As rugby clubs across Northern Ireland have come to the fore in their communities amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, SONI and Ulster Rugby have announced a new bursary fund to help them navigate their eventual return to play.
The bursary, which is an extension of the Real Rugby Heroes initiative that Ulster and SONI already run, has been set up to aid clubs who have been making a dedicated effort to help their community during lockdown.
While the Real Rugby Heroes programme, which rewards volunteers in the domestic game, has been temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus crisis, through the new bursary both Ulster and SONI have committed to helping clubs through a financially difficult time.
Clubs up and down the country have dedicated themselves to making a positive impact in their local areas and have united to help during the pandemic, delivering grocery boxes, visiting vulnerable people to offer assistance and even opening up clubhouses as testing centres.
Today a few of the clubs senior players donated some refreshments to staff at the Royal and City hospitals, this is a small token to thank them for all their dedication and hard work though these difficult times.Thank you ... pic.twitter.com/zjZDu9euQv— Malone RFC (@MaloneRFC) April 24, 2020
In total, £8,000 has been made available for clubs through the bursary, with tiered amounts of £250, £500 and £1,000 handed out to individual clubs based on their applications and what they are planning to do in the community.
With protocols needed to be implemented at each club in order to facilitate a safe return to activity post-pandemic, the bursary is intended to support clubs with managing those additional expenses.
"Rugby clubs across Ulster are a vital asset to the communities they operate in, and we have been overwhelmed by the individual efforts clubs have made to support vulnerable people during Covid-19," commented Jo Aston, managing director of SONI.
"As a result, and in partnership with Ulster Rugby, we have agreed to open this fund to help clubs prepare for a return to activity.”
Barry Willis, rugby operations manager at Ulster Rugby, added: "The impact of Covid-19 on our clubs cannot be underestimated, yet the efforts made by the clubs to re-purpose their resources and support their communities should not go unnoticed.
"We are incredibly proud of how the clubs have reacted, given the pressure they too are under."
The closing date for clubs to apply is June 25, after which grants from the bursary fund will be determined and allocated.