Red Roses star Rowland lauds RFU’s game-changing Connecting Communities programme

Red Roses star Helena Rowland hailed a game-changing new initiative which is revolutionising the community rugby experience for women and young girls.

The Connecting Communities programme, a key strand of England Rugby’s Impact ’25 programme launched in partnership with DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport), promotes safe and inclusive social spaces for women at rugby clubs as well as establishing clubs as a facility at the heart of local communities with clubhouses used for non-rugby activities to engage all members of the public.

Rowland began playing rugby at the age of six but was often the only girl in a team of boys and had to ‘nag’ her dad to take her along to training with her brother.

She is confident the new initiative will transform the grassroots rugby landscape for women with new, inclusive places to play and socialise regardless of their background or interest in the sport.

“When I was playing mixed rugby, quite often I was the only girl and if we were going to a tournament there often weren’t changing facilities for me,” said Rowland.

“At the time, I didn’t really think about it, but I can see how that’s quite a barrier to some people getting in and staying involved in the sport.

“So, it’s great that the Connecting Communities programme ensures rugby is inclusive for everyone on and off the pitch, and that there are the right facilities to cater for all.

“I think that will only help the game going forward, it’s those small fixes which make the game so much more inclusive.”

Several national organisations are supporting the Connecting Communities programme to help facilitate the growing importance of rugby clubs.

The programme will provide funding and resources to clubs that wish to open their doors to women’s groups in the community and can be used for a variety of activities ranging from dance and yoga to artwork and chess – it’s not just about rugby.

The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (often known as The WI) have a range of projects set up with clubs including health and wellbeing activities and gardening projects, while Our Parks are running fitness activities for women from a number of clubs across the country.

With that in mind and a range of other activities on offer, Rowland has urged people to get stuck in at their local club and take advantage of the unrivalled community atmosphere.

“Clubs offer a great opportunity to find like-minded people,” she said. “Rugby as a sport is very inclusive.

“You can find your role within a team or club and that is just as important as anyone else’s.

“It’s about getting exercise and sport in but also having that team around you and doing it all together. You’re not on your own trying to go out for a run a couple of times a week, you’ve got a whole team supporting you and it just makes it so much more enjoyable.

“It’s so much easier to get involved as a result and I think it’s massive in terms of getting more people active, but also finding that community you can really be yourself in.”

Rowland and her England teammates will hope to become world champions on home turf when the Rugby World Cup heads to the UK next year.

The tournament’s legacy programme, Impact ‘25, will create more opportunities for females than ever before across all levels of the game from facility development to playing programmes and Rowland believes there has been no better time for women to get involved at their local rugby club.

“In the final round of the Six Nations we’ve seen every single ground set a new crowd record, so that just shows how much interest there is and where the game is going,” she added.

“That’s only going to get bigger over the next year leading into 2025. I know there’s big plans to sell out Twickenham, which is massive but it’s not only at the top of the game, but through Impact 25, there’s a growing grassroots game too.

“I think you’ll really see after 2025 a massive boom in terms of women’s and girls’ rugby. Next year is the focal point in terms of when everything is going to really kick off.”

To be part of the Connecting Communities Programme, opt in by 4 May:

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