Minister for Sport Helen Grant has tonight acclaimed five inspirational teenagers who have been honoured at Premiership Rugby's inaugural HITZ Awards.
The Minister is a long-term supporter of Premiership Rugby's multi award-winning programme that seeks to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing young people today - unemployment, crime and disillusionment.
And tonight at Barclays HQ in the city of London five of the many thousands of HITZ participants were honoured in front of a prestigious audience.
"These programmes stand or fall by the quality and commitment of the staff who work with the young people," she said.
"HITZ staff have been singled out time and again by the youngsters for playing crucial roles in helping them change their lives. I want to thank them for that and to encourage them to continue the great work they are doing."
The Minister, who has successfully promoted sport as a way of changing lives and communities, went onto praise the winners themselves.
"Each of the young people who have made it to the shortlist have my admiration for the efforts they have made to change their own lives," she added. "But I also want to praise them for their work with other participants in the HITZ programme and for the contribution many of them have made to their local club or community through their efforts as volunteers. You all fully deserve your award!
"HITZ is more than just rugby. The programme integrates with other organisations such as the probation service and training providers to use rugby union to help young people learn skills, find work or return to education. It is having a positive effect on the lives of the young people it deals with.
"It is a fine example, too, of how I believe sport can be used to address social issues - which I wholeheartedly support. I extend my thanks to all those who run and fund the programme and wish you the best of luck with the scheme into 2015."
HITZ uses rugby to increase young people's resilience, self-reliance and confidence and gives them the skills to get back into education, apprenticeships and employment. Delivered nationally through 12 Premiership rugby clubs it is supported by four key partners - Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon.
The inaugural HITZ Award night was not however just about the five main award winners as Premiership Rugby would like to acknowledge 11 other teenagers who won Highly Commended prizes.
The full list of prize winners: The Community Impact Award, supported by Wooden Spoon. This category is designed to recognise a HITZ young person who has contributed to the improvement of a community or club, through volunteering and service. The award looks at the impact of the young person's volunteering in the community, and also the impact of the volunteering on the HITZ participant themselves.
Ryan Cummings, Leicester Tigers
Anthony Martin, Worcester Warriors
Sean Starke, Bath Rugby
The Young Ambassador of the Year supported by Land Rover. This award rewards the individual who has done the most to represent the HITZ programme to their peers and in their communities. It recognises someone who has grown and changed for the better and whose positive attitude has made an impact on those involved in and around the project.
• Jorden Honan, Bath Rugby
The Best Rugby Performer, supported by Premiership Rugby. The Rugby Performance award rewards an individual who has developed and progressed in their rugby performance, physical activity levels and capabilities as a result of participating in the HITZ programme. This is not necessarily those that have progressed the furthest in terms of level of play, but those that have improved the most, changed their attitude toward activity and improved their health as a result.
Jason Suttle, Bath Rugby
Ryan Hancock, Northampton Saints
Tom Rowthorne, Leicester Tigers
The HITZ Champion Award, supported by Comic Relief, an award designed to recognise a HITZ participant or member of the community who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help someone on the programme to overcome personal barriers to win. This could include supporting young people so that they can build a better future, prevent violent or exploitative situations or achieve healthier finances.
• Dan Hart, Worcester Warriors
• Josh Hardy, Sale Sharks
• Oliver Veasey, Leicester Tigers
The Young Achiever of the Year, supported by Barclays. Devised to recognises a young person who has overcome barriers to achieve personal success…… and who has attained the greatest positive progression in their personal journey returning to education, training and employment.
Relon Thompson, Northampton Saints
Inaam Mohammed, Sale Sharks
Emanuel Opoku, Harlequins
Aaron Stanley, Worcester Warriors
Tom Leader, leader of the Sale Sharks HITZ Programme said: "It was a great awards ceremony last night, we all really enjoyed ourselves. Congratulations to all the winners, and to all the nominees. However I want to pay special tribute to Josh & Inaam - it is a reward in itself to be nominated and they should be proud of their achievements. We are proud of you!"