While England and the other home nations suffered the Rugby World Cup blues this year, young players at Cheltenham North Rugby Football Club are celebrating after gaining a pitch of their own for the very first time.
Grundon Waste Management, whose Bishop’s Cleeve integrated waste management operations are next to the club’s home ground, has invested the equivalent of £100,000 to convert a currently unwanted piece of land into a full-size playing area and donated it at a peppercorn rent for the next 25 years. It is also providing an ongoing sponsorship package for the team.
Until this season, the junior side had to share a pitch with the senior team, severely curtailing training opportunities and limiting the number of games they could play on Sundays.
A delighted Paul Balmer, club chairman, said: “It’s always been our goal to encourage more juniors to play rugby, but with only one pitch the ground was getting very worn and we had to split it in half so both our junior teams could play. The addition of another age category this season meant we needed another whole pitch.
“Now, thanks to Grundon’s investment, it’s fantastic to have somewhere for the junior team to call their own. It means we can play many more games at home and we can hold more coaching and training sessions.
“In addition, we’ve already organised a knockout tournament for U12s, U13s and U14s from local schools, which we couldn’t have done without the second pitch, and we hope to hold another event in the spring for local primary schools.”
Around 60 children, mostly from Bishop’s Cleeve, Winchcombe and Cheltenham, attend training sessions at the club every week and Paul says the focus is very much on being a community club with great parental support, low membership fees and cost-price kit.
“The early teenage years are a great time to play rugby and the kids love it,” he added. “It can be hard to attract over 18s into rugby, so having the junior section helps to build stars of the future and it’s also a great opportunity for them to build friendships.
“Our senior team are great supporters of the juniors, they often come along to watch on a Sunday and several of them have trained as coaches and referees so they can help out.
“They know that some of the juniors go on to become good senior players, and if the new pitch and additional training opportunities help us to identify some first team players of the future, then that would be great.”
Unlike the senior team, who started the 2015 season unbeaten in their first three games in the Midlands 3 (West) South league, junior league fixtures are all friendly games within the county.
Andrew Short, Estates Director at Grundon, said: “We always pride ourselves on being good neighbours within the local communities around our sites and, when the rugby club first approached us with the idea of creating a second pitch, we were very happy to support their plans.
“Having the expertise and equipment available at our Bishop’s Cleeve operation meant we were able to level off the land, which sloped quite considerably, and restore and develop the ground to bring it up to the necessary standard for rugby to be played.
“It’s incredibly exciting to see the project come to fruition and we are delighted to hear that the junior teams have already made such an impact in the local junior rugby community. We wish them luck for the rest of the season and hope that in years to come, there might just be the talent we need to help bring the World Cup back home to England.”
Having the 25-year lease has enabled the club to unlock a potential contribution from the Rugby Football Union towards new junior changing room facilities, and Paul says they are now working hard towards the next target of raising a further £200,000 needed for the building work to be completed by 2017.