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Case study: 'As soon as we heard about the Eagle Project, we wanted to be involved'

Women in Property's Rachael Sherratt - an ambassador for the Community Foundation's award-winning Eagle Project - tells us why the programme struck a chord with the association, and how rugby can help empower the next generation of young girls.

I never would have guessed when I donned my favourite dress and heels to attend the Bristol Sport Gala Dinner with Carly Willis as a guest of Integral Build, that eight months later I would be pedalling 65 miles on my bike (note, I am not a cyclist - I don’t even own a road bike,) raising over £1,000 for their charitable arm, the Bristol Rugby Community Foundation. I especially wouldn’t have guessed I would be doing this on: a) the hottest day of the year (who knew it got to 30+ degrees in Britain!); and b) when I was six months pregnant …. But then, life always throws its challenges and I like to take up every opportunity! 

Carly and I had quite possibly had a few drinks when Ben Breeze took to the stage at the Gala Dinner to talk about the work of the Bristol Sport Foundation and the Bristol Rugby Community Foundation. Supporting those in our local community who need help in one way or another – whether that is deprived backgrounds, dementia, additional needs or disability, the programmes help those both young and old to gain life skills, confidence and empowerment in an active environment. When Ben started talking about the Eagle Project – the award-winning programme bringing rugby to secondary school girls across Bristol, it really struck a chord with us and we knew we wanted to be involved.

Hearing the stories of girls being offered netball but being told: ‘no’ to rugby is incredibly limiting for them - what kind of message is this sending to the next generation about gender equality when boys are allowed to play rugby but they are not? And how can we hope for our society to treat men and women equally if we are not bringing the next generation up to do so as well? You see Carly and I both work in construction – a sector where only 7% of the full-time workforce is female - and we are both part of The Association of Women in Property – which exists to inspire and motivate women to succeed within the industry (an industry which still has a long way to go before it is equal and diverse). So for us, hearing talk of girls in schools already experiencing gender stereotyping and limitations – before they have even hit the workforce – stopped us in our tracks.

We are both mothers, and aspire for our children to grow up in a world where everyone believes they can do anything if they put their mind to it. We have seen first hand through our work with Women in Property how standing tall and talking both to current generations and the next generation, really can make a difference. We spend a lot of time both going to schools ourselves and encouraging others to do so as well – there is so much we can offer, from talks about construction and the myriad of career paths available, to practical demonstrations to get children talking about building/designing/making, to providing CV and general business advice.

In short, we try to make ourselves visible role models. We want to engage with the next generation and encourage them to choose a career path that suits them, irrespective of their gender. 

So we thought, why does this have to be limited to purely talking about construction or business? Surely we could think outside the box and be role models in other ways too. Having seen (now first-hand) how excited the girls are about their sessions and especially the rugby festival held at the end of each year, it is clear to see this is making a big difference to their lives. And for the girls to know that there are women out there fundraising and working hard to bring this programme to them and other schools in our area is a powerful message – women showing the next generation that they can make a difference. 

This isn’t just about sport. It isn’t even just about empowering girls and young women (if that idea can even be used in the same sentence as ‘just’). It is about the whole picture - research shows that instilling sport into the youth of today not only keeps them fit, it helps build their confidence, their team-working capabilities, and gives them some much needed headspace away from the classroom which in turn allows them to concentrate in later lessons.

All skills which assist the development of well-rounded individuals and are key abilities for entering the workforce upon completion of school. In short – it creates well-rounded individuals who will be valuable members of our community and a talented part of our country’s workforce in years to come.

Rachael Sherratt, Women in Property.