Richard Oxenbury’s heart-warming story from rough sleeper to playing international rugby has persuaded some of his work colleagues to take part in this year’s Big Worcester Sleep Out.
Oxenbury, 30, had a period sleeping rough in Redditch when he became homeless because of drink and drug issues.
But his life changed when he was found accommodation at the YMCA where he spotted an advert for the homeless rugby team run by Warriors Community Foundation.
Oxenbury initially thought he would give rugby a try for a few weeks but, almost five-and-a-half years later, he is still playing regularly for Worcester’s homeless team and for England’s homeless team.
Oxenbury’s on-field success alerted his colleagues at delivery company Arrow XL to his story and two of them – Steven Frankham and Jonathan Tomlinson – have already signed up to join him in the Big Worcester Sleep Out at Warriors’ Sixways Stadium on April 4. The Big Worcester Sleep Out aims to raise £65,000 for Warriors Community Foundation’s Homeless Rugby Team, St Paul’s Hostel and the Maggs Day Centre.
“I have told people about the homeless rugby team and the Sleep Out and now a couple of managers have signed up for the Sleep Out and there are another two or three who are interested,” Oxenbury said.
“At first they looked a bit shocked when I told them my story but then they said: right, we are doing it.
“Work has also given me the night off to do the Sleep Out.”
Those taking part in the Big Worcester Sleep Out will experience the discomfort of sleeping out under the stars and give them a flavour of what it is like to sleep rough.
“It won’t be the same as sleeping on the streets,” Oxenbury said. “Here you are in a secure place with security cameras, when you are on the streets you have no one. You might have a friend next to you and you take in turns to stay awake and keep an eye on things.”
Thankfully, Oxenbury’s days of sleeping rough are now over. As well as a steady job he has a flat and two young sons with his partner Mags and a network of friends built up through homeless rugby.
“My journey started with coming to the YMCA in Worcester. I liked sports and they were advertising for touch rugby. I thought I would give it a go for two or three weeks to see what it was like and I’ve now been playing for five-and-a-half years,” he said.
“I’ve won lots of trophies, it’s improved my fitness and helped me and others to improve their lives.
“It’s put me back on the right path in life. I’ve now got a full-time job and a flat it’s helped me head somewhere in life.
“It has had a positive effect on and off the pitch. Instead of just having one place where you can be happy you can be happy anywhere.
“Without the rugby it would have been a slower process, the homeless team gave me a kick up the backside.
“The first thing I said to the coaches was: until you make me throw up I’m not giving up. I haven’t thrown up yet.
“It’s more like a family than a team because we all look out for each other and help each other out. People have problems but we just talk to each other and help each other.”
To for more information about the Big Worcester Sleep Out at Sixways on April 4 click here.