Community rugby clubs in England have been boosted by an allocation of £30 million of government funding, the biggest single investment in the community game, following collaboration between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Sport England, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the grassroots game.
Government’s Sport Winter Survival Package was created to protect major spectator sports’ immediate futures after revenue was lost during the pandemic due to spectators not being able to attend matches.
As a consequence of not being able to host fixtures and events at Twickenham Stadium during this period, the RFU lost revenue streams that would normally be re-invested in the community game.
Government funding has therefore helped to provide a lifeline to clubs and communities across the country. The RFU also requested for its funding allocation to be directed straight to community clubs who needed it most.
As part of the sport package, the Rugby Union Winter Survival Fund was launched in February 2021 to ensure clubs survived the winter period and minimised long-term damage to participation.
512 rugby clubs have already received Rugby Union Winter Survival Fund grants totalling £18,275,903. It is hoped an additional £11.5 million will be injected into the community game after a further 129 clubs applied for a loan to support essential infrastructure for survival and sustainability.
Grants, capped at £50,000 per club, were made available to community clubs who could demonstrate financial need and that they had been severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.
With the future of many clubs depending on this critical funding, an inspired team-effort saw a grants programme launch within five days of government’s authorisation.
Clubs worked quickly to hit tight deadlines, supported by their Constituent Bodies (CBs) and RFU staff, and in just over two months the RFU had transferred over £18.2m of government funding. Clubs at every level of the community game have benefited across the country. Loan application assessments are currently underway in the second phase of support.
Minister for Sport, Nigel Huddleston said: “The Rugby Football Union is making great progress in distributing £30 million so far to clubs in desperate need.
“This means over 640 local clubs will now benefit from our biggest ever investment in the sport, as part of our continued unprecedented Sports Survival Package.
“Rugby Union plays a huge part in many people’s lives across the country, from elite through to grassroots level, and we will continue to work closely with the RFU to help clubs begin to recover.”
RFU Rugby Development Director Steve Grainger said: “We are genuinely thrilled that so many community rugby clubs across the country have benefited from the Rugby Union Winter Survival Fund.
“We are extremely grateful to Government for their support and for recognising how severely community rugby has been hit by the pandemic. In many cases, rugby clubs have faced a double blow. They have not simply lost match income, but also, as asset-owners, they have faced significant outgoings on overheads while not being able to open facilities to generate revenue.
“While it has been a challenging year, it has also been a privilege to witness the incredible collaboration between clubs, Constituent Bodies and RFU staff, including implementing this support programme so successfully.
“The cross collaboration across the game has been humbling to watch and could be the difference between a club staying afloat or not. As a result, people across the country can continue to enjoy a sport they love and local communities can enjoy the social benefits provided by rugby clubs.
“We thank everyone involved who put in so much time and effort to help secure the largest single investment the community game has ever seen.”
Medway RFC treasurer Tracy Bullock said: “We were very fortunate to get a grant from the Rugby Union Winter Survival Fund. That has meant we can move forward into the new season with confidence rather than worrying about how we were going to make ends meet and what impact that would have on the club and our members.”
Christopher Yorke Longlevens RFC Chair, added: “The funding has been vital in keeping our head above water so we can welcome back players and members and the club can continue to be a hub for our community. Knowing that we had that degree of financial support has allowed us to plan strategically so we are really excited about the future of Longlevens Rugby.”
Dougie Hall, Berwick RFC Rep on the Northumberland Rugby Committee, added: “The grant has been an absolute godsend. It has given us a future that we may not otherwise have had due to the impact of the pandemic.
“We have a good function facility at the club, and we rely on revenue from weddings and functions to fund overheads and keep the club going. Of course, with the pandemic, we lost all that income.
“We’re lucky to have brilliant accountants who have always been very careful with the club’s money and don’t spend it unless we have it. They managed to keep us going by cutting our cloth, selling old stock and so on, but there’s only so much you can do and sell.
“When we found out we had been successful in getting a grant it felt like we had won the lottery. It has given us the financial security to keep going so we can welcome players back and continue with our 3-5-year plan to develop our women’s and girls’ section. Without the grant, that opportunity to grow the game in our local area wouldn’t have been possible.”