It was five years ago that Kris Tavener pitched the idea to set up an inclusive coaching scheme for young people with special needs.
He says it was one simple decision that changed the course of his life and has spoken out about how sport can be a catalyst for people seeking to alter their career path.
“I took a sabbatical from work for a year. I went to Kenya for three months working in an orphanage, unpaid,” says the 35-year-old Totterdown resident.
“I had some time to think about what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure. I came back to Bristol and started doing some volunteering.”
It was at the Memorial stadium, then home of his beloved Bristol Rugby Club, that it first crossed Kris’ mind to volunteer in sport.
“At half time, there was an exhibition with young people from the Community Trust which really caught my eye,” he remembers. “It looked great and I wanted to do something, so I decided to find out how I could get involved.”
Kris, who had been working as a special needs teacher prior to his sabbatical, approached the Rugby Foundation with his idea to set up an inclusive coaching scheme.
At that time, by their own admission, the trust didn’t do much in this area. They agreed to the proposal.
The Spectrum Project was initially launched as a 12-week pilot, offering a weekly rugby training session for young people with special needs, but within months, it had grown into a full-time volunteering role for Kris.
He unexpectedly spent the majority of his entire sabbatical year at Bristol Rugby Club Foundation, leading on to the full-time role that he holds today.
Reflecting on the career change, he says: “Having transferable skills, such as knowledge of young people with special needs, enabled me to make that transition quicker than most.
“I guess it’s important to bring your skills from your last job with you.”
In the past year, Kris has enabled 600 people with a variety of disabilities to take part in sport, by designing and developing 16 new pilot projects in both schools and the local community.
This remarkable achievement in such a short space of time was recently recognised by the industry and he was named ‘Community Coach of the Year’ at the Premiership Rugby All Parliamentary Awards.
He collected his award at the House of Commons, but remains humble about the honour, saying he doesn’t really like the attention, but that it was a privilege to accept on behalf of the participants.
“Kris is one in a million. He’s an amazing man and he has to be the most committed, passionate and dedicated coach I’ve ever worked with,” says his manager, Ben Breeze.
“Kris has literally changed the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of young and older people across the greater Bristol region and we’re tremendously proud of him.”
“It doesn’t really feel like a job: it is a joy, and I love it,” says Kris of his vocation. “Because of that career change, I guess it still feels fresh and different.”
Alongside the Spectrum Project, he now oversees various schemes, such as over-50s walking rugby, a Golden Memories project for dementia sufferers, and a variety of activities for young people with multiple disabilities in schools and during holidays.
“You’ve got to follow your passion, that’s what gets you out of bed each day,” adds the coach, who might just inspire others to follow their hearts and take the plunge into a new career.
Bristol has been awarded the prestigious title of European City of Sport 2017. Join in sporting celebrations at www.bristolcityofsport17.co.uk and use the hashtag #CityofSport17
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