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Social Inclusion award 2007/08

Hackney RFC (Middlesex)

Only a few years ago, the local club for children in Hackney, Haringey or Islington used to be in Barnet or Essex and few made the trip. The RFU have since done much to change the picture in inner cities and the Hackney Bulls Youth Rugby Club can claim to have played its part in that change. In October 2003 a cricket coach and a rugby coach provided a few taster rugby sessions for kids on open space at Clissold Park in Hackney. Four months later they roped in six local parents and established the Hackney Bulls Youth Rugby Club.

The Club had no ground, no storage facilities, no clubhouse and very little presence in the community. It had only 8 or 9 children of mixed ages attending each week at Clissold Park and a grant from Hackney Local Borough Council to pay for a coach. Through a combination of leafleting, ‘taster’ sessions at primary and secondary schools, the visual advert of a group of kids playing rugby in the local park, and a good deal of hard work and basic admin from its committee, the club expanded beyond anyone’s expectations. In four seasons the club has gone from 10 players to 115, from one mixed team to a team at every level from U7 to U14, and from one paid coach to one paid Level 2 coach and thirteen volunteer coaches (of which 6 are level 1 trained and the remainder are signing up for courses).

The club doesn’t have a permanent home ground or a clubhouse but has put down other roots: it is now affiliated to Hackney Rugby Club; it has use of their ground for home matches; it benefits from a strong and active committee; it has a strong presence within the minds of residents of the three local boroughs and uses the ease of email and the web to ensure good communication and develop a sense of community amongst its members; it is associated with a thriving local park - Clissold Park; it has good administrative services, extensive training equipment, a strong coaching structure, and a full fixture list against established clubs for all its teams.

The club is an inner-city club: the players cover a broad cross-section and the club can properly claim to have brought purpose, direction and enjoyment to children from some of the most deprived communities in London, including some children who have been excluded from or faced difficulties at school. More importantly, local primary and secondary schools, particularly in Hackney and Islington, now have the club in mind when their students show any interest in the game.

The first challenge was to persuade the local community to engage with the club; they succeeded. Their challenge now has been to ride the rollercoaster of growth, to meet the demands made by the local community, to develop the club, its structures and its facilities and to continue – all the while – to get the best out of the children that come to the club. The success in achieving those aims rests primarily on the willingness of volunteers from the local community to step up to the meet those demands: by becoming coaches; getting onto the committee; helping with admin; selling kit on a Sunday or just frying a burger at a home match.

Without local support, the club could not have met (or continue to meet) those challenges. Hackney Bulls continue to be ambitious: next year they intend to develop girls rugby at Mini and Midi level and introduce U15 and U16 teams. In addition, they aim to have, within the next few years, a seamless progression between the Youth squads and the senior club - Hackney Rugby Club. It is a testament to the speed with which the local community has embraced the club that after only four years, Mini, Midi, and Youth rugby is now thriving in Hackney and its neighbouring boroughs.


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