SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) and Ulster Rugby have announced the allocation of the Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary fund. A total fund of £8,000 was made available by SONI to help support community rugby with the anticipated expenses of a post COVID-19 return to activity.
The fund was tiered in three bursary levels of £1000, £500 and £250. Individuals were asked to make applications on behalf of clubs who supported their community during the ongoing pandemic. Twenty clubs have been awarded a bursary, with many clubs being nominated multiple times.
Donegal Town RFC were awarded a bursary of £250 by demonstrating community support during COVID-19, including supporting ChefAid to provide over 1,800 hot meals to people in the area who were self-isolating during lockdown.
Ballynahinch RFC and Coleraine RFC were awarded the maximum bursary of £1000. Both clubs have taken an active role in helping their communities throughout the pandemic. Coleraine RFC offered the free use of its car park for staff and patients at the neighbouring Causeway hospital as demand for parking increases, as well as being involved in a community response initiative. At Ballynahinch RFC, the team have been delivering food parcels, donating refreshments to emergency services and fund-raising for mental health services.
Jo Aston, Managing Director of SONI, said: "We are proud to be able to support community rugby clubs throughout Ulster as they seek a return to activity. I personally have been overwhelmed by the individual efforts each nominated club made to support vulnerable people during COVID-19. These are extraordinary times and we recognise more than ever that rugby clubs are a vital asset to the communities they operate within.”
The Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary, is an extension of the Real Rugby Heroes programme which was put on hold as COVID-19 took its toll on the game. SONI in partnership with Ulster Rugby agreed to repurpose budgets to support community rugby clubs as they navigate a return to the game. The original Real Rugby Heroes format will recommence later this summer.
Barry Willis, Rugby Operations Manager at Ulster Rugby said: "We are incredibly proud of how the clubs have reacted, and would like to congratulate each and every club who have been awarded a bursary. It is often said that communities pull together when times are tough and in rugby circles the Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 has very much proved that point.”
A full list of bursary winners is as below:
Tier 1 - £1,000: Ballynahinch RFC and Coleraine RFC
Tier 2 - £500: Lisburn Rugby Club, Lurgan Rugby Football and Cricket Club, Randalstown RFC, City of Derry RFC, Malone RFC, Dungannon RFC
Tier 3 - £250: Larne RFC, Banbridge RFC, Grosvenor Rugby Club, Clogher Valley RFC, Ards RFC, Bangor Rugby Football and Cricket Club, Portadown RFC, Belfast High School Former Pupils RFC, Limavady Cricket and Rugby Football Club, Donegal Town RFC, CIYMS, Omagh Accies RFC
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.
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