Investment sought for RFL facilities



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Rugby Football League and the new facilities strategy Image: Rugby Football League

The English Rugby Football League (RFL) has launched a new National Facilities Strategy, aiming to unlock investment of £100 million.

Rugby-League.com said the cash will be used to boost the sport’s unique ability to transform lives and strengthen communities in some of the most challenged parts of the country.

Ahead of the UK General Election, the RFL has written to party leaders calling for their support, and emphasising the successes of the World Cup in 2022 and the CreatedBy facilities programme, which transformed £10 million of Government funding into more than £27 million of investment into clubs and foundations.

The Strategy has been developed by the specialist consultants Knight, Kavanagh & Page, based on a national consultation process with Community Rugby League Clubs and Charitable Community Organisations.
 

Four key areas of focus have been identified in the report:

  • Security of Tenure – allowing clubs to plan for the long-term
  • Accessible and Inclusive Facilities – providing suitable facilities for all, and creating safe spaces for the wider community
  • Adequate and Appropriate Pitch Provision – investment both in playing surfaces, and in upskilling a volunteer workforce to maintain them
  • Sustainability – both environmental and financial.

 
The Strategy recognises the role that Rugby League clubs and Foundations play in the sporting heritage of the nation and the contribution they make to driving social impact, values, and mobility within some of the most deprived communities.

Community Rugby League clubs are facing a wide range of challenges – like the communities they serve – including rising costs, the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis, Covid recovery, and the erosion of local support networks.

These issues are compounded by deteriorating playing surfaces, which lead to session cancellations, decreased participation, unsustainable club operations, and in some cases, clubs being at risk of closure – and highlighting the importance of environmental sustainability in the strategy.

Tom Halliwell OBE, the captain of England’s Wheelchair World Cup winners in 2022, said: “Rugby League has had a massive positive impact on my life, from playing the running game at Kippax right through to captaining my country in a Wheelchair World Cup Final.

“I’ve seen it do the same for so many other players and volunteers, but with Rugby League usually being played in working-class communities, we struggle with facilities compared with other sports.

“It’s exciting to think about the impact that could be made by this Facilities Strategy – especially a national centre for Wheelchair Rugby League, which is something which we’ve dreamed about since I’ve been involved.”

Jodie Cunningham, the captain of England Women who will also lead St Helens in a fourth consecutive Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on June 8, added:

“I’ve been on an amazing journey with Rugby League, from starting a girls’ team at school in Warrington and then in the last decade from playing in park pitches with Thatto Heath to captaining Saints at Wembley.

“The number of girls we have wanting to play now is incredible – but the lack of suitable facilities can still be a big issue. Our sport can change lives – I want it to be able to do even more.”

Tony Sutton, Chief Executive of the RFL, said: “We saw in hosting the last Rugby League World Cup that our sport has a unique ability to deliver positive social impact in hard to reach parts of the country, especially across the north of England.

“A key part of the success of staging that World Cup was the CreatedBy facilities programme, under which we converted £10 million of Government support to well over £25 million of investment into our clubs and foundations.

“But there is still much more to do – and Rugby League now has more to offer than ever, as the result of the transformation in inclusivity over the last decade which has seen rapid growth in Women’s and Girls’ Rugby League as well as our Wheelchair, Learning Disability and Physical Disability competitions.

“46% of our participants are from the top 30% most deprived communities whilst 59 of the 81 constituencies identified in our Facilities Strategy are in the North of England – a region which has historically received less investment than in other parts of the country.

“That’s why we have developed a National Facilities Strategy, underlining the transformation that could be delivered across the sport over the next decade by a larger scale of investment.

“Much of this work would be in partnership with other sports to maximise return on investment – such as our proposed feasibility work on a National Wheelchair Rugby League Centre, and the support we have already received through the Football Foundation’s Multisports projects.”

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