Case Study: Powerful Partnerships with Rugby League Cares

2nd April 2020 - April Shilston

Through the Partnership Investment programme at IVE, Rugby League Cares was empowered to spearhead an exciting and innovative partnership between Rugby League club foundations and cultural organisations with great results for young people.

This case study considers the ‘When Dance Happens’ project, a project that brought together the words of sport and the arts through Rugby League Club Foundations working with cultural organisations to enhance young people’s learning in Dance and Media. This study shows:

Executive Summary

‘When Dance Happens’ was a cultural programme led by Rugby League Cares and funded through partnership investment from IVE. Rugby League Cares is a charity that supports four key areas within Rugby League; player welfare and education, health and wellbeing through a grants programme, support for players with life-changing injuries or conditions and a heritage programme seeking to develop a museum for the sport. This project brought together several community foundations belonging to Rugby League clubs in Yorkshire and beyond to develop a dance-led cultural programme. The partner clubs in Yorkshire were Leeds, Huddersfield and Hull Kingston Rovers as well as the television programme Rugby AM which screens on the Freesports network.

The key aim of the partnership was set out as follows:

To create a permanent, high quality dance offer that supports hard to reach, socially disaffected and underrepresented communities to participate in arts and cultural activities in order to broaden horizons, inspire belief and confidence, enable social mobility and ensure every participant can fulfill their potential.

Within this broader, over-arching aim, the specific goals that the project set out to achieve were to make dance an embedded and sustainable part of the offer of Rugby League Cares, to reflect a high quality offer through the achievement of Arts Awards and through fostering partnerships between Rugby League community foundations and Arts Council NPOs, and to develop a talent pathway for young dancers to further their engagement. The partnership also aimed to support Rugby League Club Foundations to submit their own funding applications for future cultural projects. Each of the clubs involved in the delivery of the project were required to deliver holiday club provision designed to deliver Bronze Arts Awards. Additionally, Leeds RL delivered an Explore Arts Award project with local Primary Schools and Rugby AM worked alongside Priestthorpe High School to deliver Gold Arts Awards through their aspect of the programme.

The programme had a number of key successes that help to highlight the benefits of bringing together providers from across arts and culture, education and sport to develop a rounded and inspiring offer for children and young people.

Cultural Partnerships

One of the major successes of the project has been the relationships that were created between the Rugby League Clubs and the local cultural organisations who offered support and opportunities for the young people. This included NPOs Phoenix Dance Theatre, Northern Ballet Theatre, Red Ladder Theatre and Company Chameleon who offered CPD for staff members delivering within the foundations, in-house vocational workshops for young people and the chance to see professional work.  The NPO partnerships were also supported by relationships with other professional cultural organisations in the local areas. These included Tenfoot Theatre Dance Company, ‘Join the Momentum’ (visits to St James Park, Wembley Stadium and KC Stadium Hull), Museum of Film and Photography and Creative Voice Dance Hull who also provided audience opportunities, vocational workshops, cultural visits and opportunities for young people to explore new areas and expand their skills in dance and media. Rugby AM were a major partner who provided behind the scenes visits and access to media and sports professionals which was invaluable experience to those taking part in that aspect of the programme.

Roxanne Gallagher from Rugby AM highlighted that the networking that was provided through the project proved extremely valuable both in terms of accessing more experiences to provide the young people and for sharing best practice and getting great ideas for her own delivery. Sarah Elston highlighted that the most successful partnerships came where organisations were responsive to the needs of the project and the partners and who took a pro-active approach.

Arts Award

Through the project a total of 144 Explore, 87 Bronze, 5 Silver and 5 Gold Arts Awards were achieved by young people. The Arts Award programme received excellent feedback from young people such as Omair from Priestthorpe High School who stated ‘I would definitely recommend the Arts Award Course; it has allowed me to learn things that cannot be taught in a classroom and presented me with unique opportunities’. The breadth of partnership opportunities that were offered by organisations across Yorkshire has undoubtedly contributed to the high quality of the Arts Award offer, meaning that young people were able to take advantage of a range of opportunities to take part in different workshops, see and experience a range of different artistic product and take up leadership and work experience roles. Arts Award has also provided a useful structure around which to build the projects that formed the core of the offer in the project. The use of Arts Award as a structuring device meant that the projects created had the potential to be more sustainable and adaptable for the future.

As with all Arts Award projects, however, there were still challenges in achieving the targets that were set for the project, particularly at the higher levels. Roxanne Gallagher who led the project on behalf of Rugby AM highlights that their initial group expanded and contracted several times during the year with students dropping out when the pressure of deadlines and exams became too intrusive. The group did grow in numbers when students were undergoing their leadership project and were able to recruit more students through their work but decreased again when the Easter revision period started.

Students who undertook their Gold Arts Award at Rugby AM had a range of different opportunities to learn from media professionals and be involved in the production of programmes. One student, Omair has been able to apply the experiences he has had, including travelling to Wembley to help film the ‘Join the Momentum’ dance performance to help him in his applications to study Film and Television at University.

Sports and Arts coming together through targeted investment

In her testimony, Roxanne Gallagher from Rugby AM states that a proramme highlight for her was the experience of students in her programme seeing Jamie Jones-Buchanen, a well-known Rugby player for Leeds Rhinos and England performing in the Red Ladder Theatre Company production ‘Playing the Joker’. This experience enabled the students to see a well-known figure crossing the boundary between Sport and Art and they were able to interview him about his experiences as both a sportsman and a performer. This real-life example and experience of seeing sports and the arts existing in the same space is an unusual and extremely beneficial one for the students who are able to see a role model crossing between these two worlds.

Sarah Elston from RL Cares has highlighted the impact that having specific investment from IVE to support the development and delivery of the programme has had on their work. The development of a programme such as this relies on the brokering of positive relationships, the management of expectations and the careful monitoring of aims and outcomes. To have the support of IVE in enabling each of the stages of the project to happen seems to have been vital and demonstrates the importance and power of the partnership investment programme.

It is clear that all the partners involved in the project have felt benefits and are keen to explore how to take the momentum and the relationships forward. Further partnership opportunities are currently being explored both centrally through RL Cares and within the individual Foundations themselves. Rugby League Cares have begun conversations with Rugby League World Cup 2021 and will use the learning acquired through Cultural Partnership to help develop an online dance resource for schools which will be supported by a schools delivery programme which will actively involve and encourage children and young people to take part in the tournament, as a performer, volunteer or spectator. As we approach the World Cup in 2021, it will present many exciting opportunities for Rugby League to raise its profile further and cultural partnership projects such as this will be a great way of supporting the tournament.

‘I completed my Arts Award with Hull KR Foundation. Arts Award has helped me in multiple ways, I have gained knowledge in various areas that aid with my chosen career path such as leadership, communication and people skills. I like Arts Award because it has a pretty flexible framework which really allowed me time to explore my chosen areas; it gave me the opportunity to learn how I work best as well as identifying my strengths and weaknesses. Both the Explore and Bronze awards have linked together and helped form the coach that I am today. I am now a dance coach at Hull KR Foundation and an activities coordinator at a residential home. I thank Hull KR for introducing me to Arts Award and helping me gain the knowledge to fulfil these roles.

Becka-Rose Ward, Hull KR Community Trust

Partnership investment from IVE has had a significant impact on our work, in particular how focused relationships have developed with NPO’s, of which IVE’s support has been invaluable.’

Sarah Elston, Rugby League Cares

‘I’ve never experienced a play like Playing the Joker before, we had to go and see it as part of our Silver Arts Award course – now I want to see more!’

Kacey Lee Bulman, Hull KR Student

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