The Rugby Football Union (RFU) are setting out to grow the women’s game ahead of a home Rugby World Cup in 2025 with a new fund designed to make community rugby clubs an even more welcoming space for women and girls.
The facility investment fund will pour £7 million into grassroots rugby clubs to improve toilets, upgrade changing rooms and create female-friendly social spaces between 2023 and 2027.
The fund, which is part of the Rugby World Cup 2025 Impact programme that seeks to significantly grow the women and girls’ game, will also see the RFU offer a dedicated funding stream for sanitary provision and female-friendly toilets for the first time.
Jessica Woodcock, Facilities and Operations Assistant within Rugby Development at the RFU, said: “It’s such an exciting project and I’m so proud to be a part of something that’s going to encourage such positive change, and hopefully make a lasting impact on the game.
“We’ve talked to women and girls involved as players, visitors and match officials to make sure that we’re offering them exactly what they need within clubs.
“It’s so important to listen to the people that you already have in the game, to be able to encourage more people along as well.”
Over 600 rugby clubs currently offer regular women and girls rugby in England, with the number of players at clubs and schools having grown significantly over recent years, whilst the Red Roses have taken the international game by storm, winning 30 matches in a row, a world record.
The RFU’s aim is to keep women and girls in community rugby, as well as welcoming new and returning players who have been inspired by the Red Roses.
To do so, they want to help break down the taboo around periods with research by Sport England showing 62% of teenagers cite ‘fear of leakage’ as one of the main reasons they avoid exercise.
This will include the provision of free sanitary products and suitable disposal options within rugby club facilities with any RFU affiliated club able to apply for grants on the RFU website.
Woodcock added: “It’s all about educating ourselves and those around us about the barriers for women in sport.
“The Sport England research showed that one of the top three most impactful changes for women in the game was providing sanitary provision in clubs and it was an out-and-out priority for 50% of women that responded to that survey.
“We don’t want to make that such a barrier for women and girls taking part in sport. But it is only through education and talking about this topic that people are really going to become aware of it and it’s going to be made less of a taboo topic.
“And it’s just going to increase the confidence of women and girls within clubs and within the game and make it a more comfortable space for them as well.”
The fund will also give rugby clubs the chance to upgrade their social spaces to make them more welcoming and comfortable environments for women who use the clubs in a variety of ways.
Natasha Routledge, RFU Club Operations Director said: “We should never underestimate the power of space. Many clubs are already working really hard to improve facilities, but some clubs I’ve visited need additional support to develop, where facilities lack elements that a woman needs to feel welcome. Be that toilets with one lidless bin propping open the main door or poorly lit, intimidating social areas that don’t allow for free movement.
“We know that women and girls are made to feel welcome on the pitch, but through this investment, we now have the opportunity to reflect that welcome within club environments off the pitch.”
Woodcock added, “It’s not just the women and girls that play on the pitches, it’s also the match officials, it’s the club visitors,”
“Our social space upgrade is really about focusing on making the social space of rugby clubs more female-friendly.
“It is to really encourage not just the players, but mums of kids, partners or any friends that want to come along and watch the game or come along to use that space in another way.
“We’ve got the women and girls’ game that we want to encourage and really further develop but it’s also everybody else that’s involved within the community clubs as well.”
The RWC2025 Impact Programme – Facility Fund is open to any affiliated RFU clubs and can be applied for via EnglandRugby.com/Funding. Applications close on 31 January 2023.