Encouraging Autistic Youngsters to Play Rugby
95. Chris Durward-Akhurst
A devoted rugby fan has helped over 4,700 young people and made rugby safe, fun and accessible to children with severe autism in London.
Chris is a regular volunteer at the Sarrie’s Skills Club which supports children and young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 years old living with severe autism. The club offers physical activity in a stimulating environment for young people who have little or no verbal communication skills. He spends 12 hours per month working with children and young adults who attend the club, often on a two to one basis, to ensure their safety and enjoyment during their time at the Sarrie’s Skills Club sessions. Chris supports the running of the weekly sessions as well as a selection of weekend activities.
With Chris’s help, the club has grown from three members to eleven, the young members having very little or no verbal ability. With Chris’s unique talent for engaging his young audience, he is able to motivate them, build their confidence and work on developing their communication skills. He does all of this with endless passion and enthusiasm despite working with people living with some of the most complex needs. All of the staff and volunteers at the Sarrie’s Skills Club fulfil the aim of providing structured and progressive activities to improve physical and interaction skills amongst the children and young adults. In doing all this, the Sarrie’s Skills Club staff and volunteers have created a crucial and much welcomed network of support for the parents of the children and young adults.
Alongside mentoring the regular members, Chris also volunteers at the club’s Tag Rugby Festivals and match days, officiating games and encouraging participants to consider putting their new skills to the test by becoming rugby referees. Tag Rugby is a safe, fun and exciting form of non-contact rugby suitable for all age groups and abilities. Chris’s involvement with the festival means he has enabled 4,700 people to discover their potential through rugby. In doing all this, Chris has created a crucial and much welcomed network of support for the parents of the participants.
Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“Chris shows enthusiasm, passion and dedication to ensure that all young people have opportunities to develop rugby skills. The support he provides to families and young people in Sarrie’s Skills Club is inspirational and I’m delighted to make Chris the UK’s 95th Point of Light.”
“Rugby is an incredibly inclusive sport and I enjoy volunteering at Sarrie’s Skills Club. The Skills Club provides a respite for parents and gives me the opportunity to meet so many incredible and inspiring children and young adults. I’m proud that Rugby is being recognised by the Prime Minister and I hope this will raise awareness for people to try the sport as we move forward to the Rugby World Cup held here in the UK in 2015”.
Sam Fulling, Foundation Manager at Saracens Sport Foundation said:
“This award is due recognition for the time and energy Chris has invested in volunteering, not just with Saracens but across the community. Community clubs rely heavily on volunteers to operate, and we are no different. We are very lucky to have someone with his passion for ensuring the values of sport are passed on, ensuring that all young people get the opportunity participate in sport and activity.”