Newcastle Falcons were amongst a number of clubs celebrating as Premiership Rugby's Hitz programme was selected as Rugby Community Programme of the year at the 2014 Rugby Expo Awards.
The HITZ programme tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today - unemployment, crime and disillusionment.
Delivered nationally by Premiership Rugby and funded by national partners Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon, HITZ uses rugby to increase young people's resilience, self-reliance and confidence.
Within the North of England HITZ is managed by Newcastle Falcons Community Foundation under the care of Hitz Officer Joe Brown.
Since taking up the position less than six months ago, Joe has seen the HITZ programme flourish, with 18 students now benefitting from a range of training and development excercises all aimed at providing them with the skills to get back into education, vocational training, apprenticeships and employment.
In recent weeks, students on the Falcons' HITZ programme have received Barclays money and life skills training and sessions on CV writing as well as a highly anticipated Greggs factory tour. The students also receive regular training not only in rugby but also in football and a range of other sports.
The students involved in the programme are already making a great progression in many of the identified areas and with next term's programme set to include boxing at Birtley Gym and a tour of a local Land Rover dealership, HITZ still has much more to offer them.
Falcons HITZ Officer Joe said: "The HITZ programme offers a great opportunity for those young people who may have been disillusioned with traditional education.
"The students on our programme may have experienced tough circumstances in the past but they are flourishing now. Some of those students want to be PE teachers – a goal that may have seemed unreachable in the past – and see this programme as a step towards further and then Higher Education to help them reach that goal.
"This national award is fantastic as it recognises just how inspirational a programme HITZ can be and highlights all of the good work that is going on not just here at the Falcons but at other Premiership clubs too."
Helen Clayton, BreakThru Delivery Manager, Premiership Rugby; Paulette Cohen, Director, Head of Global Programmes, Global Community Investment, Barclays; Jonathan Garrett, CSR Director, Jaguar Land Rover and Lydia Good, BreakThru Development Manager, Premiership Rugby collected the award on behalf of everyone involved in the HITZ programme.
The victory is the latest in a long line of awards for HITZ. The programme has previously won the best Community Programme Award at the Sport Industry Awards and the Best Sports-Centred Corporate Sponsorship Activity Award at the Corporate Engagement Awards.
Speaking after the award win Premiership Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty said: "HITZ has already made an enormous difference to thousands of young people. We at Premiership Rugby are extremely proud of the programme and the young individuals who have developed to become real success stories.
"Every year, the HITZ teams at the 12 Premiership Rugby clubs work with 3,000 young people; each with barriers to overcome to reach their full potential. These young people can be leaving care, gangs or youth offender institutions, can be excluded from school or have left school with limited qualifications and many of them are unemployed.
"The club HITZ Officers give the young people the support they need to fulfil their potential and everyone involved in HITZ deserves to be recognised for the integral part they have played in HITZ winning the Community Programme of the Year Award at the 2014 Rugby Expo Awards."
HITZ has already received a great deal of positive feedback within the North East and has been particularly well received by Newcastle College, who relish the benefits of the programme and its unique delivery style.
The HITZ programme is open to both male and female students aged between 16 and 18 who are not in full time work, education, employment or training. Young people engaging with the HITZ project at Newcastle Falcons will work towards a BTEC in Sport whilst also improving their skills and gaining qualifications in Maths, English, ICT and with many opportunities to gain work-based skills and placements at the club or with its partners.
Although this year's programme is already full and underway, young people interested in getting involved are encouraged to keep an eye on the Falcons website and to follow @Falcons_HITZ on Twitter for the latest news and information.