26 Jan 2022

HITZ Officer Nicole Pattison - Harnessing the Power of Sport in Women's history month

Nicole Pattison may be relatively new to the sports industry, but she is already seeing the power of using rugby’s core values to exercise her passion for improving opportunities available to disadvantaged young people.

The 23-year-old - who studied education at Bath Spa University - joined the London Irish Foundation as a HITZ officer and fundraiser in December 2020, having previously worked for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

HITZ is Premiership Rugby’s flagship education and employability programme, working with over 2,000 14 to 23-year-olds across England every year to help those not in education, employment or training (NEET) back into education, training, apprenticeships and/or employment.

And despite having limited experience of rugby itself, Pattison is confident the programme provides a vital platform to help enrich the lives of those who aren’t suited to conventional education institutions.

“I’d played rugby casually at school and I went to uni in a rugby city, but mostly I’d just watched it on the TV,” she said. “But I’ve always been interested in improving inequality in education, and supporting education practice.

“I was impressed with the power that education linked to sport can have. The characteristics and qualities you gain from sport and being part of a team are really important, especially for those who maybe didn’t succeed in formal education and need alternative provisions.

“As well as qualifications it’s important to develop soft skills, and that different perspective on education is probably something that many of these young people hadn’t had before.

“Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has restricted our ability to get out on the rugby field, but we’ve talked about teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship, as well as the value of getting out and being active.”

Away from the work arena Pattison is busy teaming her love of exercise and fundraising to support breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!, who she first started working with while studying in Bath.

She said: “I’m still learning about my role at London Irish and developing as a person, but I’m committed to CoppaFeel! and I’m doing a 100km trek across the south-west coast in June to raise money for the charity.

“It was originally supposed to be last year in the Sahara desert, but Covid put a stop to that. I first started on the charity pathway at university, and since setting up a fundraising society for CoppaFeel! in Bath I’ve just carried on working with them.

“Their message is about reminding every young person to check their body, and making conversations about cancer less of a taboo topic. It’s something that’s really important to me.

“There are similarities in that to my role as a HITZ officer. Part of that is about opening up conversations that people might be afraid to have, and that means a lot to me in both my professional and personal life.”

While working hard to improve the lives of others Pattison believes Women’s History Month is the perfect time to take stock of how far gender equality has progressed, but also to look at what else can be done.

And having recognised the power of sport in facilitating education, she is hopeful rugby will continue to provide a platform to keep the conversation about the role of women in society flowing.

She added: “I’d usually attend the rallies in London or Bristol, so I’m sad that Covid has prevented them going ahead. Women’s History Month is a good chance to celebrate what’s been done, but I think there is still a lot of work to do.

“It’s important we use as many platforms as we can to talk about Women’s History Month. As a person of colour someone I find really inspiring is Kamala Harris - I can’t wait to see what impact she’s going to have as the vice president on the aspirations of women and girls globally.

“Rugby is one area that seems to be improving. I remember being told at school that girls couldn’t play, so hopefully inclusive programmes like the ones we run at the London Irish Foundation can encourage more females into rugby, and sport generally.”

“Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has restricted our ability to get out on the rugby field, but we’ve talked about teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship, as well as the value of getting out and being active.”
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