Over the course of the next few months as we continue our #ReturnToPlay across England and Wales, we wanted to give you a flavour of what it is like being a member of the Dallaglio RugbyWorks squad.

All of our squad are fiercely committed to supporting the young people we work with and guiding them on the right path to success – whether that be in further education, employment or training opportunities.

For our latest TeamTalk, we passed on the RugbyWorks ball to Gareth, one of our Mentors in the West Midlands as he discusses his reaction to returning to school, and his advice for young people to get active.

In my role as a mentor I feel I am on the frontline with young people, working with them in school. I am part rugby coach, part teacher, part support worker and, alongside my fellow mentor, Aleki, we deliver our life-changing interventions to help young people. Aside from the face-to-face work, behind the scenes we work to arrange additional experiences such as Tournaments and careers/employability visits. Additionally, I am the Impact Lead within the Mentor Team, so work to ensure that we accurately track and measure the impact that our work has.

The obvious highlight over the past few months has been returning to play and getting back to delivering in schools. It was really surprising when some young people that we worked with last year, who we hadn’t seen for 6 or 7 months, wanted to stop and have a chat when they saw us back in school. This small interaction was so uplifting and gave a real “Yes, this-is-why-we-do-it-moment”.

The satisfaction was twofold; firstly, the simple fact that they had enough respect for us that they still wanted to engage with us, secondly, to see the progress that they had made during last year, given that they would never have initiated a conversation with an adult when we first met them.

Professionally, perhaps like a lot of people, the transition from a busy schedule of delivering in schools to being at home not working proved novel for a short while but that soon wore off and, in my case, was replaced by a loss of purpose. I suspect that a lot of young people experienced a similar feeling, especially those that were in Year 11 and working towards their GCSEs. And it’s not just those that we worked with, but all young people that may have lost their support network whether that was through school, sports clubs, youth clubs or other agencies.

From a personal perspective, moving house just as we went into a national lockdown was interesting, to say the least! The logistics of actually moving did help to alleviate some of the potential boredom but I did sometimes question my wisdom in making that financial commitment in such uncertain times.

I think that most young people are pleased with a return to semi-normality. Although they may not admit to being pleased to be back at school, I think they are glad to be able to see their peers again, re-establish routines and feel a little bit more settled with what is going on, whereas during the lockdown period there were so many questions left unanswered.

My advice to young people would be to exercise, whether that’s an organised sport or something more informal, such as going for a run or a swim or another form of exercise. The short and long-term benefits for both mental and physical wellbeing are well documented, but the additional benefits gained such as team work, time management, and discipline will stand you in good stead. Make the most of your opportunities in PE, especially now, and get involved in our sessions. If you can do some more outside of school, make the effort to do so.

Over the next few weeks, we’re still very much in an introductory phase with some of our schools and young people. It’s always exciting at the beginning of a new academic year as we meet new participants (and catch up with some old faces!) and begin their journey with us, but it is especially so after such an extended break.