Trevor Hunt and Mike Denning, two leading figures from the Community Game, have pledged their support to the Our League Active Membership Participation Scheme.
Both spent a day at the RFL’s Media City offices last week when they challenged the leading administrators of the sport’s National Governing Body to back up the proposals with hard evidence of services delivered and the administration costs necessary to keep the sport safe, legal and financially sustainable.
Both had been leading challengers of the RFL’s desire to implement a membership scheme over a number of years.
Trevor Hunt is the Chair of the National Conference League and has been involved in the Community game for almost 50 years, including as a journalist and broadcaster; Mike Denning is Chair of Thatto Heath Crusaders, one of the strongest Community clubs who operate numerous teams for players from the age of 6 up to open-age.
Both had been a conduit for questions, concerns and criticisms of the RFL from Community Leagues and clubs and both were delighted to be given the opportunity of an “open-book” session, and determined to try and get some answers on behalf on the NCL Management Committee, that they could share with the greater game.
Trevor Hunt, who also sits on the RFL’s Community Board – a group of representatives elected by every constituent part of the Community Game to represent the interests of the game – said:
“To say that we were ‘Doubting Thomases’ of the sums being quoted and the work involved in providing the services, would be an understatement.
“Both Mike and myself are professionally heavily involved in multi-million pound Contract service procurement in the public and private sectors and we have used that experience and skills honed over many years to test the robustness of the proposals of the RFL, the evidence of services provided, complete with costs, and the justification for the move towards a subscription Membership Scheme.
“We were provided with evidence-based facts, figures, projections and case examples whilst being talked through the various legal processes that are undertaken on behalf of the Community game and the players and volunteers within it. And we were given a full understanding of the implications of non-compliance to an unsuspecting but well-meaning individual if any of these processes should not be completed appropriately, and then something went wrong!
“We left the sessions with a full understanding of what the running of a Community Sport in 2021 (and beyond) necessitates to ensure compliance with numerous Government regulatory, medical and legal requirements; what this means to individuals, clubs and Leagues; and with a full and clear idea of the Sport England directives with regard to Community sport self-sustainability, training and education.
“There is a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes from a dedicated and enthusiastic team that deals with just the Community Game. Throughout the sessions it became more and more apparent that a Membership Scheme is a necessity if the Sport is to survive and build for the future.”
Mike Denning added: “Both Trevor and I came into this process knowing that any decisions on a membership scheme moving forward would not be popular with some in the Community Game. We are dealing with Clubs in the main that are situated in areas of depravation, recognized nationally and officially as still being in a pandemic and the economic impact that has had.
“We had a frank and open discussion with the RFL over operational costs and were satisfied in the justifications provided. As a Trustee and Volunteer of a community club I want what’s best for all of our members in terms of opportunities to play in the safest environment there is. The current level of regulation is necessary to keep us all safe and to grow the game.
“We have emphasised to the RFL that whilst in principle we support the introduction of a membership scheme there has to be room for the casual player and hardship cases. There has to be a transparent system of how the funds are managed and that trusted people from the community game must be invited to sit on a board which over sees the audit of the funds.
“We are in changing times and more than ever we need to work together on solutions to any loss of funding and the effects that has on our great game.”
Sandy Lindsay MBE, RFL Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Community Board, joined the latter part of the session. She said: “I was so impressed with and grateful for the amount of preparation and effort that Trevor and Mike brought to the day. They certainly put us through our paces and asked tough and necessary questions. I hope that the rest of the Community Game will take reassurance that these highly respected members of the Game have asked and had answered these questions on their behalf and the fact that they left satisfied that all is in order and that this membership programme is indeed essential.”
Trevor Hunt also suggested that an annual ‘audit’ of the membership programme fees and how they are spent should be carried out by a small number of Community Trustees, and this was agreed. It was also confirmed that the membership fees would be reviewed every two years, based on the needs of the Game.
Following previous consultation with a wide number of league and club representatives over the last few months, as well as a survey, it has been agreed that fees for Community Club based players will be set at: Cubs – free, under 11s - £12, under 18s - £18 and Open Age - £24. Volunteers, including coaches, will not be required to pay the membership, but will be given the option to, in order to support the game and gain the membership programme benefits, which will be extensive, including insurance, a wide range of discounts and a monthly prize draw.
The RFL is working on an extensive new player engagement hub to add to those benefits, which will launch as part of the membership programme in time for next season. This will be in addition to the wide-ranging and increasing benefits already announced. The membership will commence from when players register for the 2022 season.
“I am grateful to everyone who has given us their time and feedback to help us get the membership programme to where it is now,” Sandy Lindsay added.
“We are now at the stage of building the systems and testing them to ensure we’re ready for the new season. We will continue to need support and feedback from the Game as we do this and hope that people will continue to help us ensure we’re ready for 2022.”