AN enthusiastic game of rugby is being played at the Lismore Rugby Club.
The latest recruits of a six-week programme that aims to kick unemployment into touch are shouting encouragement to each other as they tear across the pitch.
Social inclusion charity School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) is harnessing the power of rugby to tackle low self-esteem in adults who are out of work.
Through rugby coaching and a mix of goal setting activities and motivational sessions, SOHK staff aim to smash through any barriers to employment.
Course facilitator and in-house motivator Calum Gauld understands what a big step it is even getting this far.
And he said: “Getting into work is hard enough as it is but if you have challenges like addiction or isolation to overcome, it can feel impossible.
“People are referred through partner agencies or recruited by SOHK staff at job centres throughout the city.
“It’s a brave thing to sign up to if you’re unemployed and your confidence has been knocked”, said Calum. “But we show people that if you can do this, you can do anything.”
Rosa Innes, programmes manager, is passionate about what the charity does: “In rugby there’s a position for everyone no matter your age, health or size. The value system for rugby includes respect, integrity and teamwork and is the same as those in the workplace.”
The charity is backed by a squad of Scottish international players including rugby aces Rhona Lloyd and Mark Bennett who both coach regular sessions.
Rosa and Calum, along with the coaches and sessional facilitators who work with them, are trying to give poverty, poor health and addiction the boot at the same time as giving participants an advantage by boosting their confidence and brushing up on their job skills.
CV workshops and mock interviews prepare people for getting back into work while one to one sessions with the team can help people identify jobs and careers that would make the most of their existing skills. So far, ten of the 24 players who will graduate next week with Edinburgh College SVQs have already secured full or part time posts – and no one leaves the course without a next step in place.
Real friendships are forged on and off the pitch and the team spirit and affection is evident within the group with most of them keen to stay connected.
The two healthy meals served on the three training days are the only hot food some course participants will have all week.
Former Edinburgh University PHD student John Blackburn, 27, was involved in a serious car accident five years ago that saw him bedridden for two months.
After getting back on his feet he was approached by Calum in the job centre and despite his shyness he signed up.
“SOHK put a smile back on my face and helped me find myself”, he said. “They completely changed my outlook on life.
“Instead of giving up I now say ‘I can’t do this... yet.” He gained so much from the course that he now works with them as a sessional facilitator as well as keeping up the rugby in his spare time.
Claire Gannon, 28, had only been living in the Capital for a year after moving from Galway when she found SOHK.
She was working part time and, far away from friends and family, felt isolated and lost.
She said: “I was terrified when I joined the course and had reached rock bottom.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“I’m fitter, more confident and I’m looking forward to things again.”
Calum helped identify a move into social work for the former financial analyst and she was delighted to land a full-time job last week.
“If I can face ten lads on the pitch I know I can conquer my fear in any situation,” he said.
“SOHK’s support teaches you how to support yourself and their encouragement breeds positivity.”
Fellow SOHK teammate Stu Keiller, 39, had been unemployed for six months when he signed up.
As the course comes to a close he has taken up playing his guitar again and is feeling more confident than ever after losing weight.
He said: “I’m excited about life now.
“I feel so much better and I don’t fancy junk food anymore.”
Rosa contemplates the group, considers how it helps people evolve, and said: “At the start of the course people are strangers. But by the end they’re a fully functional team.
“It’s very emotional watching them graduate, I’m always stunned by the transformations in such a short space of time.”