I have reached that time where I am dragging both myself and my reluctant offspring to the end of the school year. We are hot. We are sweaty. We are tired. We have had enough. But despite that, we have two weeks left to go, and it doesn’t look like slowing up in the least. Of course, I didn’t help myself by accepting an invitation to attend an awards ceremony at the House of Commons in That London last Thursday, but there you are. I couldn’t resist.
It’s a funny thing, being invited to posh dos. I’ve had several invitations since starting this blog, and more since I won the inaugural TES teacher blogger of the year award last year, and nine times out of ten, I can’t go. I’m a working mum, and my working life, as a primary school teacher, and my mum life, as the mother of three young-ish children, one of whom has Down’s syndrome, means that getting away from home and swanning around at said posh dos isn’t something that has become a regular part of my life.
But this one intrigued me. Why would Premiership Rugby have thought I’d be worthy of an invitation to their community awards? I’m not really a team sports person, never have been, and neither are my children. Sam is the only one who is interested, and for him, the interest lies in football (I kept that one to myself). But, as I waited to gain entrance to the Terrace Bar, after having woven my way through the gathered throngs of gentlemen with booming voices and tweedy jackets bearing ‘Vote Theresa May’ badges (yes, badges), I fell into conversation with some of the other guests, and I began to spot a pattern.
There was the man whose sister had learning difficulties, brought on from a childhood illness when she was two, and who lives in a supported home. He worked for a charity that works with adults with learning disability. There was a nice lady (who changed her shoes as soon as she was on the side of the Thames, so uncomfortable was she in her heels and the summer heat), who worked for a similar organisation, and whose photo I took, both in front of the river and the big wheel on the other side, and the sponsor backdrop, so that she could show her colleagues where she had been and what she had been up to.
And then there were the awards. A woman from Gloucester who was honoured for her work, volunteering for the wheelchair rugby. A young lady from Worcester, given a trophy for the way that, after taking part in a programme run by the Warriors, her life had turned around. Grown men, BIG grown men (some of whom had beards), cried.
And after that, after a film that emphasised the importance of play, of doing, rather than lessons about the doing, of getting stuck in and finding about your place in a team, from taking part in the team and having fun, came the conversations. With a couple from Manchester who were making a night of it and staying over in a swish hotel, how they’d seen the young women, with an ambition to play for England one day, and how they knew that their local club, with its single, open changing room, was erecting a barrier to participation to a large proportion of their local population in the unquestioned use of their building and that sport, and being active, was for all, not just the 80%.
And on the way out, as I made my way towards the most crowded train I have ever had the dubious pleasure of travelling in, since my university days, where one Christmas I journeyed to Devon with me in one carriage and my luggage in another, and it turned out that the tall man and his colleague were not, in fact rugby players (although they were from Devon) but working to find funding for their educational charity, I began to make sense of it all. As we hurtled around Westminster tube station (brutal, darlings, brutal), and discussed the universal disapproval we had found towards the headless chicken behaviour of our post-referendum politicians, we found that we shared common ground.
We talked about the fact that charity, for all the appearance of the big sponsors, and the rubber stamp of establishment approval set by the appearance of not one, but two MPs, was about the giver, as well as the recipient. That those tears, from a mother, and from a mentor, a great, big, burly man, a tiny volunteer, meant that there are people who are prepared to put themselves out beyond the call of family and a wage packet, to improve the lives of the young, and the vulnerable. The strong put themselves out for the weak. They were willing to make that personal connection with someone that could make all the difference in the world.
And I, despite feeling like a being from another world entirely, discovered that, while this may not be my team, this is my tribe.
Thank you, Premiership Rugby Community Awards for inviting me.