Fundraising success for an important community club

Rugby Blindside recently spoke with Martin Griffiths, Club President at Widnes RUFC. He told us about the club’s successful Crowdfunder campaign that has helped support the club financially and allowed them to make the necessary improvements to the club.

I took over as Widnes RUFC President in August. Having had to cancel all rugby activities and close our clubhouse during Lockdown 1, immediate Past President John Loughnane had launched a Crowdfunder appeal to ensure the club was able to survive without the normal income from rugby games and bar sales. What a tremendous success it was, with our target of £15,000 being overtaken in less than 2 months. This was thanks to our dedicated group of supporters, members and sponsors together with a welcome contribution from Sport England. A total of 159 supporters contributed to the appeal.

These pledges gave us the confidence to make investments in the clubhouse to ensure Covid compliance, allowing us to open the bar in early July. Larger projects we were able to embark upon included installation of a state-of-the-art air conditioning system in our Concert Suite, together with a general refurbishment. Sadly, the bar had to close again in October and has had to remain closed throughout Tier 3 and Lockdown 3 restrictions.

Our General Manager, Tracey Clay, has worked tirelessly to ensure we maintain a safe and friendly environment and we will be ready to re-open our bar and concert facilities once government rules and guidance make them viable.

Widnes Rugby Union Football Club (commonly known as The Wids) is the main community amateur sports club in an area of social deprivation. Founded in 1924 as Old Widnesians, the club moved into its own building and grounds in 1959.

The club has promoted Colts (youth) Rugby since 1960 and Mini-Juniors (under 7s upwards) successfully since 1991. With a strong emphasis on families, it is by no means unusual for fathers and sons to be playing in the same team.

The vast majority of the current 1st XV squad came through the juniors. That same team won three trophies last season and were on course for a similar haul in 2019-20. As it turned out, they have had to settle for the ADM Lancashire Premier League title as the other competitions had to be cancelled.

Entirely run by volunteers, the club is largely reliant on match-day revenue and social functions for finance. This came to an abrupt halt with the Covid-19 outbreak. The virus threat has had a devastating effect on plans and cashflow projection.

As an example, two home matches and four functions were scheduled in the nine days following lockdown. With seven weeks until the end of the season and the distinct possibility of the 1st XV reaching two cup finals, all had seemed rosy. The Annual Dinner and Captain’s Barbecue were likely to make good profits and, with the function room now a local events venue of choice, spring and summer promised to generate enough income to guarantee the long term sustainability of the club.

While still financially sound, the club has experienced an interruption in income that seriously jeopardises the projected pitch maintenance and clubhouse upgrades which had been scheduled for the coming months. In addition to the usual seeding, marking and painting, new posts are needed on one pitch and, ideally, netting to prevent balls landing on the adjacent Liverpool-Manchester railway line.

The club buildings need roof repairs in the gym/changing room area as well as improvements to heating and air conditioning. Any pledges received will be used to get this work back on track.

The club’s volunteers do the hard graft. Past President Graham McLean was named Lancashire RFU Groundsman of the Year in 2017 while fellow Past President Sam Cook, currently Club Treasurer, literally demonstrates his hands-on approach installing a new ceiling in the concert room.

Widnes RUFC plays an extremely significant role within the local community which is why the fundraising efforts are so important. Jane Rhodes, former Halton Borough Council Sports & Physical Activity Development Officer, said: “I have been working to support Widnes Rugby Union Club for the past 15 years and they have been proactive in the community supporting players, coaches, parents, volunteers and social members.

“The club has always worked along-side community partners to help deliver on the local priority areas for improvement. Skills development, health issues, social well- being and safer neighbourhoods are some issues that the club have helped to make a difference to in the Borough of Halton.”

Ged Flynn, Chief Executive at PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide) stated: “As a native of Widnes, I am very aware of the work of Widnes RUFC over the years. The club exists ostensibly to provide an opportunity for local players to enjoy rugby. However, it is clearly much more than this. In my professional role, I have witnessed first hand the benefits of the club and its work to the community and especially in terms of health promotion. The community which surrounds the buildings and its playing fields at Widnes RUFC comprises far greater an array of people than simply the players – and the club achieves much more than rugby and player support.”

Bill Beaumont, Chairman of World Rugby, added: “Rugby is about Community. Come here and you’re surrounded by volunteers. They don’t want anything out of it – just a legacy of the club going forward and improving.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Rugby Blindside magazine – Read the full issue here