We had the pleasure of chatting to Stephen Ball, Honourary Secretary of Castleford RUFC, a UK sports club that really embraces inclusivity ...
Hi Stephen. Huge thanks for chatting to us. To begin, can you give us a potted history of Castleford RUFC?
The club has been around for many years, even before the formation of the Rugby Football League and the more famous Castleford RLFC (subsequently Castleford Tigers RLFC). The club moved to its present headquarters in Whitwood, Castleford, in the 1970s and developed the site from an old Miners’ Welfare Sports Ground to a facility comprising two full-size rugby pitches. Ten years ago, a junior section was reformed, with renewed impetus. The section began with one coach and six players. Amazingly, three of those original six players still play for the club in the senior teams, and the original coach has returned this year to help coach our U13 girls. We have needed to update and extend our clubhouse and changing facilities to accommodate the growth of the club.
And you’re open to men, women and juniors of all ages and abilities?
Yes. we field three senior men's teams, mixed rugby teams for U8s to U12s, boys’ U13, U14, U15, U16 and U17 teams, girls’ U13, U15 and U18 teams and we hope to set up a ladies' team. We endeavour to provide sporting opportunities for both sexes and all ages, irrespective of experience, ability or disability.
Tell us more about your boot camps …
We regularly run rugby camps for children (not just club members) during half terms and other school holidays. A feature of these camps is the ‘Commando Run’, which is an obstacle course involving tackle bags and other equipment. The 'Commando Run' has always gone down well and so, when we arranged our Disability Sports Day in June, we thought that it should include an assault course. We used bales of hay, tyres, a crawling net and other obstacles. The course was popular and so we also used it during the summer for fitness training and as something different for the girls' teams' training sessions. This then led to our idea of setting up a ladies' boot camp ... however our boot camps won't involve any shouting! The camps will be aimed at the wives and girlfriends of our players, and the parents of our junior players - but they will be open to non-members too and we hope that they will attract new people to the club. The camps will be launched on 8th October.
Your Disability Sports Day sounded great. Are we right in thinking that you also have dedicated sessions for people with disabilities and learning difficulties?
Yes we do. Every Thursday we host an inclusive rugby session for adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. We have been doing it for about ten months now. We took a team to the recent Leeds Disability Tag Rugby Festival at Headingley and they performed admirably, winning four of their matches, losing one and drawing the other.
As well as having dedicated sessions, we know you’re also big supporters of mixed ability rugby. Can you tell us more about this?
Many of the people who attend the Thursday sessions also attend our Friday evening Touch Rugby sessions (these are informal sessions where anyone of any age, ability / disability and gender can meet and form ad hoc teams). Some juniors who have cerebral palsy play in these sessions. We would like to form a mixed ability rugby team for adults. This would be a squad of players with learning difficulties or physical disabilities who would train with facilitators or players from our senior squad - or players returning to the game. This team could then take part in matches against other clubs. We have obtained some funding to help buy the necessary kit and to train the coaches. Our hope is that volunteers with learning difficulties will take an active part in the management of the team.
One of our current U9 players is visually-impaired and one of our U17 players is blind in one eye and so it would be great if they could play in mixed ability teams.
Can you tell us more about how your Disability Sports Day went?
It was our first ever Disability Sports Day and it was a great success! It was open to everyone, not just club members, and a number of external organisations also came along. Music was provided by a local community radio station (5townsfm). We had school sport games, tug of war, the assault course, the obligatory bouncy castle, rugby skills sessions and a Touch Rugby tournament. There were also various charity stalls. In total, we had over 150 people attend the event and we hope to have an even bigger and better one next year. We'll be starting the planning process soon!
Well done on recently being awarded a Duke of York Community Initiative Award. That must have been exciting?
It was great to learn that we had been given this award. The ceremony is in two weeks’ time and four members of the club will be having lunch with the Duke of York. It's nice for the club to receive a community award as we like to say that we're 'your local community club'.
It’s clear that you’re a club that really embraces inclusivity. What would you say to other sports club leaders who are reading this and are wanting to make their clubs more inclusive?
Do it! I have to admit that it was a bit daunting when I held the first inclusive rugby session, as I didn’t know what to expect. However I quickly realised how beneficial and rewarding a venture it was. From the wider perspective of the club, it provides a different, and more enlightened, membership and a renewed sense of identity and purpose. Most of all though, it is enjoyable for all.