Premiership Rugby has held its annual Rugby Community Awards ceremony at the House of Commons – an evening that celebrates all the hard work and effort that is put in to make our beautiful game accessible and fun for all.
Rugby at its heart, is a reflection of the community. It attracts participants from all walks of life, with different abilities and reasons for joining the great game. It can be a fantastic way to de-stress after a long weekend of work, a way to get fitter, and it can simply be a way to make new friends. Well, that’s exactly what the volunteers, support staff, and coaches in the sport are trying to facilitate – and without them, the community game wouldn’t be what it is today.
The awards are as follows:
Morgan Lidster from Bath Rugby has been honoured as the Rugby Ambassador of the Year.
Evan Vestey from Gloucester Rugby has been recognized as the Outstanding Achiever of the Year.
Marie Chambers from Newcastle Falcons has been presented with the Community Volunteer of the Year award.
The title of Community Coach of the Year, supported by Premiership Rugby, has been bestowed upon Alex Randall from Bath Rugby.
Alex Randall has been a trailblazer in the local rugby community in the South West, bringing the sport to communities for the first time. He recently set up the first girls’ team at Combe Down RFC which now boasts a 25-person squad, and has been a huge driving force behind setting up the first Mixed Ability team in Wiltshire, Melksham Stags, which now attracts up to 40 players to each session.
Rugbydump reporter, Jack Tunney, has been chatting to Alex about the impact that his coaching has had on both himself and the players he has helped over the years:
“It’s been a very surreal day” explained Alex. “Winning Community Coach of the Year has been very special and surreal for me. I go out to work every day focusing on all the people I work with and deliver coaching sessions too, and to be recognised for that, is a truly incredible achievement in my career”
“The people I work with give so much back to me and they trust me to provide them with opportunities that could better their social, physical, and mental health as well as their own support networks, and for that, I’m very thankful to them” he added.
Jack spoke to Alex’s colleague, Dan Hine, at Bath Rugby Foundation just last year, when the Delivery Lead had the following to say:
“Bath Foundation has been on a bit of a mission the last sort of five years with a program called Project Rugby, and it’s looking at underrepresented groups, those that are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, those that are from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and also those that are disabled. We’ve seen a big increase in participation, certainly post-covid because we’re able to promote the game and offer different ways to get involved in rugby”
Delving deeper into the activities and the impact that Bath Rugby Foundation provides, Dan was able to share with us some important insights:
“Mixed ability offers participants of any ability to play the game, whether that’s disabled or non-disabled participants, and we’ve found that we’re now in the fifth team we’ve set up across the Southwest. Mixed ability is continuing to grow and we’re finding people from all different backgrounds, whether they’ve played before, never played before, have a fear of being injured, and now they have a game available to them that actually the risk of injury is probably a little lower than what it was previously.
“We work with lots of schools across the southwest, primary, secondary, and special schools, and we also work with colleges as well.
“We go in, we promote rugby across six weeks, and we use a variety of different sports to do that. And then hopefully working with local grassroots clubs, we offer the familiar friendly face for those participants to transfer across.”
Whilst it is incredible how well this new approach has benefited the numbers now starting to participate in the sport, it was interesting to hear how it has benefited those taking part externally:
“This achievement in participation really has been about what the sport has offered away from the field. We’ve made the game accessible, which means more people are playing it, but it’s more so coming out of covid that we’ve created friendship groups for people to connect again. They also have a sense of belonging with those rugby teams.
“They have a safe space for them and they’re having birthday parties, social events, and everyone feels a sense of community coming back together.”
Dan admitted that the challenge is certainly still there when it comes to transitioning these new players over to their local clubs, but remained optimistic:
“Rugby isn’t for everybody, we’ve got to remember that. So although we’re working with up to 680 young people across the years to engage in the sport, we are actually transitioning about 10% of those across the local grassroots clubs. So that has been a challenge, but it’s thinking of new ways all the time.”
He went on to say that he has seen many examples of mixed-ability players growing in confidence and actually stepping up to grassroots senior sides off their own backs, so as a result, helping to rebuild those clubs.
When it comes to transitioning over to those local sides, the idea is that by the time the six-week process is complete, there will be members of those clubs that can take up the mantle and provide support for the new players.
Attending the awards ceremony was 53-cap Scotland international, Sean Maitland:
“To hear the journeys the young people in this room have been on and the challenges they have overcome reaffirms why I am so passionate about bringing rugby into young people’s lives,” said the 34-year-old Saracens player.
“Seeing the impact of the Premiership Rugby Community programmes first-hand today is an honour.
“Congratulations to all the nominees and participants – you are all an inspiration!
“The time, commitment and understanding the volunteers and coaches give to deliver the programmes is humbling.
“For me as a player, knowing that individuals and communities are benefiting from getting involved in the game is hugely motivating.
“If our performances on the pitch can inspire and engage others – together we can make a huge difference to so many lives.”
Community and CSR Director of Premiership Rugby Wayne Morris added: “We continue to work diligently to gain a deeper understanding of the young people we engage with and what is important to them.
“This approach has proven invaluable when building confidence and engagement to help them take steps to fulfil their potential.
“Going into next season, we are resolute in our responsibility to use the power of professional rugby to help communities deliver sustainable change.
“Change not only for individuals but change which tackles inequality and protects communities.
“Today, we have been honoured to be surrounded by a collection of incredible young people, mentors, coaches and volunteers – congratulations to all our Community Award winners.”
Read more here.