Rugby for Life launches ambitious new campaign to energize Northland communities

Aimee Ruka (centre), Rugby for Life club coordinator for the Ōhaeawai Rugby Club, with junior players and key members of the local club whom she is ready to help. Photo / Provided

A Northland rugby charity has launched an ambitious new campaign to use the power of sport to improve health, wellbeing and jobs in the region.

Rugby for Life will run four or five major initiatives each year to strengthen communities and give young Northlanders a helping hand with personal, professional and sporting opportunities.

Local rugby clubs will also receive support to build their membership base, develop new sponsorships and other business platforms to strengthen their financial position and overall sustainability.

The initiatives, which could eventually be mirrored across the country, are grouped under four pillars: club sustainability, health and wellbeing, education and employment, and the rugby community.

Each year in August, a steering committee will identify the initiatives to be supported over the next 12 months.

In a game-changing move for New Zealand rugby, the charity’s fundraising efforts and partnerships have enabled it to launch a Club Coordinator scheme which places a dedicated Club Coordinator at partner rugby clubs of the region.

Coordinators help each club connect to personal, professional and sporting development programs which Rugby for Life can access through its network of volunteers and partners. Their role is to help match the club, individual club members and their whānau with any programs they may need to help support them better.

Club Coordinators will also help develop the game locally and build a healthy rugby community, provide administrative and logistical support to their clubs and help reduce the burden on club volunteers. The charity’s aim is ultimately to have a coordinator in each of Northland’s 42 active community rugby clubs.

The first eight club coordinators began their duties on June 1 at rugby clubs Kāeo, Kaihu, Ōkaihau, Ōhaeawai, Onerahi, Southern, Te Rarawa, Western Sharks and Whangaruru.

Riki Kinnaird, Trustee of Rugby for Life and member of the Northland Rugby Union Board, said Northland has 42 active rugby clubs with more than 2,000 adult players and tournaments attended by more than 5,000 children.

“They provide unparalleled reach in some of our most remote and difficult to engage communities…as we discovered during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, this is extremely valuable,” Kinnaird said.

During the Northlanders vaccination campaign, Rugby for Life partnered with Maori healthcare providers across the region and 60 clubs in many different sport codes to generate over 11,000 vaccinations.

Covid aside, the charity earlier this year used its access to digital marketing expertise to help Northland rugby clubs achieve the biggest single increase in new memberships to date.

According to Rugby for Life, this has made Northland the only region in New Zealand to show growth in the number of registered players this season, particularly in the youth programmes.

The charity has also worked with Queenstown Resort College (QRC) to promote opportunities for young Northlanders to train at the college’s Bay of Islands campus – highlighting potential pathways to study, live and work in the Northland.

“We see ourselves as the engine that will help get things done,” Kinnaird said.

“Clubs or communities will come to us with a problem or challenge and we will use our network of benefactors, experts and corporate contacts to design a solution.

“Fundamentally, we are a one-stop solution for clubs and communities who otherwise wouldn’t even know where to start to seek the help they need in a given situation.”

Rugby for Life will work closely with the Northland Rugby Union (NRU) to achieve its goals and the NRU has already appointed a community pathways officer within the union to bring it closer to clubs and communities.

As well as funding club coordinators, Rugby for Life’s support to clubs and their communities will be largely process and assistance focused rather than financial.

Similarly, Rugby for Life will become the point of reference for organizations wishing to access the tremendous community reach of Northland’s many remote rugby playing communities. This will create opportunities for rugby clubs that they would not have been able to access before.

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