THE Welsh Rugby Union has made a major commitment to supporting its 300+ clubs around Wales.

A key part of the Union’s strategic direction going forward is to invest in the people and places that promote and nurture the national game of Wales – from playing the game to supporting volunteering and creating vital partnerships.

The first part of this commitment is the creation of additional roles within the club development team who will work side-by-side with clubs to make a real difference in areas such as accessing grants and external funding streams but also supporting and upskilling volunteers and helping clubs to draw up an individual plan that works for them.

In addition to Head of Club Development Chris Munro and Club Development Manager John Howells, a second club development manager, Leigh Williams has been appointed along with four club developers who will each work closely with a dedicated group of clubs, based on WRU District boundaries.

The team will help clubs to find the best development model for their particular circumstances, taking all factors into account including the potential to improve facilities and services for both clubs and their local communities, support club volunteers to attract business and commercial opportunities and access wider support networks.

Chris Munro said, “We are very excited to be able to put this team of people together who are determined to make a real difference to clubs around Wales – and importantly, to support the people at those clubs who, given the right support at all levels, transform them into thriving and sustainable hubs of their communities. That is our aim and that is what the WRU Community Board have given us the responsibility to do. Change won’t happen overnight, but we are confident that in this team, we have the expertise and experience to make significant change through accessing funding streams and commercial opportunities, providing education, training and pro-active support on any number of issues.”

WRU Community Director Geraint John said: “Rugby clubs have been at the heart of Welsh communities for 130 years. They represent the best of Wales and its people and form the foundations of our rich, sporting heritage. The experience of the past 18 months has highlighted the unique togetherness and strength of our clubs and the vital role they play within our communities – not only in nurturing rugby players, coaches and referees but in welcoming all sectors of society and supporting the health and well-being of the nation.

“We want to celebrate our clubs and the people that make them special and make a real difference in helping them to embrace the future of our game. Our club development team will be key to that and we are thrilled with the calibre of individuals in the team who have, between them a wealth of experience, not only across many levels of our game but across other sports and sectors.”

Meet the new members of the club development team:

Club development manager: Leigh Williams. Leigh has 14 years’ experience within the sport development sector and joins from Street Games, an organisation with close working links with Welsh rugby that uniquely engages with young people, impacting change through sport. He has vast experience of managing funding programmes, most recently implementing the Family Engagement Project funded through the collaborative Healthy and Active Fund (HAF) awarded through Public Health Wales (PHW) Sport Wales (SW) and Welsh Government (WG).

Club developers:

South East (District A) – Nigel Way. Nigel will be well-known to District A clubs having spent 10 years as a coach development officer after stints with WRU/ Merthyr CCBC as a rugby officer and WRU / Dragons Rugby Trust as an Inclusion Officer. Nigel previously played and coached for clubs around Gwent. He is passionate about supporting clubs off the field after spending time on club visits as part of the return to club rugby following the lockdown periods.

South & Mid (Districts B & C) – Lauren Holloway. Lauren has made a real difference to community rugby in her community for a number of years both as a volunteer at her club St Albans, coaching and playing a pivotal part in the huge growth of their junior section – and helping the club off the field to access vital external funding to make the club more sustainable. She has been a hub officer for three years, first at Cardiff West High School and more recently at Cardiff and Vale College, in particular growing the female rugby opportunities.

South & West (Districts D, E & F) – Gayle Penn. Gayle has 20 years’ experience of the sports development sector, joining the Welsh Rugby Union from Canoe Wales where she led on the strategy and implementation of national programmes to increase lifelong participation in paddle sports through club support in areas including governance, safeguarding, volunteering, business development and inclusion.

North & West (Districts G, H & J) – Allan James. Allan has been a rugby officer in North East Wales since graduating from Coleg Llandrillo with a degree in Sports Coaching and Exercise ten years ago.

He has developed strong relationships with the clubs in the region having worked on all areas of the club game over a decade. He gained particularly valuable club development experience working very closely with Rhyl RFC on their ground-breaking move and clubhouse project in recent years, and has enjoyed working on some national club development projects recently as part of the Pathway to Participation workstreams.