AT a time when we could all do with some positivity, the work of Rotherham Rugby Club's community team in promoting healthy minds and bodies among the young and the not so young is a welcome good news story. DAVID BEDDOWS looks at how the Titans Community Foundation is spreading the message to all parts of the borough.
ROTHERHAM Rugby Club might have suffered relegation this season but it has been able to celebrate one success story.
The Titans Community Foundation, which uses the power of rugby and sport to promote the benefits of reading, learning and healthy living among the young and the not so young in every corner of Rotherham, is going from strength to strength.
From modest beginnings when the new TCF programme began two Christmases ago with a small team of four working in a small clutch of schools, its work and its reach have snowballed.
A few months later, Titans players involved in the programme have worked with more than 1,000 children on skills and fitness activities.
The progress made and the generous donations from companies has allowed TCF trustee Lindsay Jones and her team to lay down expansion plans.
At the start of the season just gone, four players were contracted to provide some hours for the Foundation through their deals and other players volunteered to work for an hourly rate as needed.
Lindsay explained: “Offers were made during the summer term to every primary school in Rotherham; that's more than 80 schools.
“Since September we have worked in almost half the primary schools in Rotherham on rugby skills, as reading buddies, as mentors and as part of Healthy Lifestyle programmes.
“We also developed a rugby academy approach at Thomas Rotherham College, supporting the boys in their Sport Studies, coaching them for matches midweek and encouraging them to make the step up into adult rugby.”
At a time when the Titans have just been relegated into the fourth tier of English rugby for the first time since 1996, the club which 20 years ago graced the Premiership needs the support and loyalty of the Rotherham public more than ever.
The Foundation performs an important role in getting the Titans' name out there and in front of potential supporters, no matter what their time of life.
For older people, its walking rugby sessions on Fridays at Rotherham Leisure Complex have delivered a shot in the arm to participants in terms of getting active and forging new friendships and helping some recover from heart problems.
Back in schools, the TCF has got kids out in the fresh air playing tag rugby.
The players taking part are light on their feet too.
On Restart a Heart Day, they visited around 20 schools teaching CPR to children and in October alone they clocked up 170 hours of coaching and mentoring to more than 400 kids.
Given those stats, it is not surprising that Lindsay has a lot of pride in the way the first team players involved have thrown themselves into their grassroots work.
As an example she points to a careers event at Dearne Valley College when they stood up in front of older kids and teenagers to talk about their own career paths in sport and did a session on resilience, especially linked to mental health issues.
“The lads were open, honest and articulate, and dealt with some challenging individuals as well throughout the day,” said Lindsay.
“None of them had ever done anything like that before and I was proud of the way they rose to the occasion.”
Since the turn of the year the TCF steamroller has ploughed on, putting on half-term rugby camps at Clifton Lane and more walking rugby workouts at Maltby Leisure Centre.
Every school worked at is asked to provide mascots for home games, often giving kids with special educational needs or family problems a real boost.
“Everyone who has attended so far has loved their day and we will expand it for next season,” says Lindsay.
Given all the plusses, it is a shame the Titans Community Foundation’s momentum and fine work has been halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Once life is back to normal, the work will continue.
“We have worked in half of the primary schools in Rotherham. The aim now is to do the other half as well,” added Lindsay.
“When this crisis is over the Foundation will be still out there, doing good things and building bridges with the community.
“It is fantastic and fulfilling work.”
Grassroots work can set players on a new path
THE work of the Titans Community Foundation is a win-win because it widens the horizons and opens up new opportunities for the rugby players delivering the work.
Some are gaining experience and knowledge to teach sport in schools and others to coach rugby.
And another, Alife North, has got a special mention from TCF trustee Lindsay Jones.
She explained: “Alife arrived with us at 19 with virtually no qualifications and he is now going to be qualified to teach in schools.”
Not only that, since the start of the coronavirus crisis several of the TCF players have been taken on by a local teaching agency to provide support in schools where children of Key Workers are being looked after and supported. They are also helping older members of the community who are in lockdown with their shopping and other needs.”
Lindsay added: “Our planning for the 2020/21 season is underway and we hope to retain some of the team of 11 players we have used this season as they have all shown excellent skills, a fantastic attitude and been wonderful role models for the children.
“When recruiting new players for the squad we will also showcase the work we do, the qualifications available and the benefits for players for their life outside rugby.”