‘We may lose a whole generation of players’ – Richmond Rugby continues to build community links

By Kieran Graves
August 18 2020, 19.00

Richmond Rugby is nearing the £30,000 target on its #OneClub crowdfunder and building on community engagement as the team prepares for promotion back into the Championship.

Richmond’s campaign has received £10,000 match funding from Sport England’s Active Together fund to help non-profit organisations active in their community. 

National Clubs Association chairman John Inverdale said: “The longer we go before things restart, the bigger the impact is going to be on employment on and off the field.

“The big concern is there’s an element of out of sight, out of mind. 

“If there’s no games taking place and no profile for the sport, for very obvious and valid reasons, people will find other things to do.”

Richmond Rugby chairman John Heaton said with no return date set for Championship or junior games he and the team’s youth coaches share this worry.

He said: “If we’re not allowed to play rugby, we may lose a whole generation of players because they’ll go and do something else.”

The #OneClub philosophy

The #OneClub campaign is intended to cover a shortfall in revenue and be spent on regular expenditures include medical costs, youth coaching, and the maintenance of facilities and pitches.

It’s also earmarked for the implementation of Covid-secure measures ahead of fans returning.

The #OneClub campaign follows the untimely conclusion of Richmond’s primary sponsorship contract with Gallagher last season and AFEX the season before. 

It also comes amid uncertainty surrounding next season’s RFU funding.

“We don’t know what [funds] will be until the RFU know – if it hasn’t got any money, it can’t afford to give us any,” Mr Heaton said.

“Richmond is an expensive operation. Unfortunately, when Covid hit everyone started tightening their belts. 

“I don’t think it’s likely the sponsorship market will return for at least twelve months.”

In addition to the club’s loss in matchday revenue, Richmond missed out on up to £150,000 hosting a number of summer sevens fixtures and social events and is set to lose London Scottish as a tenant at the end of the year.

Mr Heaton added it’s unfeasible to play Championship games before crowds return to stadiums.

He said: “It’s not a case of getting a fixture and you’re fine, because each fixture is worth around £10,000.

“The Premiership can get by on TV deals – we have no TV deals.”

An amateur club in a professional league

Promotion to the Championship in 2016 meant Richmond was the only part-time amateur club in a professional league.

Seven of the Championship’s 12 2019/20 sides have now switched to a part-time model.

Richmond director of rugby Steve Hill said the club needs to take advantage of the team’s familiarity with this model while others adapt.

This increase in part-time contracts compounds the participation crisis the sport’s lower tiers are wary of.

Mr Hill said: “Without doubt, the club is excited to be in the Championship this year because there are at least two opportunities to play teams like Saracens.”

He added that continuity in the squad and coaches mean Richmond approach next season with valuable Championship rugby experience.

Community donations
IN THE COMMUNITY: The club has run food collections and other projects during the pandemic

Richmond is soon looking to resume regular community work including school coaching, youth bursaries, and a rugby program at Feltham Young Offenders Institute.

During lockdown, the club’s community department partnered on projects with MCC Foundation and AFC Wimbledon to provide collections of food outside Twickenham’s Tesco Extra along with donations of second-hand tech and clothes.

“Without question, we’ve become closer to the community,” Richmond head of community Dom Palacio said.

“What the lockdown has done is let us connect with people outside the sport.”

Richmond currently runs a summer meals initiative with funding from the London Community Support Fund after identifying families at risk through partner schools and charity Riverside.

The initiative delivers between 45 and 50 meals per day in the south west London area. 

This includes 15 meals to the Ivybridge estate community centre and 15 to a youth centre in Ham.

Mr Palacio added: “I’ve just had an email from one of the kids on a bursary with us who’s been getting a cooked meal every day – he shared massive amounts of gratitude.”

The club is now considering funding to open a youth safe space at Richmond Athletic Ground on weekday evenings to combat the area’s lack of youth clubs.

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Feature photo credit: Dante Kim Photography

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