Northampton Saints stars have been rolling back the years, dusting off their old childhood memorabilia and reminiscing about their first grassroots amateur sports clubs in support of this year’s Aviva Community Fund.
Courtney Lawes, Alex Waller and Mike Haywood have shared memories of their earlier years, dug out some old jerseys, explained how they were introduced to their first clubs, revealed the bonds with their former teammates, and explained how grassroots clubs helped them to achieve their dreams of becoming professional rugby players.
The Aviva Community Fund, a nationwide initiative that lends a helping hand to grassroots sports clubs and community causes, has reopened for a second year to offer funding of between £1,000 and £25,000.
This year, Aviva, the proud title sponsor of Aviva Premiership Rugby, has introduced a ‘Sport in the Community’ category, which means the hundreds of thousands of grassroots sports clubs across the UK can apply or reapply for funding in a sport-specific category this time around. The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 11th October.
Lawes, who started playing at Northampton Old Scouts, said: “If you want good rugby players to come through, you have to invest money in grassroots rugby because that’s basically where everyone starts. That’s where you learn the game and get into the sport. I think it’s crucial to rugby in this country that our local teams, our grassroots teams, have got what they need to be able to bring through good players. And not just good players, any player that decides to go and pick up a rugby ball. I came through at Northampton Old Scouts. A guy called Chris Parr coached me, all the way through Colts and then he got the Saints guys to come down and take a look at me, so it went from there.”
Haywood’s first club was Colchester RFC and he said: “It think it’s massively important to invest in grassroots. The money invested is going to help people get out, get doing things. I wasn’t particularly well-off as a kid, but sport gave me the opportunity to go to my local club and get involved, meet new people, and do something I probably wouldn’t have done without investment in grass roots sport. My first club was Colchester Rugby Club. There was one coach, Tim Grimsey, he was a big factor to actually get me into rugby, at primary school, and he’s now at Saints too. At primary school I was a bit of a lively lad and he just said ‘I think it will be good for you to go down to the rugby club’ and the rest is history.”
Waller, who is a big advocate of grassroots clubs, said: “I didn’t come into rugby until I was 14 or 15, so I got into it through school, but then I got picked up by the Saints. I think investment in grassroots is massive. When I talk to mates, and people who have played, even five years ago clubs were pretty amateur. But now you look at some of the clubs and the money that has gone into them, they’re proper good set-ups and they have fantastic facilities. They work all the way from four or five year olds, right up to the Vets teams. It’s a massive family and it really helps to build that community spirit. Everyone starts to get to know each other on the circuit. You grow up playing with each other and, eventually, you’re in the Vets team together.”
Pete Markey, Brand & Marketing Communications Director at Aviva UK, said: “The Aviva Community Fund is the perfect way for Aviva to help communities come together and support the grassroots sports clubs and local causes that are central to a strong community. Last year, the Aviva Community Fund helped make a difference to hundreds of projects and causes the length and the breadth of the UK and we look forward to helping even more communities this year.”
To enter your club for a chance to secure funding, visit aviva.co.uk/community-fund or search for ‘Aviva Community Fund’.