Exeter Chiefs’ Callum Pope has seen his outstanding commitment to bettering his life through the club’s HITZ programme recognised by winning the 2021 HITZ Young Achiever Award.
At what was an emotional event at The Stoop, further intensified after a two-year absence due to COVID-19, the achievements of 12 outstanding individuals, including Callum, were recognised at the Awards hosted by former England and London Irish Winger Topsy Ojo.
Supported by Wooden Spoon, the Young Achiever Award recognises and rewards a young person who, by overcoming a range of challenges, has worked hard to progress on their journey back to education, employment or training.
Having previously battled with severe social anxiety before joining the Chiefs’ HITZ programme in 2019, Pope’s stellar work throughout the programme and his subsequent apprenticeship working on HITZ saw him claim the award.
During lockdown, he was assigned several students to both support and mentor. Regularly checking in with them, Callum used his own personal experiences with isolation and depression to help support them to deal with the challenges brought about by Covid-19.
Despite all his struggles, Pope had the strength within him to say he wanted to better both his life and those around him, which is something that resonated with Wooden Spoon CEO Sarah Webb, who was on the judging panel.
She said: “Callum’s standout quality for me was in his own reflections. He said that HITZ was a second chance to create a life for himself. I just felt he took such responsibility for this, that it was on him to do this.
“That’s why he stood out for us. Against the backdrop of a hectic life – he’d been bullied alongside his social anxiety – he had that strength within himself to say it’s my life and it’s my responsibility to make this better for myself.'
Wayne Morris, Premiership Community and Corporate Responsibility Director congratulated the four award winners. He said:
“What an amazing night! It was a real celebration of everything that HITZ is about and how much Rugby can change lives. The calibre of our shortlist was exceptionally high this year, but our four much deserved winners shone through.
Dawda, Leah, Callum and Graham should all be extremely proud of their achievements. Their stories really embody how commitment and determination, coupled with the right support and opportunity can positively impact lives on so many levels. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all our nominees as they move forward in life.”
HITZ is Premiership Rugby’s flagship employability and education programme, supporting young people to make positive changes in their life. Working with more than 2,000 14-23 year-olds across England every year, the programme uses rugby’s core values to develop the personal, life and employability skills of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET). Supported by the CVC Foundation and Wooden Spoon, and delivered with official education partner SCL Education Group, HITZ is delivered nationally by Premiership Rugby’s 13 shareholder clubs and has supported nearly 20,000 young people since it started in 2008.