Excitement is beginning to build for the World cup later in the year. Elite player performance is being closely watched, and injury recovery being closely followed. We all want our favourites taking to the field in September & October.
There is a rallying call to local grass roots rugby clubs to take the chance to capitalise on the opportunities the tournament brings. Spruce up the club houses and encourage people to come into the clubs and participate in rugby.
So we thought that we’d take this month’s meeting to local rugby club Dursley RFC and find out more about what’s going on at grass roots level.
Dursley RFC is a thriving rural rugby club in Gloucestershire that successfully runs senior and mini & youth teams across all age groups. It is, of course, known by many for being the starting point in rugby for England & Gloucester players Ben Morgan and Charlie Sharples. So, what’s the reason for the success of the club and what challenges does that success bring?
We asked club chairman Simon Bilous.
Talking about the reasons for the success of the club and also it’s pedigree of players playing at a high level of the game, Simon explained that whilst, of course, talent has a part to play, the reason for the success of the club in attracting and keeping players is its policy of participation and inclusion. Every person that comes to Dursley RFC gets game time. Yes, of course winning on the pitch nice, but what’s important at Dursley is that everyone gets to play and enjoy the game of rugby.
This ethos goes some way to explaining the success with the retention of keeping players – Dursley currently has nearly 500 mini & youth players playing every weekend. But it does bring it with it some challenges that the club has to closely manage.
Running 3 senior teams, a ladies team and 12 age groups at mini and youth level means the pitches take a hammering. Match weekends and mid week training all take their toll on the playing surfaces and they have to be managed very carefully to be able to keep everyone playing throughout the season.
For the event, we were standing in a nice bright refurbished club house.
“For any of you who’ve been to the club in the past”, said Simon, “You’ll know the club house hasn’t always looked like this. It was dark, a bit grubby looking and a bit depressing until last summer when a group of volunteers took on the task of the refurbishment”.
With the help of the RFU Transforming Social Spaces project the club house has been transformed. We had to get contractors in as we are a community amateur sports club run by volunteers and the cost was £50k so it was no small project. The club house needed re-wiring and alot of work. However, this is only a small part of what is needed for the club to cater for its membership.
We were quite comfortable in the club house. We had room to breath and move around with relative ease. But as Simon pointed out, most Sundays there are nearly 500 children and their parents coming through the club and there’s just not enough space to cope.
“We need to balance the desire for a clean, friendly welcoming space for everyone for events etc. with the need to cater for parents and kids on the weekends” he said
So the refurbishment of the existing club house is only part 1 of the social spaces project. There is a part 2 which will allow the club to expand the social space, but that is reliant on this year’s massive project of the changing room rebuild being completed.
The club changing rooms are no longer fit for purpose. As Simon explained yyou can’t have seniors using the changing rooms when there are junior players in there. You can’t have girls in there when boys are in there, ladies and men need to be separate. Referees and officials are supposed to have their own space and if you have male and female officials, then they also need to be separate. None of this is possible in the current set up.”
One of the priorities of the club is to improve the facilities for the girls and ladies. So, Project 2015 – Changing for the Future is the project to build a set of changing rooms that will be fit for purpose and sustainable well into the future of the club.
“The new changing rooms will allow us to have all of these activities to go on at the same time where necessary as we’ll be able to separate and seal off different changing areas.Having the new changing rooms will revolutionise the whole use of the club house and social space” said Simon.”
We went on to discuss the importance of top level players staying in touch with grass roots rugby clubs and the impact it has. We are very lucky that Ben Morgan has a particular connection with us at Dursley and supports us hugely. Unlike many premiership players Ben did not go and play his representative rugby at other clubs, he did it all at Dursley.
“It’s hugely important” said Simon. “Ben is an excellent role model about what you can achieve with application, dedication and a high level of skill. He played from 6 years old, went through the ranks playing for us as an 18 year old and then went off to Scarlets, has come back to Gloucester and is now one of the best no 8s in the world. That’s through a lot of hard work on his part but our youngsters can come up here, look at Ben and think, I can do that – if he can do that, so can I. Local lad, went to school locally, played at Dursley and no where else – I can do that!”. Great for inspiring the youngsters.
This was a visit to my local rugby club, where I coach, but I’m quite sure the same problems and issues discussed are widespread at grass roots level. While sponsorship is vital for grass roots clubs and very much welcomed and needed, there may be other ways you can help your local rugby club. Your business expertise could be invaluable. So, if you like rugby and the values and ethos of the game and want to get involved in your local club, pop along and have a chat. I’m sure they’d welcome you with open arms.
If anyone is reading this from my local area and wants to find out more about the challenges ahead for Dursley RFC, I’ll be happy to talk to you in more detail, just get in touch.