Over 120 volunteers attended an event at Kingspan Stadium on Wednesday evening to celebrate their contribution to rugby in Ulster.
The volunteers were joined at the event by Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey and Barney McGahan, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Ulster and Ireland rugby players Craig Gilroy, Chris Henry and Tommy Bowe were also in attendance.
The two government departments have supported the development of volunteers in sport through their respective programmes: ‘Promoting Equality, Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion through Sport’ (DCAL) and ‘Sport in the Community’ (DSD).
Since March 2013, Ulster Rugby has engaged with 1382 volunteers across 36 programmes and has also recruited a further 240 volunteers to develop the game province-wide. These figures are a direct result of funding from the NI Executive through DCAL and DSD.
Representatives from clubs were praised for their tireless work in supporting the development of rugby in their local communities. Volunteers from 28 different clubs attended on the night, including those involved within female and disability rugby, which have grown significantly over the past 18 months.
The event also recognised the contribution made by over 200 volunteers who were recruited to support Ulster Rugby led initiatives, such as the ‘Charity Action Team’ and the ‘Rugby Crew’.
Ulster Rugby’s ‘Charity Action Team’ helped the organisation raise over £34,000 for Cancer Research last season and is on target to generate a similar total for this year’s official charity partner Mencap.
The ‘Rugby Crew’, a core of young volunteers recruited as part of the DCAL programme, have supported community projects such as Centra Summer Camps and special events such as the Wooden Spoon International Tag Rugby Festival for people learning disabilities, which was held at Kingspan Stadium in June this year.
Minister for Social Development, Mervyn Storey MLA, commented: “My Department has been pleased to provide funding of £487,000 through the ‘Sport in the Community’ project to the IRFU, IFA and GAA, which is being used to grow capacity in community development and volunteering in Northern Ireland.
“Through this project, I want volunteers to have an enjoyable experience and to make a difference to their own lives and that of their community.
“Sports clubs, up and down the country, are reliant on volunteers. That is why volunteer events such as this are a wonderful way of recognising the efforts and achievements of those who selflessly dedicate their time and abilities to help others. I commend the passion and commitment of everyone who volunteers in rugby, and indeed all those who volunteer in all sports, at every level.”
John Kinnear, Ulster Rugby President, concluded: “Volunteers are the life and soul of rugby in Ulster and we wanted to hold this event to show our appreciation for their dedication to growing the game. The ability to recruit and involve so many volunteers would not have been possible without the generous support received from DSD and DCAL.”