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From grassroots to glory: how National Lottery funding has played a key role in developing women's rugby throughout the UK

5th October 2022

The sorcerer and her apprentice have joined forces to cheer on the home nations at this month’s Women’s Rugby World Cup and celebrate the role National Lottery funding has played in developing women’s rugby from grassroots to elite in the UK.

Former Welsh women's rugby union player and now Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) Female Age Grade Lead, Liza Burgess, was previously a teacher in North London and spotted the untapped potential of then teenager Maggie Alphonsi, who went on to win the World Cup with England in 2014, and the rest as they say is history.

Before announcing her international retirement in 2014, Alphonsi represented her country an impressive 74 times, scored 28 tries, won a World Cup, and helped England win a record-breaking seven consecutive Six Nations crowns.

She grew up on a council estate in Lewisham in a single-parent family, meaning finances were tight and she was forced to work several jobs – that was until The National Lottery and Burgess’ support changed her life.

Burgess encouraged Alphonsi to head to Saracens to chase her dream of being a rugby player, otherwise one of the iconic British players of a generation could have been lost to the sport.

And with the Women’s Rugby World Cup about to kick off in New Zealand this week – Alphonsi and Burgess have opted to celebrate the extraordinary impact the £30 million a week raised by National Lottery players for good causes has had on the development of women’s rugby – from grassroots through to elite – over the years.

Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) Female Age Grade Lead, Liza Burgess

“Maggie is a phenomenal person, and role model – what she's achieved in her life,” said Burgess, who herself was a member of the 2018 World Rugby Hall of Fame class of inductees following a rugby career spanning three decades, including participating in the Wales Women's first-ever international in 1987.

“I had the privilege of teaching her for five years and just seeing her as a person and a young girl, maturing to develop into the wonderful role model that she now is and what she's achieved in sport is quite an incredible story.

“I'm involved in coaching, and I can see the incredible support that the National Lottery offers to athletes and communities, including the funding provided to the WRU to develop grassroots rugby.

“Let's not forget the local communities, the grassroots rugby sports teams, without the National Lottery funding, they wouldn't be able to access those facilities.

“You've only got to go around some of the great sports facilities and see that the National Lottery have funded and it's heart-warming to see.

“I know elite players that have benefited specifically from National Lottery funding. So, I see the great work that it does and what it enables, I can't speak highly of it.”

In the build-up to the Women’s Rugby Union World Cup in New Zealand, which gets underway on October 8th, The National Lottery is highlighting how its players have contributed more than £94.6 million to support over 3,200 grassroots rugby union projects in the UK since 1994, including vital support to hundreds of projects that develop women and girl’s rugby in each nation.

This includes funding to the national governing bodies of Rugby Union in England (RFU), Scotland (SRU) and Wales (WRU) to enhance the provision of rugby for women and girls, ensuring the game develops a pathway from grassroots to elite level and nurture talent for their national teams.

Maggie Alphonsi visits the Haringey Rhinos RFC

“The support it’s provided me has been significant, for me The National Lottery helped my career hugely,” said Alphonsi, who this week met with women and girls who play for National Lottery-supported Haringey Rhinos RFC in north London, to see for herself how National Lottery funding is having a positive impact on female participation at the club.

“I had National Lottery support, which basically helped provide for my expenses, medical support, my training and just being able to balance school life with being an athlete.

“It enabled me to be the athlete that I could be. If I think about my time as an athlete for England, I had to work several jobs, I didn’t have the finances, and having that National Lottery support meant I was able to get to training even.

“It enabled me to be able to afford kit, I didn’t have the money to do that. It enabled me to have the training boots, the shorts, the tops, to participate.

“When I thought about it as I got older, it gave me the opportunity to feel equal with other players who may have more money than me. So, it was very significant.”

In addition to the funding allocated to the national governing bodies of Rugby Union in England, Scotland, and Wales over the years to support the growth of grassroots women and girls' rugby, hundreds of rugby clubs throughout the UK have also been funded to help develop women’s teams and encourage female participation. This included providing emergency funds for many clubs during the pandemic to keep them afloat.

Some of the projects that have benefitted from National Lottery funding to grow participation of women and girl’s rugby in England include Sheffield Tigers, Esher Rugby, and Ivybridge Rugby Club. Some of them have even helped produce the current crop of England internationals.

Projects throughout Wales have also reaped the rewards from the funds including Tenby United RFC and their partnership with South Pembrokeshire Sharks Girls Rugby in southwest Wales; West Swansea Hawks; Ceirw Nant in Conwy and Wrexham’s Valkyries Rugby Cluster in North Wales; and Torfaen Arrows Rugby in Pontypool in southeast Wales.

Wrexham’s Valkyries Rugby Cluster in North Wales

Highlighting the importance of funding to develop grassroots rugby union for women and girls, Helen Rayfield, Chair of Haringey Rhinos in north London, said: “We wouldn’t be able to do half of what we do without The National Lottery funding.

“We don’t charge the kids any membership here, so we need to find the money to pay for things like, kit, transport for away games, boots for kids that can’t afford them, gumshield, and that money has got to come from somewhere.

“The National Lottery funding has also helped us ramp up our delivery in schools, so we’ve set rugby clubs in schools for girls which were all funded by the National Lottery.

“We got £10,000 from the Covid emergency fund, which was an absolute life saver, especially for a club like ours. Watching all our income disappear overnight was terrifying and The National Lottery Covid recovery fund meant that took a little bit of the pressure off.

“It was critical to have that funding, we probably wouldn’t have all the girls that we do [without the funding]. We now have 65 girls in one secondary school in Haringey, much of which has been funded by The National Lottery and the future of the club would have been much less secure without the emergency Covid fund.”

Haringey Rhinos

West Swansea Hawks received over one thousand pounds of National Lottery funding and Hub Leader, Keith Pritchard, was thrilled with the difference the cash injection has made.

“The funding helps in so many different ways,” said Pritchard. “We’ve wanted to make West Swansea Hawks a really attractive brand, in terms of facility, kit, training kit, in terms of tackle bags.

“I've been around rugby since the age of six and looking at what we have and the way we've set ourselves up in terms of equipment, it's comparable to Welsh Premiership sides.

“We've got an enormous amount of kit and resources available and that comes from the funding that we've had from the National Lottery along with some great sponsorship from local businesses.”

National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: