As they put it themselves, they want to “rebalance the match of life” by providing social cohesion, respect for others and above all self-respect through rugby.
But how can they continue their work based on a contact sport in the age of social distancing?
Ronan Appriou, director of Drop de Béton, can remember the exact moment when he heard the announcement of the country-wide lockdown. The charity was holding a team meeting with all of its heads.
“It came at a good time”, he explains before correcting himself. “Well, it’s never a good time... but we were all there together to discuss what we were going to do.”
The announcement came as a huge blow: 90% of their activities would be stopped during what is normally the busiest period of the year (March, April, May).
The only action that continued was the professional integration side, which took place via video-conferencing or phone calls. But the sports-based integration, the heart of Drop de Béton’s activities, came to a complete stop.
So, the charity’s employees and volunteers did the only thing possible: they monitored the situation closely and waited, while preparing a host of different scenarios to try to anticipate the recovery.
The lockdown was finally lifted, and work could soon start again.
In May, the town of Mérignac, where Drop de Béton has its head office, included the charity into its 2S2C educational and fun programme, which enables pupils to supplement their half day of lessons with a half day of activities.
This activity kept them occupied until 2 July when the estate-based initiatives could start again.
Since then, they have been in the estates every day, even twice a day, at the foot of fifteen tower blocks.
How to adapt a contact sport to social distancing?
Drop de Béton followed the successive recommendations of the French Rugby Federation to modify its programme in line with the changes.
In the beginning it was not easy at all as even passing the ball was forbidden.
However, the charity did not get downhearted by this constraint. They had always worked a lot on the person, on accepting one’s self, the ground, contact and the ball.
So the activities were adapted to focus on this individual dimension during the workshops, while also spending time on collective thinking.
This meant that the material constraints were relatively easy to solve: the new organisation mainly required additional equipment (so that each person could have their own ball) and a bit more space to comply with social distancing.
The French Rugby Federation then allowed the ball to be passed. This added the fastidious need to wash hands and the equipment before and after each workshop, but this was not seen as much of a constraint given that collective activities could start again.
Today, contact is once again accepted by the Federation and Drop de Béton’s activities at the foot of the tower blocks have started up again and are slowly getting back to how they were before the lockdown.
Ronan wants to deconstruct the image of a pure contact sport that rugby cannot seem to shake; it is part of the reality, by there is much more than that to the experience on the field, values that can be shared other than through a scrum.
Local actions are thriving
Like in rugby, a charity has to adapt constantly to the conditions on the ground. After almost completely stopping its activity, Drop de Béton had to handle the opposite issue.
“We are now being asked to organise more actions... And with each action, there are more and more people!”
And fear of the disease is not weighing on the participants who are delighted to finally be able to see other people again and to see their neighbourhoods come alive again.
But the need for human contact after the lockdown is not the only reason for the crowds at Drop de Béton activities.
The State is currently recommending the development of local actions... and we were already doing that! It is even our guiding principle and our huge strength!
Ronan Appriou, director of Drop de Béton
Drop de Béton has organised its activities in the heart of the estates for 25 years. But it has also been helping to organise educational holidays for almost a decade. It will be one of their biggest activities of the summer, working with other stakeholders to organise the young people’s holidays, who spend the morning working and the afternoon on nature activities or rugby.
Ronan explains to us just how important these study mornings are for the students to catch up. “It was already important before and is even more so now after the period of lockdown”, he says.
Towards new actions
While Drop de Béton’s actions have now been able to get back to a near normal level, this period has provided an opportunity to think about new developments. In fact, it is one of the main focuses of the partnership that the Societe Generale Foundation forged with the charity: assisting it with its new developments.
Ronan Appriou tells us what he envisages for 2021, with the introduction of professional integration activities separate from the rugby.
“We drew inspiration from escape games to present the jobs in local companies. There will be puzzles and challenges to create a connection through informal exchanges about experiences in a company.”
Scaling up is also still on the cards even if it has been slowed by this period. But Drop de Béton still relies of local structures to lead the activities after a period of training, “so long as it creates jobs”, specifies Ronan.
Another action supported by the Societe Generale Foundation whose partnership is seen as essential by the charity, which now has 13 employees.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without them. They gave us the means to structure our organisation.”
When he thinks back to that day in March when everything came to a standstill, he cannot help sharing his concerns: “we were scared we wouldn’t do anything all year and that would have been terrible... but as soon as we accepted the situation we were able to develop other activities”.