucchi, both of Birkenhead Park Rugby Club

Neil Shaw, Director of Rubgy and Birkenhead Park Rugby Club told expanded on this by saying, “The kids come down to have a nice day, they’re running around, they’re having a good time. Whether it’s rugby, whether it’s football, whatever sports it is, it’ll give them some values as well; teamwork, respect, and those type of things and everyone’s going to benefit from this, not just the kids.”

Primary and secondary school students on the programme engaged in outdoor rugby, a series of mental health and wellbeing sessions and interactive lessons from officers about topics such as County Lines, antisocial behaviour, and criminal exploitation.

The extension of the programme will see the introduction of a sports programme for girls, summer rugby camps, additional tournaments for years three and eight and more collaboration between the Force’s Mini Pathfinders initiative, which is targeted at children aged 10-11 in areas where there is social and economic deprivation and high crime rates.

Peter Cucchi, Youth Development Officer at Birkenhead Park Rugby Club, came up with the idea for the event. He said, “It started about seven or eight years ago and it was an idea from the club because they wanted to grow the club from the grassroots up, to build the club up and get it going. It was my idea to run the tournaments and get all the kids from the local schools down here playing rugby, hopefully with a view to getting them playing rugby at our club or any other club that they live near.”

Alfie, a year 6 pupil agrees. He said he was enjoying it “lots” and that it was “really fun and competitive.” He’d also recommend it to his friends, saying “It’s really fun and enjoyable to play against all the different teams.”

Images: www.fotopiaimages.com

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