SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) and Ulster Rugby have launched a bursary fund to support rugby clubs as they plan a return to activity post COVID-19.
The fund will recognise the efforts of clubs throughout Ulster who have supported their community during the ongoing pandemic. The bursary is an extension of the Real Rugby Heroes initiative which has been running for five years and seeks to reward volunteers who make an invaluable contribution to the domestic game in Ulster.
Clubs will be encouraged to apply for the bursary at www.ulsterrugby.com/realrugbyheroes and applications will be open for a three-week period, closing at 5pm on Thursday 25 June. A total fund of £8,000 is available; tiered in three bursary levels of £1000, £500 and £250. The funds are intended to support clubs with the anticipated expenses of putting in place protocols for a post COVID-19 return to activity.
Jo Aston, Managing Director of SONI, said: “We have been proud to support Ulster Rugby for five years, and have remained close to them as they, like all organisations, navigate these extraordinary times. Rugby clubs across Ulster are a vital asset to the communities they operate in, and we have been over-whelmed by the individual efforts clubs have made to support vulnerable people during COVID-19. As a result, and in partnership with Ulster Rugby, we have agreed to open this fund to help clubs prepare for a return to activity.”
The Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary, is an extension of the Real Rugby Heroes programme which was put on hold as the impact of coronavirus took its toll on the game.
Jo continues: “We have also agreed with Ulster Rugby to reinstate this season’s Real Rugby Heroes initiative once we complete the Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary. We had already received a record number of volunteer nominations in the 2019/20 season and look forward to getting this activity live again later this summer.”
Examples of how rugby clubs and their members have helped those in need in their community in recent times range from delivering grocery boxes in their area, donating facilities and setting us social media contact groups to allow club members to help vulnerable people – from picking up prescriptions to delivering supplies. Some club grounds have also been used as testing centres for key workers.
Barry Willis, Rugby Operations Manager at Ulster Rugby said: “The impact of COVID-19 on our clubs cannot be underestimated, yet the efforts made by the clubs to repurpose their resource and support their communities should not go unnoticed. We are incredibly proud of how the clubs have reacted, given the pressure they too are under. We would therefore encourage all clubs to apply for the Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary programme to help them prepare for a return to activity.”
The deadline for applications is 5pm on Thursday 25 June, and clubs can apply by filling out the online application form at www.ulsterrugby.com/realrugbyheroes
SONI is responsible for the safe, secure and reliable supply of electricity into the heart of communities across Northern Ireland. Currently, SONI is developing a greener energy system which will enable the grid to handle 95% of renewable energy at any one time.
For more information on SONI visit www.soni.ltd.uk or follow on twitter @soni_ltd