“We want to run programmes that will leave a lasting legacy in our communities,” says Claire Taylor of Wigan Warriors Community Foundation. “To develop new and creative ways for health and lifestyle improvements for children, young people and adults.”
The foundation was set up in 2009 to address needs of the local community by using “the power of sport and rugby league to make a difference to people’s lives.” In those years since, the foundation has undertaken a vast number of community projects, programmes, school deliveries, camps, classes, courses and education outreach.
The range of activities offered reflects the breadth of the local community, from dementia friendly groups to wheelchair rugby to men’s mental health programmes. However, there’s a particularly strong focus on children and young people, such as the annual school holiday rugby camps for children 4-16 that sees 2,000 children take part each year; Inspiring Futures engages young people between 11-14 who “have been identified as being vulnerable and likely to engage in risky behaviours, anti-social behaviour and/or crime in an innovative intervention programme”; the Doorstep Empowerment Plus project aims to provide “a vibrant and varied sporting offer to young people in disadvantaged communities 14-25” and their Warriors Unite initiative sees the players and coaches getting out into the community.
“We created Unite during lockdown,” Claire says. “It was a full online timetable of all the programmes that we normally deliver. So we would have up to 400 children at a time engaging online with a rugby development programme, we would be delivering online PE lessons and having 200 kids taking part in a yoga class.” It’s now entering phase two, which means more active engagement with kids. “Every Friday afternoon, the whole squad goes out into the community,” says Taylor. “We’ll go to two primary schools, a high school, and also do one of our community projects. We’re working our way across the whole borough.”
Having open access to such high profile sports players in the community has been empowering, says Taylor. “It’s fantastic that they feel accessible,” she says. “Kids love it and they think it’s special but it also means that there’s not a big gap. They don’t feel like they’re standing in ceremony with the Wigan Warriors. They can see these people as role models but, crucially, that it’s not just about them playing rugby or being sports stars. They see them actually being involved in the community and helping.”
The benefits of encouraging sport, fitness, health and lifestyle in the community in such a proactive and inclusive way has seen countless positive breakthroughs. One young player who began playing for one of the disability teams gained such a sense of confidence and independence that he decided to start living on his own in assisted living for the first time ever. “It was such a big step for him,” Claire says.
“Another example is our garden project, in which we collaborate with a CIC called Green Crew. They work with people with chronic mental health conditions or learning disabilities and one of the members of that team was a big fan of rugby but had never played. We encouraged him to come along to one of our sessions, which he did, and he ended up joining the team. He loved it because Wigan was his team, he was a massive fan and then he’s in the shirt playing real games. From there, and the connections he made, he got a job. So just from volunteering with Green Crew and doing garden maintenance he has gone on to be employed and is playing rugby for a team that he loves and has a whole new network of friends and teammates.”
With an increased focus on teams for women and girls, as well as more physical and learning disability teams, the foundation is intent on making sure everyone in the entire community can be included. “There’s a really broad offer for the community,” Claire says. “I hope that we deliver something for everybody.”