In my house you know when summer has ended because my daughter starts asking when ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is going to be on again! This year I understand that Johnny Peacock is to be one of the contestants and so it got me wondering if I should nominate Mike Spence MBE who in his new dance chair is a bit of an Anton Du Beke!
Autumn also signals the end of Sunday morning surfing with my eight-year-old son but still no lie in as mini rugby starts this week at Saltash Rugby Club. He registered last Sunday and I was incredibly impressed with the welcome we both got and the efficiency of the joining process which was managed by volunteers – mums and dads and former players. It got me thinking about how we do things and I hope those new to our sport feel as welcome when they join us. I think they do and I know we all pride ourselves on being a rugby family.
Autumn is also the start of a new Super Series and this weekend it opens with Division Two at Stoke Mandeville Stadium. Local team, Stoke Mandeville Maulers (pictured below), which came about largely as a result of veteran Bob O’Shea’s work, will be making their debut in this division having gained promotion in April. It’s a strong league and I would not risk a bet on who is likely to top it when we get to April. Other news saw the North East Bulls team up with Mowden Park Rugby Club in Darlington. The club has 20 teams and is very excited about the Bulls becoming part of the Mowden rugby family. They will compete in Super Series Division One this season and will be pleased to have new recruit Coral Batey amongst their ranks. Coral’s international experience will be a great asset to the club.
There has been a lot going on over the summer despite all of us taking some time out to recharge our batteries. We have a new face in the team and welcome Adam Simmons who is taking on the role of Projects Officer and will develop, launch and grow the variant game. It’s quite a job but Adam is up for it and it’s a key objective for us this year. Adam is a member of my local club in Plymouth and it is good to see a member of the wheelchair rugby community being employed on the staff.
Lucy Knight and I continue to focus on the financial challenge. We are making some very good progress with some new potential partners and are optimistic that we may have some good news soon. Our Just Giving campaign continues to grow albeit that it is more of a trickle than a flood! With tax relief we are around £50k though which will be a great help as we look towards a competitive GB programme for 2018 and there are still some initiatives going on which hopefully will realise more funding. There are still lots of people out there in the rugby community trying to support the GB team and recently Lucy has been meeting with Gloucester Rugby who have given us the opportunity to use their home match against London Irish on 2nd December to raise funds. Lucy will now work with the club to come up with a fundraising campaign around the events that weekend. We also have a similar initiative from Sevenoaks RFC who are looking to work with us to do something similar on the weekend of 4th November. A huge thank you to both clubs and we hope others might follow their lead. My thanks also to Roger Alwyn who has been behind galvanizing the rugby community as well as providing introductions to potential sponsors. Roger’s son John is a producer and in 2012 made a documentary about wheelchair rugby so is committed also to helping our cause and intends filming the Gloucester and Sevenoaks events.
Over the summer Kirsty and I met with the CEO of the Wooden Spoon. The campaign to raise funding for a chair for each of our clubs is going well and I know that some of you will have already taken delivery of a chair and in some cases more than one. I understand there are still more chairs in the pipeline but it’s important to remember that donors have committed to funding chairs for young people as the Wooden Spoon is a children’s charity.
I also had the opportunity to meet the new Chair of UK Sport, Dame Katherine Grainger. We had a one to one meeting lasting an hour and a half and I was given the opportunity to put the funding case for our sport. We also discussed the ‘no compromise’ policy and the implications of this if a sport loses all its UK Sport and Lottery funding. I found Dame Katherine genuinely interested in understanding the issues around this for the sports affected and I was grateful for the time she took to listen and the empathy she showed. Now that does not mean I expect a sudden change of direction and our funding to be restored, but I do think there is more of an appetite to better understand and look at what other options there may be which still protects the aim to win medals which we all want to see.
Many of you will have seen in the media that following the retirement of Ian Richie, Steven Brown has been appointed as the new CEO. Steve was the Financial and Business Director and was Managing Director of England 2015, so is well known to all of us in the GBWR team. He has been very supportive of wheelchair rugby and we are really pleased he has succeeded Ian and wish him every success in a role he fully merits.
Finally as always there is lots of development work going on and the latest new area we are focusing on is Reading with Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby, Reading Rugby Club and all Berkshire RFU Rugby Clubs are teaming up with Get Berkshire Active and Wokingham Borough Council to bring Wheelchair Rugby to the county with two taster sessions at Loddon Valley Leisure Centre on 16th and 23 September.
Good luck to all the teams playing in Division Two at the weekend.