It may have been a tough season for Skipton Rugby Football Club on the pitch, but behind the scenes it’s clear the club is making huge strides forward.
The club has a long and distinguished history, but is keen to move with the times so has sought out grants and investment to improve its facilities.
It is also making big efforts to re-engage with the community and help the development of rugby at all levels including the youth and ladies sections which are clear indicators of a club with a plan.
Mel Mason was appointed president of the club in 2012 and also took over as chairman in 2013. Along with other members of the board, he has set about installing a more commercially aware ethos in order to improve the club’s overall health.
“They’re expensive things to run, are rugby clubs,” says Mel. “Unless you produce income off the field, success on it, and even just keeping the club going, is difficult. If it’s not run as a business and just run as a rugby club, it won’t survive because the rugby side of it just doesn’t generate enough income.
“Everyone here is passionate about rugby, but the fact is the club was a little tired and the facilities needed to be brought up to speed.
“So we’ve had to invest and get grants to improve things so people will still want to hire the rooms for weddings, christenings, funerals, parties etc.
“The facilities we now have here are great. The refurbishments have made a huge impact. We hire the rooms out to various groups – disabled groups, slimming groups etc – and there’s room for more to use us.”
Mel added: “A lot of clubs are struggling at the moment, particularly those who don’t have the facilities we do.
“There used to be a lot concern and focus on player retention, now it’s about club retention. The rugby authorities seem to be realising this too, because without the clubs, there won’t be the players.”
Improvements off the pitch include a refurbishment of the clubhouse with improved upstairs toilets.
The bar and storage facilities outside have also been improved.
Other grants include £55,000 from Sport England towards improving the training field.
The club is also improving its female facilities, a key thing as it’s increasing the number of girls and women playing members.
Mel said: “One of the most important changes is the various funding we’ve had towards Ash Greaves, our development officer.
“He’s been brilliant for the club. He’s very pro-active in the community and he runs around into the various schools.
“The [Skipton] girls school now has a team. We have a women’s team and we’ve even had one of our girls go through to the North of England team in her first season.
“We also run a multi-sports summer camp over the school holidays. If Ash can get more children interested in sport, it has lots of benefits.
“We’ve even had interest from the police because for some kids, sport can keep them out of trouble.
“I saw a big billboard when I was in Australia which read: “Get kids into sport and out of court”.
“Sport is just a great thing for kids to do, and it’s great for our future rugby prospects.”
Mel admits that it’s been a testing time on the pitch, however. He said: “We’ve had a number of bad bounces really. We could have easily picked up another six to ten points which would steer us out of relegation worries, but if we do get relegated, we’ll be fine.
“I think you find your level and build from there. We’ll just build ourselves up and just get stronger.
“The main thing is we’re very positive about our future.”
He added: “We’ve taken on board a lot of youth players who are keen to play for the club and have the club’s interests at heart.
“Our new coach, Mark Walton, comes with very good credentials and our training is going well.
“Of course any new players are more than welcome to come along and try us.”
Another example of the club improving its lot financially is a plan to benefit from the Tour de France. It is using its ground to set up a huge campsite, with more than 500 people already signed up and spaces still available.
For more details on the club, including the Tour de France camping, visit http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/skiptonrugbyfootballclub/