Following a series of club visits by WRU Chief Executive Martyn Phillips, consultation with the WRU Board and external partners and an initial survey of club representatives at the 2019 WRU AGM, the workshops in every WRU District provided a platform for clubs to share insight on challenges faced and solutions found across a number of areas on and off the field, from player and volunteer recruitment to club governance, from facility development to income streams.
WRU Head of Community Geraint John said, “The aim of this consultation period is to recognise and share good practice between clubs and use that insight to help clubs prepare for the next generation. I was lucky to grow up in a rugby club surrounded by all my family and fell in love with the game. We want to continue that tradition and to help our 300 clubs to thrive but we acknowledge that probably won’t be possible unless we tackle certain issues head on and learn from each other’s successes – and failures.
“We are well aware of the socio-economic changes facing certain Welsh communities while clubs all over Wales are finding they need to adapt to changing societal demands by becoming more flexible, more inclusive and more open to collaboration with other community groups and new audiences.”
Nine club workshops were held around Wales and produced a great deal of thought-provoking ideas and examples, which will now be fed back to them in the next stage of the process. Further consultation is also taking place with other sporting and community-based groups and within educational settings involving current players and young people not currently part of a rugby club or team to gather their views on the club game.
Although volunteer recruitment and retention was a recurring theme at the workshops, there were many examples of clubs not only increasing their pool of off-field talent but harnessing the skill-sets of young people.
Some clubs are working together to provide playing opportunities at junior and youth level and by injecting new blood and ideas into the running of clubs, many spoke of a boost to numbers at senior level, with increased second teams one of the benefits cited.
The running of club facilities is sometimes seen as challenging, especially around the issue of capital asset transfer and clubs welcomed an offer of additional training for volunteers and club management.
Ystradgynlais secretary Alun Jenkins said, “We are very keen to modernise and adapt in whatever ways we can. Our coach, Vernon Cooper is now a trained groundsman, we have joined forces with Abercrave to form a youth team which is going well and we are in the process of updating our kitchen and clubhouse facilities in order to attract more community groups and host parties and meetings.
“We found that younger people, including former players didn’t want to commit to joining the club committee. However, they were more than happy to become volunteers and a group of two has now become a group of 15 volunteers who are on hand for whatever needs doing on matchday or during the week. We also have a 16 year old who’s put himself forward to be a committee member which is exactly the kind of young blood we need to sustain the club for many years to come.”
Cwmgwrach chair Jeremy Williams added, “Our clubhouse is vibrant with flower arranging, indoor crown green bowls and boxing clubs amongst those making use of it but there are always challenges and it’s very useful to talk to other clubs to learn from each other on various issues.
“We have seen an increase in senior playing numbers through making sure the club is a fun place to be which means we are now running a second team. We have brought young volunteers on board and many of our players are tradesmen and happy to help out. ”
Martyn Phillips added, “The best clubs just have the right people running them – ordinary people like you and I achieving extraordinary things – and we want to ensure they feel supported in their efforts to ensure rugby opportunities and facilities are attractive environments that suit the busy lifestyles of our current and future players, parents and volunteers.
“Optimistic clubs see the opportunity in every difficulty, are smart at building relationships and are adapting to make themselves inclusive on and off the pitch. What was clear from my visits to clubs was that one size doesn’t fit all. A club in a city centre needs a different plan to a rural club. The club of the future strategy sets out to provide those people and clubs with the tools to help them thrive based on their needs and local catchments.”
Geraint John added, “As a result of the consultation with clubs and other groups and individuals, we will now go back to clubs at District meetings with a summary of the consultation process so far and a chance to provide further input as we work towards a strategy which responds directly to the needs of our volunteers to enable clubs to thrive in the future on and off the field.”