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SALFORD RED DEVILS FOUNDATION ENGAGES WITH 40,000 SALFORD PEOPLE
 

Star date: 9th July 2018

HUGE POSITIVES FOR YOUNG AND OLD AS FOUNDATION HITS THE COMMUNITY

The Salford Red Devils Foundation last year engaged with 40,000 Salford people, yet struggles to raise funds and its profile having been baggaged with its links to the rugby club which had grants and loans from Salford City Council.

However, the two are separate entities, the Foundation does loads of top work in the community and now wants to bring that even further into the heart of Salford with its Buile Hill Mansion project, as Manager, Neil Blackburn, explains.

Full details here...


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Salford Red Devils Foundation Salford Red Devils Foundation Salford Red Devils Foundation
Salford Red Devils Foundation Salford Red Devils Foundation Salford Red Devils Foundation
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click image to enlarge

The base of the Salford Red Devils Foundation at the AJ Bell Stadium merges with the rugby club's museum, as young people on courses weave around glass cases that display old trophies, caps, shirts, match programmes and even the odd rugby ball.

One wall is covered with a giant dateline of the club's achievements (or not), while others are decorated with giant blow-ups of The Willows. There's even a turnstile from the beloved former home in Weaste, as the spirit of the past suffuses the present, providing the only visual link in what is elsewhere a sterile environment within in a stadium the club doesn't own.

There's a lot of history here and, also, a lot of baggage as previous dodgy loans and grants to the rugby club and stadium from Salford City Council weigh on the profile of the Foundation; unfairly, says its manager Neil Blackburn...

"It's why our funding is mainly restricted grants as we struggle to raise funds, probably because of the association" he explains "If people donate they believe it's going to the club 'when it's already had enough money'...but that's not the case."

While the charity is branded with the Red Devils, it has different trustees, separate accounts and accountants, and is a separate entity...

"When we're asking for donations we perhaps don't get given as much consideration as other community charities but we do engage with lots of people in the community" Neil adds "We are solely about making a difference in the community."

The Foundation's newly published Impact Report shows that it engaged with 40,000 Salfordians last year in an array of projects aimed at young and old via three themes sport, health and education - that use the club as a hook to get people involved.
For older people there is the Offload project, also being run by Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings, which seeks to sort mental health issues for middle aged men...

"They don't like to engage with GPs and if they have problems, bottle it up and tend to keep it in until it explodes and causes a huge issue, so it's about breaking down the barriers, removing the stigma of mental health" Neil explains "We have 'fixtures'; ten different sessions all working on your ability to discuss issues and talk, and it's all delivered by ex professional sports people...if you've got a professional athlete who can open up and engage then why can't everyone else?"

During the three years of the project, over seven hundred men have taken part and research by Edge Hill College found twenty participants who stated that, without the Offload programme, they wouldn't be alive today.

"Anyone can join it" says Neil "We have a big presence of fans who can self-refer but we're engaging with local community groups who can refer, we advertise for it and work with health professionals and businesses."

Altogether the Foundation is running eight major projects, including helping families to have healthier lifestyles, and aiding primary school pupils to make the transition to high school. It's a huge community enterprise that stretches beyond Salford into places like Trafford and Bury, turning over around half a million pounds a year.

The Foundation's Big Hits programme, which has just ended, involved working with young people, aged 14 to 25, raising aspirations and making them more employable or getting them back into full time education.

"Although we're a professional rugby league club you have things like ground maintenance, catering...and we have an opportunities bank where we work with our sponsors and partners to find opportunities for people working with us to maybe become an apprentice or get a part time job" Neil explains.

Indeed, the Barley Farm restaurant near the stadium employed around half a dozen trainees from the project. At the heart of the Foundation, though, is rugby, and almost every high school and primary school in Salford has had coaching sessions, with an impressive 2,885 high school and 3,230 primary school pupils taking part.

