Twenty Ulster rugby clubs will benefit from the Real Rugby Heroes of Covid-19 bursary fund to assist with finances for returning to play during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bursary, organised by Ulster Rugby sponsors SONI, awarded a combined £8,000 to the 20 clubs based on the how much they have contributed to their community effort during lockdown, with individuals nominating their clubs for the bursary.
Ballynahinch and Coleraine Rugby Clubs are the two to benefit the most having received £1,000 each after qualifying in the top tier.
At Hinch, the team have been delivering food parcels, donating refreshments to emergency services and fund-raising for mental health services, while Coleraine offered the free use of its car park for staff and patients at the neighbouring Causeway hospital as demand for parking increases, as well as being involved in a community response initiative.
Other clubs have also received financial aid from the bursary, with six clubs receiving £500 and the remaining 12 clubs each getting £250 which will go towards helping them set up a safe environment for their players to return to play during the new season.
The Real Rugby Heroes of Covid-19, is an extension of the Real Rugby Heroes programme which was put on hold as Covid-19 took its toll on the game. SONI, in partnership with Ulster Rugby, agreed to repurpose budgets to support community rugby clubs as they navigate a return to the game. The original Real Rugby Heroes format will recommence later this summer.
Jo Aston, managing director of SONI, said: "We are proud to be able to support community rugby clubs throughout Ulster as they seek a return to activity.
"I personally have been overwhelmed by the individual efforts each nominated club made to support vulnerable people during Covid-19. These are extraordinary times and we recognise more than ever that rugby clubs are a vital asset to the communities they operate within."
Barry Willis, rugby operations manager at Ulster Rugby, added: "We are incredibly proud of how the clubs have reacted, and would like to congratulate each and every club who have been awarded a bursary.
"It is often said that communities pull together when times are tough and in rugby circles the Real Rugby Heroes of Covid-19 has very much proved that point."
Tier 1 - £1,000: Ballynahinch, Coleraine
Tier 2 - £500: Lisburn, Lurgan, Randalstown, City of Derry, Malone, Dungannon
Tier 3 - £250: Larne, Banbridge, Grosvenor, Clogher Valley, Ards, Bangor, Portadown, Belfast High School Former Pupils, Limavady, Donegal Town, CIYMS, Omagh Accies