Dual-code legend Jason Robinson returned to his first rugby club to witness how National Lottery players support is revitalising the grassroots game with just under 150 days until the Rugby League World Cup 2021.
Robinson virtually won it all with Wigan Warriors in the 1990s and represented England and Great Britain before converting to rugby union and scoring a try in the final to help England win the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
But it was at The Hunslet Club in Leeds where the former winger first picked up the oval ball some 40 years ago and on Wednesday, he stopped by to see how the £19,940 National Lottery funding through the RLWC2021 CreatedBy Grants Programme is making a real difference to the local kids.
The 47-year-old said: “That money will go towards upgrading the facilities at the club which is absolutely fantastic. As somebody who has been to the club for so many years, I know just how vital those funds are for the kids, adults and everybody who uses this facility.
“One aim is to try and get more girls and women into rugby league. The women’s game has been saved by the National Lottery funding because during the pandemic it got stopped and it was the funding that helped it restart.
“Participation has increased and it has been really well received but we want to get more young people in and it’s important that they have the right facilities.
“We don’t want them coming into changing rooms that aren’t fit for purpose, so the funding is vital for upgrading those facilities to create a good environment to be in.
“It is a deprived area where we are, it caters for everybody in the community and without that funding I’m not sure what would happen as clubs like this wouldn’t be able to continue.”
The Hunslet Club has 12 rugby teams, a membership of 3,300 and plays a critical role in the local community by running a diverse range of programmes and activities.
However, CEO Dennis Robbins admits the financial support provided is desperately needed to modernise facilities that have largely remained untouched since a young Robinson first side-stepped his way around the pitch.
Robbins said: “We are going to update the shower rooms and the changing rooms which have probably sat as they are for the last 40 years.
“The pandemic was a difficult time for everybody as we were getting no income in, so that sort of support is vital.
“We’ve already seen an increase in participation since lockdown and I think that’s down to young people being isolated in their bedrooms and not being around other people as they are coming back in their droves.”
Robbins hopes a home Rugby League World Cup on their doorstep – there are eight games across the men’s and women’s tournament at Headingley and Elland Road – will further aid the recovery of team sports at the youth organisation.
And Robinson also believes the accessible showpiece event can help inspire the whole nation and leave a lasting legacy, in part thanks to the £9.3 million of National Lottery funding that will be used to support the development of the game from 2022 to 2027, with £1.8m being invested this year alone.
He added: “I’m massively excited as we have a home Rugby League World Cup to look forward to. We want to inspire everybody and I think this will do it because you’ve got the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments [taking place simultaneously].
“All 61 games are live on the BBC, so it’s really exciting and it’s going to be accessible – a child can go and watch it for £2.21 which is amazing for an international rugby league game.
“It’s going to take some of the barriers away for lots of people to watch world class sport. We are going to have some of the best players in the world on show and it’s great watching on TV, but there’s nothing like watching a live game of sport and I really can’t wait for it.
“I know it’s going to leave a lasting legacy which is where the CreatedBy funding is doing so much for clubs in terms of facilities, new pitches, lighting and equipment. It is really making a difference.”
The National Lottery is an official partner of this year’s Rugby League World Cup. The partnership includes National Lottery players providing £750,000 of vital financial support to some of the hardest hit and most disadvantaged communities across England through the RLWC21 CreatedBy Grants Programme. Funding has also helped save the Women’s & Girls’ game during the pandemic.