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Mini & Youth Seal of Approval Club of the Year award 2008/09

Winner: North Dorset RFC (Dorset & Wiltshire RFU)

The supportive environment that NDRFC provides for the 480 boys and girls in their four Junior sections benefits them for life. The ethos and culture of rugby is nurtured, encouraged and developed over the 12 years they are junior members. Challenging children have been turned into good players and good citizens and a significant number of those junior players then become lifelong members of the club. They form a bond that lasts throughout their lives with each other, the club and the community.

 Player development is ensured by a regular regime of training and fixtures.  Senior and Colts training takes place on Mondays and Thursdays, Girls on Tuesdays, Youth on Wednesdays, and CB and SW Youth & Girls squads on Fridays when requested.  The coaching structure is well co-ordinated to support all these teams and the club has hosted coach and referee development courses and now has 22 coaches and ten qualified referees of which seven referee regularly for the Society. 

NDRFC supports its playing infrastructure by ensuring that all its 172 volunteers are properly acquainted with their roles and given advice and training in their specific areas of operation. The club has a culture of a lead co-ordinator in each area (such as grounds, match preparation and catering) assisted by a large group of volunteers sharing the role by rota so that no one person feels overburdened. The club committee ensures succession planning by identifying volunteers for development.

The club has a close relationship with two local town councils. It hosted the Gillingham Mayor’s Invitation Day for nine neighbouring councils. Members of the club are prominent in their support of community activities and are able to offer the use of the club’s facilities to support fundraising for the provision of local facilities.  Members of the public are also invited to attend club functions such as the Christmas Pantomime and supper (250 attendees) and the Summer Ball (450 attendees).  Approximately 60 local businesses advertise around the ground or sponsor teams and events. All of this brings the club to the notice of a wide range of the community.

NDRFC has visited many local primary and secondary schools and now has formal agreements with three secondary schools and two primary schools. Local school matches and sports days have been supported by club referees and coaches. The club’s School Liaison Officer visits a different school approximately every three weeks and hosts teachers at the club to discuss development plans. In support of their local RDOs, North Dorset RFC hosted two major Emerging School Festivals for the whole of Dorset & Wilts (approx 600 players, girls and boys) from more than 40 schools.

The club have a policy to use local tradespeople to cover fencing, ground works, seeding, carpentry, signage, electrical installation, plumbing, double glazing, carpet fitting; all of which was required in the last year. Charities supported by fundraising by the club and its members in the last year include Somerset & Dorset Air Ambulance, St John’s Ambulance, Round Table and cancer charities. The club also encourage social membership of the club, which is open throughout the year. Facilities are provided for seminars, weddings, wakes, parties and dinners at an affordable cost in an environment with the flexibility to accommodate all requirements. 

The club market themselves and the game of rugby through radio interviews, press coverage in both community activity and sports pages, advertising in the press, notices in Schools and Gyms, a stand at the annual Show, meeting and greeting at School Sports Awards evenings and Speech Days. 100 hours of volunteer effort in constructing a walk in shop that is now “open all hours” has lead to a doubling in sales of rugby equipment, club related clothing and gift items. This again has resulted in increased income to the club.

The public recognition of NDRFC’s achievements in itself has been a result of hard work and volunteer input leading to a nomination for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service to the Community in Dorset which in turn led to a Royal Visit by HRH The Earl of Wessex.  Winning the Sport England Cutting Edge Award for School Liaison was another achievement.

Runner Up: Keswick RFC (Cumbria RFU)

Eight years ago the club was in a rut running two senior teams and with limited financial resources and an ageing all male committee. Today Keswick RFC are a vibrant club still fielding two senior teams but now has 13 youth teams including two girls team. The club have revitalised their Committee, reducing its average age considerably and now have 40% ladies. They have developed a large pool of pitchside rugby volunteers as coaches, first aiders and referees, who are all CRB checked and all hold RFU qualifications. Their off-pitch volunteer force has also grown through developing an ethos of welcome, participation and rugby education for players, parents and supporters. The club have created a solid base of income from events and function income and have achieved this despite being a club in a deep rural area that has a resident population of only 7,500.

Four years ago, when the club first looked at the Seal of Approval process, they realised it was not only a tool for the Youth Section but also a template for the whole club’s future development and ethos. They adopted the Seal of Approval system and applied it to the whole Club; taking a look at both their strengths and weaknesses and who their target members should be and what needed to be delivered; they reoriented the club towards the family - not just players and past players. Seal of Approval gave Keswick the structure and process necessary to help change a club that has been largely steering a single route since its formation in 1879.

The key was building teams of volunteers around each age group team, convincing the players’ parents and family to become involved and take on roles within the club in small bite sizes linked to specific teams. The club utilise their weekly local paper, the “Keswick Reminder”, which is compulsory reading for the local community. This gives them a weekly opportunity to fill half and full pages with match reports, stories and pictures. These stories help spread the word about what the club is trying to achieve, not only in playing terms, but in spreading and teaching the ethos of rugby as a whole.

The clubhouse is a popular venue for many local Clubs & Societies, from the Wine Circle to the Keswick Operatic Society and the club hosts the annual Town Council Fireworks display. As part of their fund-raising efforts, they jointly organise the Keswick Beer Festival with Keswick Lions, which is now the largest in the North of England. Over 250 local companies and individuals sponsor beers at the event and attendance is just over 5,000 people. The Keswick Convention held over 3 weeks in July is one of the largest religious gatherings in the UK and the club works with the organisers to provide ‘Park n Ride’ facilities for the Convention. They also provide the venue and facilities for many charity events that take place in the Lake District.

