WALLSEND RFC's quest for a permanent home has moved a major step closer after the club was handed a double funding boost.
The Durham and Northumberland Two outfit are enduring a nomadic existence at present, but are set to receive £50,000 from Sport England’s Protecting Playing Fields Olympic Legacy Fund and a further £86,000 from North Tyneside Council, who are also leasing land to the club.
That still leaves a £120,000 funding gap in their quest for a new home base complete with clubhouse and changing rooms, but club chairman Ryan Thirlaway is at least happy to be on the right path at long last.
He said: “As a club we have been a bit of a magpie, really. We have flitted from home to home, and surprisingly our base has been outside Wallsend for the majority of the time.
“We have made a decision to try and get back into the area, mainly because we want to develop our relationship with the local clubs and schools to develop our youth rugby. We have done that in conjunction with the council’s sport and leisure department, looking at a range of options.
“We have currently got a temporary home in a school at Wallsend, a pitch in another location and a clubhouse in a third location. As you can imagine that means we are very disjointed, but the council have offered us a site in Battle Hill opposite the Tyne Met College.
“We are close to agreeing a lease on that, and we have had a contribution from the council following a residential development nearby. They developed some sports pitches and, as a result, had to provide compensation to the council aimed at providing alternative facilities.
“That has been channelled our way because of a need for rugby pitches in Wallsend, and we have also applied for some additional funding from Sport England. We are still a little bit short of our target for doing the two-pitch installation, but the RFU are in discussions and we are hoping to finalise an application to get the remainder and secure our first real home in Wallsend itself.
“For the club and its identity that would be absolutely huge, but there is still a long way to go because ideally we want a clubhouse and changing room facility on the same site.”
Aiming to attract local talent through their impending upgrade, Thirlaway added: “We want to be positioned as best we can to get more youngsters involved in rugby, especially with the 2015 World Cup coming to Newcastle.
“Wallsend is renowned for being a football area, and the infrastructure is set up accordingly. Because of the intensity around football and the scouting network, kids get told very young these days that they are never going to play as a professional.
“Quite a few of them are maybe not as good or the wrong shape or size for the game, and what we are trying to do is tell them that rugby is a sport they can play in their local area. Obviously there is the general fitness and well-being angle, but from a sheer enjoyment and social side it is just a wonderful game to be involved with.”
Living proof of Wallsend’s success is Micky Ward, the long-time club man who graduated to a 13-year playing career with Newcastle Falcons and is currently on the Kingston Park coaching staff.
Ward said: “Wallsend Rugby Club has played a major part in my life, and if it had not been for them I would never have ended up as a professional player.
“The good thing they had when I was coming through was a fantastic youth section, where me and all my friends had good fun and learnt about the game.
“The senior guys really looked after us, and showed us what proper rugby was all about. They were good quality club blokes, but the youth section of the club went downhill basically because they did not have the facilities or environment to bring the youngsters in.
“Hopefully this investment that they have received can get them some good pitches, a decent clubhouse and get them back up to where they should be in terms of attracting the local youth back into the club.”
Still a regular supporter of the club’s ongoing efforts, Ward added: “It is still a massive part of my life – my mates play there and I try to get down as much as I can.
“Wallsend is where I started, and I will always have an involvement with the place.
“I want them to do well, and this news about the facilities down there is absolutely fantastic for everybody associated with the club.”