How often do you hear organisations say they are “Working in Partnership?” Ever wonder what that means and what Partnerships deliver? Two years ago ourselves and the UEA announced a “Partnership”, UEA appointing Ryan Oakes to lead their rugby programme. With the Partnership entering its third year the parties have been reflecting on its achievements and how it can be developed.
Back in 2021 the Partners said their Partnership “supported key strategies of both organisations.” We wanted to work closely with all tiers of local education, building on our links with Easton College and substantial Schools Programme, whilst the UEA was seeking to enhance the coaching provision for their Men’s and Women’s British University and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league programmes. The expectation too was there would be greater opportunities for talented players from the UEA to represent NWRFC.
Those playing benefits have been more than realised. The UEA’S Men’s 1st XV has improved its position in tier 2 of the BUCS League with the Women also delivering better performances in their BUCS campaigns and improving their results in the Eastern Counties league. Both sides won their annual varsity fixtures versus the University of Essex in 2022 and 2023. Meanwhile last season the Vikings regularly included three to five UEA undergraduates or 2022 graduates in their squads, with similar numbers in the Raiders and Warriors.
“What we did not imagine though in 2021 was the additional benefits the partnership would bring,” recently commented Joseph Skeet, UEA’ s Student Sport Performance Manager, a view echoed by our Director of Rugby Operations Seb Anthony. The Club’s sponsors and network have helped with finding jobs – seven for 2022 graduates, for example. The Partners have worked together on initiatives to strengthen Women’s rugby and developed a Sevens Programme culminating in the hugely successful Sevens Tournament in June which raised around £1,000 for the mental health charity Give a Ruck. We don’t yet have a Women’s team, but girls from our Valkyries squad can now progress on to senior rugby by playing for the UEA. Our Coaches have gained experience with the UEA teams, whilst the students themselves have developed their skills coaching on the Schools Programme.
There are numerous examples of the Partnership benefiting individuals in unexpected ways. For physiotherapy graduate Harry Hey the link has kickstarted his career. “Opportunities in sport are hard to find, but I’ve been able to gain experience working as a physiotherapist for a National 2 Rugby club at the start of my career. It’s also given me some great social links.” Biomedicine student Lydia Moteul also stressed the social as well as playing benefits. “I’ve been playing for 9 years now, but the last couple at UEA have been the best. The North Walsham Partnership means we meet so many new people. The Give A Ruck 7s really highlighted this community whilst watching players from our men’s team compete at National 2 level has raised our aspirations.” Physical Education graduate Connor Dudley believes the Partnership “has made unbelievable progress. Personally, it has supported my playing career, exposing me to a higher level of rugby in the Vikings. The Club’s professional outlook has filtered into the UEA in many ways: training standards, physiotherapy support, performance analysis. I now lead on the latter at UEA and hope to build a career in it.”
It is clear this Partnership has been delivering in many ways, some expected, others not. Confidence in its value is reflected in the way Ryan has been replaced following his move to Australia. He had separate part time contractual arrangements with both Partners whereas new Director of Rugby Niall Lear has just one contract following the agreement of both to invest in a full time post. “It was the logical next step in the development of this exciting Partnership, which I’m sure will continue to grow,” said Seb Anthony.