Dragons duo Leon Brown and Ashton Hewitt have pledged their support for 'Levelling the Playing Field' (LtPF) as role models for participants in Gwent.
Ashton and Leon both grew up in ethnically diverse communities in Newport. Their status as local boys who overcame certain barriers and adversity to become professional athletes has led to them becoming ambassadors for Positive Futures - LtPF’s local strategic partners in Gwent.
The pair regularly attend Positive Futures’ community sport sessions to inspire local children to engage in positive activities and to strive to emulate their sporting achievements.
“The work of Positive Futures is crucial,” said Leon. “If me and Ashton can back up the support they give these kids and show even one of them that sport is something they can pursue all their life, that’s a real plus.”
Ashton added: “It’s vital for kids to have this on their doorstep. Positive Futures do amazing work and it’s great that they are now contributing to something on a much wider scale in Levelling the Playing Field.
“In many ways it’s a shame that there are only so many hours that Positive Futures can be in the care of these kids each day. You can't support them in every aspect of their lives, but you can fight as hard as you can in these sports sessions to help the kids as much as possible whilst they’re there.”
Ashton has a degree in Criminology, Criminal Justice and Youth Justice from the University of South Wales. But growing up, he experienced many of the barriers to sport participation that children in his childhood community still face today.
“I almost quit rugby at one point when I was younger because I just wanted to go out with the boys and mess about rather than leave to go and do all of the training," he added.
“I had to leave at whatever time it was to go training and sometimes I’d think, ‘I’d rather do what everyone else is doing’. Your friends from school go around doing what they’re doing and as a kid you don’t want to miss those extra two hours mucking about.
“Looking back now, I’m so glad that I didn’t because it would have been an opportunity missed regarding career and life experiences.
“I was lucky in a way. I was from a pretty deprived area but when I was 15 I moved to a school what was in more of an affluent area.
“That switch in cultures was insane. I see it as a privilege to have experienced how people from different backgrounds live and the experiences that those differences bring – making me feel as though I have a greater perspective on society and its issues.”
Racism was another barrier that Ashton admits almost caused him to quit rugby altogether.
“At times it was pretty bad, with me sometimes questioning why I was bothering to play rugby on a Sunday morning at a time when it was just meant to be for fun.”
Lucy Donovan, Senior Development Officer at Positive Futures, said: “Ashton, Leon and the Positive Futures team are so vital to support young people in Newport and throughout Gwent.
“There is a need to provide positive role models in communities offering positive aspirations and choices. Seeing what Leon and Ashton have achieved, having grown up in the same community, gives other young people hope, aspirations and broadens their horizons.”
Read more about the work of Positive Futures HERE