Vikings share community vision...

Vikings share community vision... widnesvikings.co.uk
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4th July 2018

This month, Widnes Vikings’ official charity, The Vikings Sports Foundation, celebrates its third anniversary. This milestone coincides with the club and the Foundation announcing a number of important new partnerships and initiatives, including a new veterans programme with the Royal British Legion, the formation of learning disability and physical disability rugby league teams, and a special collaboration with Children In Need.

The Vikings Media Team caught up with Commercial and Community Director, Richard Munson, to discuss the impact made in the past three years and the aspirations for the seasons ahead…

Richard, how do you reflect upon the growth of the Vikings community programmes during your tenure at the club? 

The progress made since 2015 has been very positive and has been made possible thanks to a dedicated staff team, our partners, and of course the participants.  

We have developed beyond recognition – and now deliver over thirty diverse programmes that reflect the needs of our local community. We have a clear belief that the power of sport can change lives and the impact we are seeing from our programmes such as the Vikings Learning Centre and Game Changer, demonstrate that we are going some way to achieving that.

We’ve grown from one full time member of staff in 2015 to a team of eight, who are all funded through project specific grants or commissioned contracts that we have secured. We need to continue exploring new avenues for our work, seeking partnerships with likeminded organisations, and the release today of our new strategic direction is a commitment from us to continue to evolve.

Fundamentally though, a thriving community offer gives us a great platform to connect with both local people and local organisations who believe in the difference we can make.

What have been your highlights of the Vikings work in the community?

It’s hard to single out one individual success, as I see each day the difference the team are making. Being awarded ‘Foundation of the Year’ by the RFL in 2016 was certainly special, as it was a real shared success for the whole club and every stakeholder who backs us.

From a project perspective, ‘Game Changer’, which we deliver in association with the NHS Improving ME Vanguard, has seen us work intensively with 2200 children in 36 schools, transforming their health and fitness for the last two years. The evaluation of the programme by the Public Health Institute was very positive about our work and its impact.

The projects with Halton Clinical Commissioning Group and Halton’s Public Health teams are the backbone of our community approach and get stronger every season. Together, we focus on everything from tackling loneliness and isolation through to promoting workplace health.

Our partnership with the national social care charity Community Integrated Care has uniquely been recognised with top awards from both the worlds of sport and health. It is humbling see the impact that we have made together upon the lives of people with care and support needs.

Probably one area that our members might not be too familiar with is the work we do around education and employment in Halton. Working with partners, including Riverside College, the Rank Foundation, and Well North, over 130 people who are out of work, training and education, gain qualifications and fulfil their potential with the support of the Vikings Learning Centre. There are many examples of people having their lives transformed because of these courses.  

Finally, the Offload programme, which promotes mental resilience in men, has gained real momentum, with  over 400 people accessing the scheme so far. When you receive powerful feedback, like a participant saying that the sessions has prevented them from committing suicide, is incredibly powerful and shows that you are making a positive difference.

What is the role of the Vikings community department?

First and foremost, Widnes Vikings is a Rugby League club, so the work we do in the community doesn’t exist in isolation to what we do on the field – it supports it. The income that these programmes generate all helps to make us a stronger club. We’ve countless examples of businesses, like Rinnai and Anthony’s Travel, coming on board with Widnes Vikings because of our CSR credentials.

Fundamentally, our job is to make a difference to local people and to make people feel proud of our club. As the borough’s only professional sports team, the Vikings brand, players, stadium and heritage all provide a real draw to achieve this. The community programmes give people the chance to connect with our club, get to know our players, and ultimately supports us to be a more accessible club. We reach thousands of people every year, delivering consistently high-quality programmes.

Whether it’s having legends like George Nicholls help people living with dementia to connect with their treasured memories of the Chemics, or giving someone with a life-limiting illness a special experience with the Rinnai Dream Maker programme, everything we do is about making a difference and inspiring through Widnes Vikings.

Tell us a bit about your team…

Our eight-person staff team have all been recruited from our local community and have a huge passion for what we do.

James Owen joined us as an apprentice and it has been fantastic to see his personal growth whilst at the Vikings. His work in supporting 5000 children to play rugby league, through Sky Try and Partner School initiatives, has been exceptional.

Sean Mellor has been a vital link in enhancing our relationships with local community clubs, has grown participation in rugby league in local secondary schools, and engages hundreds of children in unforgettable matchday experiences. He’s also done an incredible job encouraging more than 400 men to participate in Offload.

Andy Sheridan made history this year, by helping the Vikings to form its first women’s team. The progress that the 25 members of that team have made has been phenomenal, and Andy deserves huge credit for his dedication to them.

Rebecca Chambers has led many of our health programmes, including ‘Game Changer’ and workplace health. She has overseen a really important growth year for Game Changer. Lydia Cash joined us in October last year to help us offer dance and creative arts programmes. She brings real enthusiasm to the role, and introduces the Vikings brand to children who might not necessarily engage in traditional Rugby League.

Our Vikings Learning Centre is led by Charlotte Jakeman and Liam Clark, who are both qualified teachers. In the last year alone, Charlotte has supported more than 100 adults to gain qualifications that offer them a brighter future. Liam Clark epitomises the values of this club and has been key to more than 200 young adults from challenging backgrounds finding qualifications and work experience. He’s done this whilst providing day to day oversight of many community projects.

The team has different, and complementary skills, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they are utterly dedicated to making a difference.

And then, of course, we have a wider group of people who support what we do. Our players are integral to all of our programmes and genuinely enjoy getting involved. We carefully plan the activities that they are involved in, to ensure that they fit around their training commitments and that we never ask too much of them. By engaging with our community projects, the players enjoy the inspiration of meeting the supporters who back them through thick and thin, and have the chance to give back to the people and groups who give so much to this club.

What do the coming three years look like?

Challenging but hugely exciting. Our strategic direction looks to build upon the work done to date and aims to reach new audiences through some innovative projects.

With austerity, securing funding for community programmes is increasingly challenging. That requires us to be creative, to look at where we can do better and to also enhance our existing offer.

One of our key focusses will be to promote equal opportunities for all. We’ve made big steps this year with the launch of our Women’s Team. I am very excited that we’ll be launching Physical Disability and Learning Disability Rugby League programmes this year, as well as the first ever team for men who have experienced mental health concerns.

The partnership with Rainbow Laces and Stonewall is the first of its kind in Rugby League. We are proud to be standing up for LGBT equality, sharing that message in local schools from September.

And of course, partnerships are key. Our programmes with the likes of Community Integrated Care and Riverside College have been renewed for another year, and have a much bigger scope. Alongside these long-established partnerships, we’re forming new ones too with the likes of Child Bereavement UK, Children in Need and the Royal British Legion.

How can businesses or individuals support what we do in the community?

There is an open invitation for our local public to be part of and get behind what we do. It has been special to see many businesses, especially ones with no association with rugby league, choose to partner with our club because of what we do in the community. Equally, we’ve been delighted to see so many members of the public, of all ages, get involved in our programmes and give them their support.

One way that businesses can choose to back what we do is by signing up to be a member of the Business Ambassador Network. This event, which brings together a host of local, regional and national businesses for regular networking events, is just £495 per year – with all money raised being invested in our charitable Foundation.

Above all, I’d like to give my thanks to everyone who backs our work in the community – in any way. Every single person who supports us helps us to make a difference to local our community.

Vikings share community vision... widnesvikings.co.uk