The Importance of Rugby: Lee Jones and the Pitstops Project
As I arrived I could feel a buzz around the Speedway. Scotland international and Glasgow Warrior, Lee Jones, was on his way and the team was putting 100% into their rugby session in eager anticipation of his arrival. Peter and Gary arrived, and we took the chance to catch up on how they'd been getting on since graduating from the course. Joining us was Michael who was part of the first Pitstops cohort.
Last time I saw you guys was at the big game against the Glasgow Alphas, what have you been up to since?
Peter: I play for a rugby team, Bishopton RFC, and I’m just starting my own building and maintenance company. Other than that we’ve just been getting involved whenever we can for this mob, helping out when they ask us to get involved.
Gary: When I left Pitstops I did another course with Celtic. That was an eight week course called ‘Gateway to Health’. That was just about more fitness.
Peter: That was only one day a week though.
Gary: Aye that was only one day a week. Finished that, graduated from that, then went to another course for the jobs in business, the ‘Personal Best’ course. I got my level 4 Community Achievement award when I was at Pitstops and the Personal Best gave me my level 5. Now I’m at college doing Community Development, that’s a level 6 with aim to get my NC (National Certificate) and hopefully once I’ve finished this I’ll go into community work. I’ve been doing some volunteering and helping out at the food bank where I’m set to get work after I get my qualification.
Why community work?
Gary: I’d like to go into the recover side of it – working with addiction recovery – that’s what my focus is on.
Michael, you were part of the first Pitstops cohort yourself and you come back to help out a lot. What do you think it is about Pitstops that helps people build?
Michael: You see the change in people, in their confidence. You’ll see people when they come in and they don’t have much confidence and then by the end of it they’re out finding jobs for themselves, they’re doing interviews, Peter’s out playing rugby you know, Gary’s out doing all his courses and then there’s people who have gone straight into work, so you do see the big changes.
Peter: You play rugby as well don’t you?
Michael: Aye I play for Allan Glens, I’ve been playing rugby for a couple of years now.
Michael: Winger. Peter: Water boy.
Michael: Winger/Water boy.
Gary and Peter would you agree with Michael that it’s the confidence Pitstops gives you that sets it apart?
Peter: I personally wasn’t that bad with my confidence but I can see the difference in a lot of the boys. Some of the boys came in and they were introverted you know, and ever since they’ve done the course they won’t shut up! They’ve no problem going up to people and talking to them whereas before they would have just taken a step back.
Michael: I think it just gives you a different perspective on things, it opens up opportunities for you.
Gary: Aye definitely, it opens doors for you. Especially that structure - Monday, Wednesday, Friday – you’ve got that every week and you’ve got something to look forward to and get out of bed for.
You spoke about the difference between the fitness focus at Celtic and the team building side of Pitstops with the rugby. Do you reckon that was one of the things that helped people build confidence?
Peter: Oh yeh definitely. Not knocking the Celtic course but the fitness didn’t help you build confidence. There was guys that would show up there and they wouldn’t talk whereas here you never had the chance! When we were all out playing it was a boot up the arse for the boys that were quiet you know?
Gary: Yeh everybody had the chance to open up and be themselves and they got supported all through that. It’s all good now, everybody seems to be on the up.
Peter: I know it’s a cheesy thing to say but you’ve got hundreds of new friendships now as well. It might sound stupid but there’s people I’d have walked past before and it makes a huge difference.
Gary: We’ve always got that support, we can always come back here as well.
Do you have any particularly fond memories of the course?
Gary: The game at Murrayfield. That’ll never leave me.
Peter: Definitely man.
Michael: Aye that was amazing. Brilliant experience that was and then watching the final afterwards.
What happened there?
Peter: We got our arses kicked!
Michael: Aye we played a game against the Pigbarians at Murrayfield. There were boys from Edinburgh Accies and Boroughmuir and all that playing. We got beaten pretty bad but it was a good experience, there was fans and stuff around the pitch and in the stands and everything. Then we got hospitality tickets to the final of the European Challenge Cup.
Peter: Aye we got free food, free booze and all that. It was just something different you know, personally that was my first experience of sitting at a proper rugby match and it wasn’t like football you know, no animosity or anything, everybody was just friends with everybody.
Michael: My personal favourite was when I did the course and we played our contact game at the end against Allan Glens and I was pure buzzing. It was a rainy day and muddy and it had the full atmosphere you know, rain mud and just smashing people. That was the first time I played a contact game of rugby man I was just hyped up on adrenaline, I loved it! Then we went back to the Allan Glen’s clubhouse and we had a few beers with the boys and some pasta and stuff. Then the Allan Glen’s boys asked me to come and train with them and stuff so I started playing with them.
It was then that Lee arrived to pass on some words of advice to the team and donate a generous collection of Scotland and Warriors kit from the Glasgow squad. After a few selfies and some excited hugging from everyone involved, I had a chance to have a chat with Lee about what the Pitstops project meant to him.
You’ve been involved in rugby a very long time, Lee, and you’re now getting involved in the Pitstops programme. Why Pitstops?
Lee: Charlene was helping out with the women’s programme so I came along to a session there so that was my first taste of it. At the end of the session a couple of the girls gave presentations on how Pitstop had helped them. Hearing what they said was a huge factor, how much they got from the programme, and for it to involve a sport like rugby was massive. It shows what rugby can do to help people that are potentially struggling in one way or another and needing that togetherness that can help them get a job and get them onto the housing ladder so it’s really positive!
What is it about rugby that applies so well to these goals?
Lee: The team aspect is the main thing. Learning to work with others is important and that transfers into things like job interviews and when you’re in the workplace and need to work in a team and work with others. The effort that’s involved in the game as well, the intensity in it, is big. Just working hard and working for your teammates, that unity is something that can be transferred into other aspects of life.
As my day at the Speedway drew to an end, I had a moment to reflect on what I'd heard. Lee, Peter, Michael and Gary had all given high praise of the Pitstops course, and I began to think of the importance of rugby in the project.
It seemed to me that beyond anything else, rugby had a bonding effect. Through the shared physicality and commitment comes a unity that brings people out of their shell, encourages social integration and makes life's challenges less daunting. Perhaps it is this unity that gives the Pitstops students that safety net, a support group that they can rely on when the times get tough. Perhaps, like a game of rugby, there are moments in life when you have to rely on the support and strength of those around you to get over the line, to win a ruck, to make a tackle and to be successful. One thing I know for certain is that Peter, Gary and Michael left Pitstops stronger than when they'd entered, and that they stand as fine examples of the fantastic good that rugby can do for us all.
The Pitstops Project is doing great work, but they need your help. Most of those taking part don't have boots to play rugby and are missing out on the crucial unity gained from the sport. If you have a spare or an old pair of boots, you can help, through the #BootsForTheBoys campaign. Tweet the Pitstops team and send them your spare boots to help more people in need of support take part in the project. Such a simple gesture can make a huge difference. Please do get in touch with the Pitstops team by clicking the button below. Thank you!