It's about increasing the awareness of rugby, maybe inspiring players for the future, and maybe some new fans...

"We think we're engaging with people and they're getting involved with us but it's not a quick fix" Neil explains "There's been years of under achievement with the first team and it's difficult...We've moved from The Willows, the Weaste heartland, and are trying to develop new audiences, so we get more people from Irlam and Cadishead engaging, while trying to get old fans to come across. It's tough but we need to create a new history here.

"The Foundation was born out of club's community department" he adds "We are in essence a separate entity but we want to increase people playing sport in the area; we want to give back to the community. And a lot of our staff are from Salford so we have a vested interest in giving back to the communities we come from.

"We have the ability to deliver programmes that wouldn't happen without the Foundation being here, and the club is an integral part of that" he says "We are branded as the club; the club is the vessel that allows the engagement, so we're very intertwined and we are the community team for the club really."

One of the criticisms of the rugby club was that the academy seemed to have disappeared...

"The old format was a category one academy, with professional under 19s paid to play, and that has gone" Neil confirms "But the Foundation has taken on board the youth development set up. Our Rising Stars programme has 12 to16 year olds doing training sessions. Last year we had two teams playing against other academies and they only lost one match.

"That feeds into our Category 3 academy of under 19s, which is also an education pathway" he explains "We've got 35 young people signed up. We're a college here essentially, so they will do a Sport BTech Level 3 extended diploma, equivalent to three A levels, and it's a pathway to university or into jobs, but we're looking to develop them as rugby players here. So we do have an academy and youth structure, it's just not the same as what it was previously.

"We have two lads from that pathway training with the first team, Sam Bardsley and Jack Radcliffe" he adds "And hopefully we'll get the next generation of Salford born players playing in Super League..."

Also on the agenda is a women's team and a physical disability rugby team, with the Foundation now having a full set of specially adapted wheelchairs which are taken into schools for able bodied and disabled pupils to compete..."It's surprising how aggressive you can play rugby in a wheelchair" Neil smiles.

The Foundation does a massive amount of community work which is largely unheralded but the organisation has come under more scrutiny due to its involvement with the Buile Hill Park Mansion project.

The Foundation wants to move a large proportion of its work into the empty Grade 2 listed Mansion that has been derelict for 18 years. It came up with a business plan in conjunction with some other community groups but the Salford Council pushed it together with developer Capital and Centric, which aimed to pay for the Mansion's refurbishment by proposing to build houses in old depot area.

After protests, this has now been blocked but the developer is still interested in doing something with the depot site possibly a patient hospital while the Foundation is pressing ahead with its plans...

"That the mansion house has been vacant for 18 years is a tragedy, and what the Foundation wants to do is bring it back to life as a community facility" Neil explains "I know there's talk of houses and things, but that development is completely separate from the Foundation, we're not involved in that.

"Our focus is on the mansion house and bringing that back into community use" he adds "We have had funds from a Heritage Lottery grant, some funding to do the surveys and it's not in as bad a condition and you may expect.

"We pay a high figure of rent at the Stadium and while we wouldn't guarantee we'd move completely, the mansion house would become our hub, the Foundation's base within the middle of the community" he says "So we'd have our offices there, our classroom delivery there, and some form of club shop but it would be open for community use. Part of the mansion would be for hire and to rent out for weddings and things.

"It's all good and well saying we're going to get 1.7million or 3million to refurbish the mansion house but then if we can't make it sustainable it's going to collapse and maybe derelict for another 18 years, so we want a fully viable plan" he explains "The stumbling block is that it's going to cost millions to renovate it but once it's renovated we've got a viable business plan to run it for years. It's just finding the initial investment to bring it back to life..."

While those talks and discussions continue, the Salford Red Devils Foundation is quietly getting on with a huge amount of community work that largely goes unseen but is connecting with huge swathes of Salford residents.

For more information on the Salford Red Devils Foundation see the website click here


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