SONI and Ulster Rugby Launch ‘Real Rugby Heroes – Game Changers’

Fund Recognises Clubs Who Kept Community Engaged During Lockdown

SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) and Ulster Rugby are back with a bursary fund to reward rugby clubs who kept their community involved in rugby – despite the global pandemic.

The fund will reward the efforts of clubs and volunteers throughout Ulster who have embodied the spirit of community rugby by keeping their players and the community engaged throughout the pandemic, from championing health and wellbeing to keeping kids and families connected to the game off the pitch.

The bursary is an extension of the SONI Real Rugby Heroes initiative which has sought to reward volunteers for their invaluable contribution to the domestic game in Ulster for over five years.  Last year SONI repurposed the programme to offer over 20 bursaries to clubs that switched their focus to supporting the community around them during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Of the repurposed programme, Ballynahinch RFC and Coleraine RFC were awarded the maximum bursary of £1,000 each.  Both clubs took an active role in helping their communities throughout the pandemic. Coleraine RFC offered the free use of its car park for staff and patients at the neighbouring Causeway hospital as demand for parking increased, as well as being involved in a community response initiative. At Ballynahinch RFC, the team delivered food parcels, donated refreshments to emergency services and raised funds for mental health services.

This year, clubs will be encouraged to apply for the bursary at: www.ulsterrugby.com/realrugbyheroes and applications will be open for a four-week period, closing at 5pm on 14th April.

A total fund of £3,000 is available; tiered in three bursary levels of £1,000 each for the following categories:

Category 1– Real Rugby Heroes.  Game Changer – Community Club Award. 

Category 2 – Real Rugby Heroes.  Game Changer – Keeping the Kids Involved. 

Category 3 – Real Rugby Heroes.  Game Changer – Health and Wellbeing Award. 

Alan Campbell, Managing Director of SONI, said: “We’re proud of our relationship with Ulster Rugby, a partnership that has endured for more than five years, and are delighted to continue to support and work closely with them during these challenging times.  Throughout the pandemic, Ulster’s Rugby clubs have pivoted to become a vital community resource, helping to support vulnerable people, to bolster community spirit and ultimately, to show that Rugby is more than just a game. With this in mind, we have decided to provide this fund, in partnership with Ulster Rugby.”

The much-needed funds are intended to support clubs with the anticipated expenses of a post-pandemic return to activity.

Barry Willis, Rugby Operations Manager at Ulster Rugby said: “I have been hugely impressed by the efforts that our clubs and volunteers have made to repurpose resources to help their communities during the pandemic.  From delivering food parcels to raising funds for mental health services, they have all reacted incredibly quickly under pressure to support the most vulnerable members of our society. We would like to recognise their contributions under the most trying of circumstances and would encourage all of our clubs to apply for the ‘Real Rugby Heroes – Game Changers’ bursary programme.”

The deadline for applications is 5pm on 14th April, and clubs can apply by filling out the online application form at: www.ulsterrugby.com/realrugbyheroes.

SONI is responsible for the safe, secure, and reliable supply of electricity into the heart of communities across Northern Ireland. Currently, SONI is developing a greener energy system which will enable the grid to handle 95% of renewable energy at any one time.

For more information on SONI visit: www.soni.ltd.uk or follow on twitter: @soni_ltd and Facebook: @SONIElectricityNI

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