Updated: Wednesday, 8th April 2020 @ 11:22pm

'Great partnership': Sale Sharks and AJ Bell welcome Wooden Spoon union

'Great partnership': Sale Sharks and AJ Bell welcome Wooden Spoon union

| By Ben Baker

Sale Sharks fans will be able to cheer on Wooden Spoon as well as their team at the AJ Bell Stadium after the Manchester club announced it had awarded naming rights for its North Stand to the children’s charity of rugby. 

The branding, which was officially unveiled at the stadium on January 28, will run through to September 2017 and aims to raise the profile of Wooden Spoon, which has raised more than £23m for disabled and disadvantaged children and young people since it was founded in 1983. 

Sale Sharks players Ciaran Parker and Andy Hughes were on hand to launch the new partnership, holding a training session for 20 youngsters from the Sale Sharks HITZ programme.

The scheme helps young adults not in education, employment or training and supports them to return to learning, boost their self-confidence and find work. The programme is one of 12 across the country at Aviva Premiership clubs partly funded by Wooden Spoon.

“Thanks to the generosity of AJ Bell, we’ve secured some branding inside the stadium which is brilliant because it means for all Sale home games, and also the rugby league games, Wooden Spoon is right up there,” said Wooden Spoon’s director of rugby and community investment, Jai Purewal.

“It’s very important for the children’s charity of rugby to have the branding here, and Wooden Spoon is very grateful to get such a high profile opportunity.

“You’ll be watching Danny Cipriani kicking the goals over and there will be Wooden Spoon in the background, it’s great.”

“We have a network of regional volunteers who raise funds in their local areas and we’re joined by our Manchester and Cheshire committee today. We are proud that the money raised locally is spent right here on local projects.

“Working in partnership, as part of a team with the likes of AJ Bell, who themselves are very well regarded and huge social citizens is great for us, we’re all about partnerships and support at the heart of communities.”

Wooden Spoon funds life-changing projects across the UK and Ireland, with 400-plus volunteers raising money across the UK and Ireland that is invested in local areas. 

Not just rugby-focused, the charity funds approximately 70 projects a year including respite and medical treatment centres, sensory rooms, specialist playgrounds and more helping more than one million children and young people over the past 33 years.

“To us it made a great deal of sense, you’ve got a charity that’s using rugby to improve the lives of kids and of course the AJ Bell Stadium is very much the home of Premiership Rugby in the North West,” said AJ Bell marketing director Billy Mackay.

“So it feels like a great partnership and something we are really looking forward to over the next two years.

“We are looking forward to using the staff that we have in these areas along with the initiatives we have running to help in any way that we can with Wooden Spoon.

“We came up with the idea to pass up naming rights to the stand way back two-and-a-half years ago when the company's chief executive, Andy Bell, and I sat in a room and were thinking of ways to use the stadium beyond the traditional route.

“For two years the Maggie’s Centres charity benefitted from the naming rights to the stand and now for the next two years Wooden Spoon has the opportunity and we’re looking forward to that.”

It wasn’t too long ago that Sale Sharks prop Ciaran Parker, 21, was dreaming of becoming a Premiership Rugby star while turning out for local club Manchester.

And he knows all too well how important it is having a charity like Wooden Spoon as a permanent fixture at the AJ Bell Stadium, especially after passing on his knowledge to the HITZ representatives.

Parker, who made his Sale Sharks debut in May, said: “It’s great to get involved and give something back because we were all there at the age of 13 or 14 and we were given the support to go and be a professional rugby player so it’s great to be able to help some of the kids who aren’t as fortunate as we were.

“I think rugby is so good at helping young people turn their lives around because of the team value and respect involved with the game and it’s great to have Wooden Spoon on board.

“You see footballers shouting and screaming at the ref but you don’t get that in rugby, it’s all about respect, you need to have respect.

“You have to be a really tight unit in rugby, on the physical side as well as the mental side and I think that team work aspect is something young people can take in to their lives.”

For more information about Wooden Spoon visit www.wswearerugby.org.uk