Sale Sharks are looking to take the next step and break into Aviva Premiership Rugby’s top six but the club’s head of community operations Jonny Acheson is adamant their grassroots work is already among the best in the country.
Acheson was present at the tenth All Party Parliamentary Rugby Union Group Premiership Rugby Community awards in Westminster last Wednesday as coaches, role models and volunteers all came together to recognise the unsung heroes of the game.
Sale’s community arm has gone from strength to strength over the past decade with the number of programmes being run growing each year.
Across the 12 Premiership Rugby clubs, more than 500 volunteers and 150 community development staff are working hard to encourage participation in the sport while also helping improve the lives of disadvantaged youngsters.
And with all the clubs striving towards the same goal, Acheson claims evenings such as the Premiership Rugby Community Awards can only be a good thing.
“These events are like a breath of fresh air – when you go to work, you can end up in your bubble but then you come here and get a whole load of new ideas,” he explained.
“That’s really enthusing for us. We’ve been doing it for a decade and it started off as just a small thing introducing rugby but now we’re doing all sorts of educational strands.
“And events like these are the reason for that growth when you see what everyone else is doing and look to create new innovative ways to help use rugby to benefit our communities.”
“We’re all exchanging ideas, talking about what has worked and what hasn’t and that’s how you get new ideas to grow programmes. That’s why working as the Premiership is so helpful.”
More than 90 community schemes are currently active across the Premiership at both a national and local level.
One of those is the award-winning HITZ programme, which tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people by using rugby and its core values.
Acheson is convinced rugby is the perfect tool to engage the disillusioned youth.
“We’re part of all the Premiership Rugby programmes including HITZ, which we’ve expanded from one location to include four locations,” he added.
“Then we’ve got a huge financial education programme which is supported by our main club sponsor MBNA which delivers financial education to key stage three students.
“We use rugby as an engagement tool – we give the kids financial rugby scenarios then when they’re interested we relate that back to their lives.
“We also do camps, rugby development activities and give as many children the opportunity to experience the matchday environment as possible.
“The core values of rugby are what makes it such a good engagement tool.
“It’s respect and teamwork – you very seldom see petulance on a rugby pitch, someone will get told what to do then agree with it and move on.
“That’s a core value you can give to children and you get a positive response from that.”