Saracens star Josh Ibuanokpe won an award last week for his chicken wing business’ continued partnership with Southwark Foodbank.
Ibuanokpe, 25, received the year’s first Vodafone Gain Line Award (GLA), which celebrates players’ off-field personal development, after the success of the prop’s business venture, Wing Ting.
In the first lockdown Wing Ting raised £800 for Southwark Foodbank and since Ibuanokpe has continued to support the organisation, most recently donating a healthy portion of his GLA prize money.
Ibuanokpe said: “It started off very small. I was just squeezing ten friends in my flat to have wings.
“But in the first lockdown my girlfriend told me what the foodbanks were like where she’s from in Manchester which made me think to do a takeaway and ask people for donations – it raised a bunch of money.
“As it became more official, I was advised to do an event which went really well. Then I did second which was unbelievable – triple the number of people turned up and we ran out of food!
“I was sous-chef but was instructing the head chef how I wanted the wings which is quite funny–I didn’t know what I was doing! I didn’t even know how to read the tickets with timings!”
More successful events followed at The Goode Kitchen in Harpenden, but the Peckham native has yet to see a profit from Wing Tings, having reinvested or donated all the venture’s earnings so far.
Though Ibuanokpe plans to commercialise the business, he states he will continue to give a portion of its revenues.
Ibuanokpe said: “My real aim was to always give back to the foodbank. They know I have always got a place in my heart for them – it’s home.
“I had a privileged upbringing, going to Dulwich College, but a lot of the people I grew up alongside before then weren’t so lucky. I always saw a gulf in opportunity.
“I’m not going to be able to lead a campaign in the same way as Marcus Rashford but I try and do the little bit that I can.”
Balancing rugby with additional ventures is not new to Ibuanokpe – his mum has always encouraged him to follow endeavours beyond rugby.
Indeed, the tighthead took on a Physics degree at Bristol University whilst a senior academy player at Harlequins and is currently enrolled on a Maths masters at the Open University.
Ibuanokpe said: “My mum is a big dreamer for me – she drives me on and really believes I can achieve anything.
“Culturally for us as Nigerians, education is the most important thing. I remember in my second year during exams I was really struggling, and my results reflected that.
“I called my parents and told them I might just concentrate on rugby. They laughed!
“Maro Itoje told me a story where he said a similar thing to his parents – his dad didn’t sleep for three days because he was so distressed!”
In 2019 Ibuanokpe left Quins for Saracens, who begin life in the Championship on 6 March.
Ibuanokpe said: “Saracens is a good place in allowing people to have aspirations outside of rugby – that’s what has always set them apart from other clubs.
“But I’m also focused on rugby. The Championship is a serious league and we’re definitely not taking it lightly at all. It’s an opportunity to showcase myself and make some impressions.”
Featured image credit: Mathew Impey / Wired Photos Sports Photography