A visit to Central Park at the end of 2015 to interview Steve McCormack introduced me to the Wigan Warriors Community Foundation. I wanted to know more about the good work being carried out and a trip up to the NorthWest to watch 2 of the World Club Challenge games gave me an ideal opportunity.
A fairly decent journey was slightly interrupted by the fact that I couldn’t get my steering lock off when I made a quick stop. It is sometimes useful to be a pathetic female – I managed to ask a passing couple if they could help – and of course the male half of the duo simply sat on my seat and sorted it in seconds! Not too embarrassing honest!
The only hold up on the journey was actually in Wigan, which was a bit crazy after a 4 hour drive, but I’m glad to say I was only a few minutes late. I was met by Cameron Don-Duncan from the Foundation, we made our way to the meeting room and were joined by Martin McLoughlin, Steve McCormack and Mike Weardon.
I confess this was my first time talking to 4 people – to a degree it felt like I was being interviewed! But, all 4 men are passionate about not only Wigan Warriors, but also the Foundation, so it was an easy conversation.
It seems appropriate to include the Mission Statement – it gives a quick idea of what is being achieved and what will be achieved in the future.
Wigan Warriors Community Foundations Mission is to;
To empower, engage and raise the aspirations of young people and adults through Education & Sport
Our seven points for success:
1. To promote community participation in healthy recreation by providing facilities and activities for the participation of Rugby League and other sports capable of improving health.
2. Promote the sport of Rugby League across the borough and reach out to as many members of the Community as possible
3. Develop partnerships to advance the education of children, young people and adults using Rugby and Sport as a hook.
4. Using Rugby and other sport to provide a wide range of healthy recreational activities for the local community.
5. To promote the clubs History and Heritage to inspire progression & development.
6. To actively promote a culture of equality and diversity throughout all programmes and activities.
7. To support local charities as a key priority across all areas that Wigan Warriors Community Foundation delivers.
The points above outline the aims of the Foundation – It’s registered as an official charity and has been running for 6 years. Martin McLoughlin has been involved for the last 18 months. He attended St John Fisher School – a school that’s produced a fair few Wigan players. He himself signed as a junior player, he later played at Widnes suffering a shoulder injury, he ended up having 2 shoulder reconstructions.
In common with Steve his future was to keep him involved in the game he loves.
He worked for Wigan Council before becoming Head of Development at the Foundation, his various roles encompass being Head Coach of the College team, Assistant Coach of the Under 19’s and Foundation Manager.
While we were talking Steve explained that there had been 500 children taking part in rugby sessions over the half term break. People had travelled from all over, from as far away as Birmingham and over from Yorkshire. Girls were there in numbers too. There had also been 2 Development Camps running over 2 days each. Those sessions were open and free to U11’s – U14’s.
We discussed what a standard working week looked like for the rugby coaches – they spend their days in local schools working from KS1 with Movement Literacy sessions, to KS2 with the Sky Try programme, then into Secondary School.
The Secondary schools are split into 3 groups taking in Elite groups, non traditional rugby league schools and working on camp based touch and tag rugby.
Within the community The Foundation are part of the – Off The Streets Programme – this gives a safe place for young people to come to on Friday evenings. They offer a number of games and encourage the 17 -18 year olds to volunteer as Sports Leaders and to provide an example to the younger teenagers in their community.
They also run a Trim Down/Shape Up programme for 35+ and offer Walking Rugby, with a tag of – Drop a Shirt Size – if that is achieved on top of the health benefits the lucky people are given a Wigan Warriors shirt. In addition the Foundation runs a women’s basketball team as well as wheelchair basketball.
On top of the good work being carried out the Foundation are launching a new and exciting project – I’m A Green Warrior – in partnership with the club and Maloney Associates they are aiming to promote the development of a greener community and a sustainable future in Wigan.
The aim is to engage hundreds of schools, colleges and businesses along with thousands of individuals to take part in the renewable energy agenda. Speaking when the project was launched Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan said –
“The Warriors Foundation is one of, if not the best, Community Foundations in the country and the “I’m A Green Warrior” campaign is another example of the brilliant work they do”
A Hub is going to be set up within Central Park where schools will come for sessions to learn about the future of energy. The aim is for the whole site to become a sustainable one.
This feels like a unique and unusual project being undertaken, it reinforces the place the Foundation has in the heart of the community.
We spoke about the place the Foundation has in the lives of some of the Youth players – at this time 4 of the U19 players are working with the organisation. Sam Tomkins did the same in his day. A standard route for young players is to attend college between 16 and 18 – then taking a gap year to concentrate on their game – making a decision about their future at 19 after the U19’s season has been completed.
The Wigan Warriors Sports College is based at Central Park offering sports qualifications at Level 1 , 2 and 3. The college recently received a Grade 1 when inspected.
We spoke briefly about the Embed The Pathway Programmes – Wigan are at the forefront of a scheme looking to upskill community and school coaches. More about that later as my next meeting that day was with Tony Fretwell of the RFL.
Cameron gave me a tour around what is a very impressive facility in the heart of the Wigan community before I left, as well as the college, training facilities, playing fields and offices there is a cafe, a low cost gym, a beauty training facility and a large hall with catering facilities.
It’s very clear that Wigan Warriors and its Foundation are very key to their community, the 4 men I met and talked to spoke with care and passion. The people of Wigan know their rugby league club is at the heart of their community – I feel privileged to have been able to learn more about the good work going on.