Lions Origin clubs making their mark in the community

They say adversity brings out the best in us, and that has certainly been highlighted in the eight months since the outbreak of COVID-19. [more]

Lions Origin clubs making their mark in the community

It has been a time of trouble and uncertainty for many people, but it has also been a time when communities have come together for the greater good, with local rugby clubs often being at the forefront of these efforts.

With various activities taking place across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland since the initial lockdown in March, we cast an eye at how some of our Lions Origin clubs have gone the extra mile to serve their local areas.

Making a difference in Marlow 

It’s been all hands on deck throughout lockdown and beyond at Marlow Rugby Club, where both Matt Dawson and Paul Burnell came up through the ranks.

The Southern Counties North side have offered a prescription delivery service to those unable to reach their GP, as well as using their grounds as a flu jab drive through service.

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The action was kick-started by Leighton Jones, who heads the committee at Marlow, and the club’s efforts have seen over 600 people benefit from the prescription delivery service over the past eight months.

And the club’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, with TV presenter Ross Kemp featuring Marlow in his BBC1 documentary series celebrating the UK’s Covid-19 ‘Volunteer Army’.

The actor joined the club’s volunteer team at the Marlow Medical Centre to help set up the daily “Drive-In” doctors clinics as well as delivering prescriptions in the community.

Press officer Andrew Webb explained: “In lockdown, people weren’t able to get out and about, and it was clear the younger guys who play rugby were in a better position to do so.

“So, we agreed with the local medical centre and we were delivering from five local pharmacies. We would go in on a daily basis and collect a whole bucket of prescriptions, so we had one person going in rather than 20 or 30 people.

“We’ve had the army down doing COVID testing in the car park, and Leighton organised a flu clinic which was absolutely packed.

“The local GP practice was very worried about patients coming into such a small waiting room – especially in the summer – so what they started was effectively a drive through, and we used two of our gazebos in Marlow and also put the same thing together in two local villages.

“In parallel to this, we’ve been doing fitness sessions and the senior team have been doing yoga on Zoom. They’ve kept fit, we’ve got more people training than we ever have, and their fitness levels are amazing.

“We’ve seen the whole club pull together throughout the pandemic. Sometimes different groups don’t always work with each other in the way that we would want them to, but everyone has worked brilliantly as a team.”

Working together in Worthing 

For Worthing RFC 2020 was meant to be a big party, as the club had a long list of events planned to celebrate its centenary year.

However, while the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns scuppered those plans, the former home of Lion #811 Joe Marler has put its best foot forward to spread some good regardless.

The National League 2 South club has supported both its vast number of members as well as others outside of the game, offering its space for a local family to use for a wake and enabling a local circus and funfair to use its facilities to spread some cheer to the local community.

“We don’t often take time to stop and reflect in our busy daily lives, but I’m incredibly proud of everything the club has achieved over the tempestuous period this year,” chairman of finance and commercial Barny Hall said.

“The ethos at our club has been to ‘find a way to push forward’ and provide the best experience we can for all our members and others.

“The fact that there wasn’t a lot going on, for people’s well-being, it was far from normal but these events gave local people something to attend and be a part of.”

In addition, the club’s members have been fully supported with a mental health awareness course, multiple Coach Education sessions, a four-day camp where nearly 100 mini and junior players attended, and internal Ready4Rugby festivals.

Hall added: “We’ve got 20-odd teams so that’s a vast number of people who all of a sudden lost their friendship and support networks through the lockdown.

“So, we ran various quizzes and competitions, videos of them passing the ball on to keep everyone engaged.

“It’s like a big family and we’ve rallied around each other through it all. We’re already trying to plan for events in late December to give people something positive to look forward to through these next few weeks.”

Catering for all in Cambridge 

With a thriving community department already a key component of National League 1 side Cambridge RUFC ahead of the pandemic, the needs of people in the surrounding area have long been a club priority.

When news of the lockdown first hit home, community manager Ben Penfold drove the idea of setting up a collection and delivery service as a measure of support for club members and wider members of the public who weren’t able to leave their homes.

While dog walking was also offered, over 100 people benefited from the team’s efforts and director of rugby Richie Williams believes it was important to come up with adaptive and innovative solutions to help vulnerable people at the outbreak of COVID-19.

He said: “We have an environment that caters for everybody, and I think everything we’ve experienced over the last few months has made us realise just how important community is for us as a rugby club.

“Ben spent a lot of time and invested a lot of energy in the delivery service, which grew continually through publicity and word of mouth, and was a real success story.

“Engaging with the community has always been something we’ve been good at, but I think we’ve been able to develop and grow relationships with the wider public which is really encouraging going forward.”

Elsewhere, Cambridge – the former home of Dickie Jeeps – have paid for first team player Lawrence Rayner to undertake a mental health first aid qualification, allowing him to offer support and advice to anyone in the local area affected by the current situation or any other issues.

And Williams says plans are already in place to keep members engaged throughout the next month of lockdown, with a strong presence on social media among the key focuses.

“We’re acutely aware of how difficult it is for not just our players and our members and their mental health, but the wider public as well,” he added. “We’ve tried to cover all bases over the last few months and it’s good to know Lawrence is there as another level of support.

“We ran a number of video skill sessions when we first went into lockdown that we’re going to revisit. It’s our centenary year in 2023, so looking ahead to this month, we’re getting all of our mini and junior age groups to complete 2023 different skill challenges, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.”

Visit our Lions Origin page in association with Canterbury, and search by club, player or location to find details of all 835 past British and Irish Lions

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