A Brief History

Ken Cowen, CEO of School of Hard Knocks, was working for a training provider in Liverpool in 2007 when Knowsley council approached him for help. Faced with a cohort of young men who were long-term unemployed, sustained by the proceeds of petty crime and hostile to any normal pre-employment intervention, the council were appealing for innovative ideas to help these men contribute positively to society.

Drawing on his early career as a PE teacher in one of Liverpool's most challenging schools, Ken devised a course that would use the sport of rugby to engage these men, teach them positive values and behaviours and give them a sense of self-worth, self-efficacy and hopefulness for the future.  The result was the School of Hard Knocks.

The signs were not auspicious on the first day of the programme, held at a disused primary school, when three of the squad were arrested by heavily armoured police on the morning of the first day.  Over the next 8 weeks, however, Ken and his colleagues saw the men undergo profound changes in their outlook, attitude and behaviour.  When the course culminated in a 60-0 thrashing by the Duke of Lancaster Regiment XV, Ken expected the boys to be distraught.  Instead, he saw them walk off the pitch looking inches taller than when they walked onto it.  As one participant said, "if I can do that after 8 weeks, imagine what I can do in the next 8 years".

Subsequent courses were delivered for a wide range of organisations such as NHS trusts and Youth Offending Teams.  By this time, Sky Sports were a key partner to the intervention, documenting a course each year and involving British Lions Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell as presenters. By 2012, the need for the work to expand and serve more people was apparent and so the School of Hard Knocks charity was registered. 

Working now in London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh, the charity currently employs core team of 18 people; has two outstanding patrons in Invictus Games gold-medallist and world record holder Andy Grant and England stalwart Andy Gomarsall MBE; and helps over 750 adults and children each year.  Ultimately, though, it still adheres to the ethos and methodology of the first course in 2007 - empowering people to achieve whatever they set their minds to.