Opportunity Knocks For Rugby Clubs And Communities

Scrum-down! Rugby for Life’s club coordinator for Ohaeawai Rugby Club, Aimee Ruka (centre), forms up with (from left) junior team players Aiden Mayall (10), Beau Foster (8), club president Graeme McKain, juniors treasurer Carole Smith, chairman and seniors manager Richard Woodman, and junior team player Kaelan Craig (9).

A Northland rugby charity has launched an ambitious new drive to use the power of sport and the community reach of dozens of rugby clubs to boost health, wellbeing, education and employment across the region. The initiative could ultimately be mirrored right around the country.

Rugby for Life will run four or five major initiatives each year to strengthen communities and give young Northlanders a helping hand with personal, career and sporting opportunities. It will also help rugby clubs build their membership base and develop fresh sponsorship and other commercial platforms to strengthen their financial positions and overall sustainability.

In a ground-breaking move for New Zealand rugby, the charity has through its fundraising efforts and partnerships been able to initiate a ‘club coordinator’ program that puts a dedicated club coordinator in partner rugby clubs around the region. These coordinators will help each club connect its community to the personal, career and sporting development programs that Rugby for Life can access through its network of volunteers and partners. Their role is to help match the club, individual club members and their whanau with whatever programs they may need to help support them better.

The club coordinators will also help grow the game locally and build a healthy rugby community, provide administrative and logistical support to their clubs and help reduce the burden on club volunteers. The charity’s goal is ultimately to have a coordinator in each of Northland’s 42 active community rugby clubs.

The first eight club coordinators started their roles on 1 June in the rugby clubs of Kaeo, Kaihu, Okaihau, Ohaeawai, Onerahi, Southern, Te Rarawa, Western Sharks and Whangaruru.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drive to vaccinate Northlanders, Rugby for Life partnered with the region’s Māori Health Providers and 60 clubs across many different sports to generate more than 11,000 vaccinations. The ‘Take 2 for The Team’ initiative was credited with helping Northland get closer to the 90 percent double-vaccination target than anybody had thought possible.

Earlier this year the charity used its access to digital marketing expertise to help Northland rugby clubs achieve the greatest single boost in new memberships to date. This made Northland the only region in New Zealand to post a growth in the number of registered players this season, particularly within junior programs.

It also worked with Queenstown Resort College (QRC) to promote opportunities for young Northlanders to train at the college’s Bay of Islands campus, highlighting potential pathways to study, live and work in Northland.

“We see huge opportunity to help Northland rugby clubs set up mutually-beneficial, commercial relationships with organizations like QRC who wish to tap into the community reach that they can deliver,” said Rugby for Life trustee and Northland Rugby Union Board member Riki Kinnaird.

“There are 42 active rugby clubs across Northland with over 2,000 adult players and 5,000 kids playing in tournaments across the region. They provide unparalleled reach into some of our most remote and difficult to engage communities and, as we discovered during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, this is hugely valuable.”

Rugby for Life will work closely with the Northland Rugby Union to achieve its objectives and the NRU has already appointed a communities pathways manager within the union to bring it closer to clubs and communities.

Apart from funding the club coordinators, Rugby for Life’s support for clubs and their communities will be largely process and assistance driven rather than financial.

“We see ourselves as the engine that will help make things happen,” Mr Kinnaird said. “Clubs or communities will come to us with a problem or a challenge and we will use our network of benefactors, experts and corporate contacts to engineer a solution.

“Basically, we are a press-button solution for clubs and communities who otherwise wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for the help they need in any given situation.”

Equally, Rugby for Life will become the go-to point for organizations wanting to access the tremendous community reach of Northland’s many remote rugby-playing communities. This will create opportunities for rugby clubs that previously they wouldn’t have been able to access.

In addition to Queenstown Resort College the charity has already worked with organizations like the Ministry of Health (Family Violence is not OK campaign), People Potential, Whānau whina Plunket, The Atlas Foundation and the R Tucker Thomson Sailing Trust to engage with rugby communities across Northland.

Rugby for Life is grouping the initiatives it will support under four ‘pillars’; club sustainability, health and wellbeing, education and employment, and the rugby community. A steering committee will identify in August each year the initiatives to be supported over the following 12 months.

This innovative approach is ground-breaking for New Zealand rugby and involves linking the game even more closely to the communities from which it draws its talent and its vitality. Rugby for Life’s work has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in both cash and practical support finding its way into rugby clubs and the communities in which they are rooted. Generating social and economic benefits through the power and reach of sport.

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