Keswick is a mix of deep rural hill farmers and tourism businesses. Creating the opportunity for young people not only to participate in sport but to have a safe and welcoming venue where they can socialise is one of the key benefits. It also gives parents, many of whom are isolated, the opportunity to meet and chat with other parents. Through their Summer Touch Rugby program, they have created a vehicle where the whole family can play a game together, getting fit, having fun and socialising afterwards.

For Keswick’s young people having “something to do” is vital as the area does not have the shopping malls, all weather sports areas, skate parks or ten pin bowling alleys that many urban and city young people take for granted. If you are too young for the pub, a wet evening in Keswick is a barren place. The Rugby Club has tried to give its young people not only sporting opportunities, but socialising opportunity through evening training, weights training, quiz nights etc. Their objective is not only to be the sporting centre for the town but one of the key locations for socialising.

As a club, one of their key impacts has been in the schools. In the case of Keswick School (a state comprehensive) their program provides all day and after school rugby training sessions every day during the Autumn and Spring Terms. However within schools, it is the primary schools where the club have had some interesting, unintended impacts. In the Summer Term, sessions of touch rugby take place in each of the six local primary schools assisted by A-Level Sports Student from Keswick School. The club also organise a number of inter school tournaments.

The club seek to welcome, engage and educate new parents as much as the children.  Whilst not always possible, they try to have at least two “floating” volunteers who seek out newer parents to chat with them, make them feel welcome and answer any questions. On match days again, the club also try to have an extra pair of hands tasked with keeping eyes and ears open on the touchline to spread the word about the rugby ethos; to lead applause for good play by the opposition and encourage rather than belittle player errors. By welcoming the parents and having a friendly attitude and welcoming clubhouse for the younger family members too young to play, it becomes a club that parents enjoy coming to and want to get involved in as volunteers and their children as players.

Runner Up: Old Northamptonians RFC (East Midlands RFU)

Members run Old Northamptonians. The club is frequently described as a family, with loyalty, longevity and growth of membership; player retention really stands out. Many senior club players spent their youth learning the game at ON’s, and now play senior rugby, with some coaching the Mini/Junior sections.

The club take great pride in encouraging all players, regardless of ability, to enjoy the game with club values of fair play and respect reinforced with all players. They have a membership of 350 players, with an A and B team in all Mini age groups and the club website offers each age group their own webpage for reports and pictures. The club have girls’ teams and players leaving the Mini/Junior setup are encouraged to referee and coach younger age groups. Pitch up and play sessions take place for all new players at the start of the season, encouraging people from the local schools and community to sample rugby. The Pathfinder role at the club highlights ON’s to players entering the area and the club also offers players the opportunity to join other sports, such as ON’s cricket or tennis.

The club’s commitment to developing coaching and refereeing helps players to enjoy rugby in a safe and experienced environment; giving coaches the confidence to coach effectively. Coaches jackets are provided, ensuring all coaches are visible to players whilst also giving wider members the opportunity to identify coaches who have attended RFU coaching courses and have been CRB checked.

Referees are provided for all age groups, club attendance is high at RFU/RFUW courses to help develop skills and the senior club coach runs masterclasses with the Mini & Junior age groups prior to senior games. The club has good links with local colleges, Primary and Secondary schools and club coaches assist teachers with school rugby; the club are positively known within the local community.

ON’s sits within a populated area, with a responsibility to engage with all the local community whilst maintaining their standing and reputation as a safe place to play rugby. The club promote fundraising, through schemes such as bag packing at local supermarkets, whilst the Chairman’s charity, Northampton and Warwickshire Air Ambulance, is supported by the club’s Presentation day and Volunteers dinner. ON’s have helped raise money for the Bruce Reihana Charity, a local initiative by the Northampton Saints captain, through the sale of calendars and the donation and collection of unwanted and unused sporting kit.

Local companies are involved with sponsorship and are members themselves. The ON’s calendar is produced by volunteers with team shots of the players. Local sponsorship is gained to help pay for the costs and the calendar gives local companies the opportunity to advertise to the wider membership of the club. Advertising boards are also displayed at both senior and Mini/Junior level to promote local advertising.

The club attend the Northampton Balloon Festival to raise awareness and promote rugby and the club itself. Any interest expressed and names taken at the event are passed to the club’s Pathfinder; a number of new players especially girls have joined through this route.

The club also promotes health and fitness to the local community through the provision of their facilities, with sports grounds, equipment and staff that allow for a safe and enjoyable environment. ON’s are proud to host tournaments and provide the use of their facilities for events, with club use encouraged locally by offering a competitively priced function room for hire. Members are offered reduced rates, encouraging use of the facility and members actively utilise the room for fundraising nights, quizzes and parties.

Bursary schemes are run by the club to support families who may not be able to afford membership fees or playing kit with low membership fees and competitively priced playing kit sold at the club shop to make it affordable for all. Sharing of lifts by parents to home and away games reduce travel costs and make away games accessible and boot sales are held, allowing younger members of the club to acquire boots at reduced prices. The handing down of kit is common practice within the age groups.

Club volunteer days, where members help with the maintenance of the club grounds, demonstrate a well run, responsible, organised club and a large number of members contributed personally to the “Brick Appeal” for the new clubhouse, with family names displayed on a special wall. The safe environment and large number of volunteers evidence member’s commitment with the club boasting a fantastic support network of volunteers who ensure the smooth running of the Mini/Junior section, including coaching, refereeing, co-ordinators and catering. The club arrange an annual Christmas party and coaches/parents game whilst the Annual Presentation day celebrates the success of the Mini/Junior section; recognising the efforts made by all age groups.


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