Rugby League Cares is the charity dedicated to supporting and showcasing the work of clubs’ charitable foundations within their local communities. In an article which appeared in the January 2017 edition of the charity’s ‘One In, All In’ magazine, Richard Munson of Widnes Vikings outlines the role of a club foundation and the importance of its relationship with Rugby League Cares.
Widnes Vikings were named Super League Foundation of the Year at the Steve Prescott Man of Steel dinner in October, an award which recognises the high quality and sheer volume of work undertaken by the club’s dedicated community team.
The Vikings Sports Foundation is delivering 31 projects across Halton, South Liverpool and Cheshire region and has enriched the lives of thousands of people through the power of sport over the last 12 months.
With eight full-time members of staff, supported by volunteers, the foundation has established a proven track record in making a positive difference in its local community, as have many other foundations at Super League and Championship clubs.
For Richard Munson, the Vikings’ Community Integrated Director, the award is acknowledgement of the dedication of his own team and that of everyone at a club which holds a special place at the heart of its community.
“It really is an achievement to get this recognition as there is some brilliant work going on in Rugby League foundations right across the country. I would like to thank the RFL and Rugby League Cares for their support,” said Munson.
“I am consciously aware of the support our community work receives from all departments within the club and feel that this is a ‘whole club’ award as everyone has supported our vision in different ways.
“A great example of our ‘One Club’ culture is the way our coaches and players engage in our programmes and I would like to thank in particular Denis Betts who has supported our work from providing us with access to the players through to actually presenting to partners on our behalf.“
The relationship between Rugby League Cares and the club foundations is becoming increasingly important in the delivery of cultural, health and welfare projects.
The special status they have within their own communities, together with the unique local knowledge they possess, make club foundations the perfect vehicle for third party agencies to use as a means of addressing social issues and reaching isolated sections of society.
“In a town like Widnes the work we do is really important,” explained Munson. “The club is the focal point of the local community, whether that be the stadium and its facilities or the players.
“Sport is a great way to inspire people: it can change lives in a positive and lasting way. We take that inspiration and deliver it in a positive way through a range of projects using our understanding of how as a club we can best support local people.
“Like a lot of towns, Widnes has issues with educational attainment and social inequality. Tackling those issues is rarely easy but by working with statutory partners we are able to deliver projects that enable and empower local people.”
Those projects include the club’s innovative work with people suffering from dementia to inspiring young people to live healthy and active lives by playing sport and harnessing the influence of senior players to encourage boys to read more and gain improved literacy.
The Widnes, Warrington Wolves and Salford Red Devils foundations are all working on successful Big Lottery projects helped by Government funding secured by Rugby League Cares and provided by Curious Minds, a bridge organisation which strives to improve the lives of children and young people through great art and culture.
“Curious Minds provide expertise around arts awards and dance programmes but the work is driven by the club foundations who determine how best to engage with local people,” said Munson.
“There is some fantastic, innovative work taking place, not just by the Vikings Sports Foundation but by club foundations at many Rugby League clubs.
“The foundations’ relationship with Rugby League Cares is massively important because it allows us to do what we do so well.”
The innovative way in which Widnes Vikings are engaging with their local community is highlighted nowhere better than in the successful partnership with a national charity that delivers life-enhancing support to people with special needs.
Working with Community Integrated Care (CIC), the Vikings foundation have delivered projects promoting the health, happiness, wellbeing and inclusion of people with learning disabilities, mental health concerns, autism and dementia.
“We have supported thousands of people for three decades, enabling them to lead full and happy lives, but throughout our history we have never had a partner as ambitious and committed as the Vikings Sports Foundation,” said Community Integrated Care spokesman John Hughes.
“They have delivered life-changing support to our charity and the people we care for, and are a credit to their community and their sport.
“Week in, week out, this partnership delivers brilliant things. For two hours a week, people we support are enabled by the club to find the joy of participating in sport. The foundation overcomes any barrier that their disability or condition may create, to make the sessions accessible to all.
“The Vikings visit our dementia care homes weekly for activity and reminiscence sessions, and are engaging club legends and fans in also supporting the homes.
“There are few things more powerful than seeing the joy of a fan who hasn’t been able to play rugby for decades enjoy passing a ball with someone wearing the famous Vikings kit, or people suddenly spark memories of cheering on their heroes at Naughton Park.
“Our Chemics Café sees us reach out to people with dementia and their loved ones each month. We give people who live with dementia in care homes and in the community an special day – meeting their rugby heroes, enjoying adapted exercises sessions and finding important advice on living well with dementia.
“Our staff – often people with stressful and intensive roles – have enjoyed getting fit and having fun with weekly sports sessions with the club.”
The foundation has made a massive difference to the lives of many people, young and old alike including 86-year-old Fred Allen, a resident at the St Luke’s specialist dementia care and nursing home.
Mr Allen has supported the Vikings for 80 years but as his dementia developed, he lost touch with the club he loves until the intervention of the Vikings Sports Foundation.
Every week Mr Allen meets the Vikings community coaches and legends at his home, for activity and reminiscence sessions. He is also a regular visitor to the Chemics Café, where he has struck up a special friendship with Widnes first-team player Jack Buchanan.
When Mr Allen watched the team beat Catalans Dragons last season – his first live game in years – Jack recognised him and sprinted from the pitch to celebrate with him, creating special new memories for both men.