Wooden Spoon CEO Sarah Webb believes the resounding success of this weekend’s Vets Fest 22 event can help spread rugby fever across the country.
The event celebrated its second year, this time at Moseley Rugby Football Club in Birmingham on Saturday, with over 700 players – from 16 men’s and 10 women’s Vets teams across the country – coming together for a rugby tournament aiming to raise money for vulnerable children and young people.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the focus of this year’s event centred around supporting mental health projects, with an estimated £1.5 million children and young people needing mental health support as a result of the pandemic.
And with around 374,000 children under 18 currently on a waiting list for NHS mental health services, Wooden Spoon – the children’s charity of rugby – want to do more to help the children and young people that are affected.
Vets Fest was created to bring the rugby family together and give something back for the positive experiences as rugby players and supporters of the game.
The men’s and women’s winning teams won the Olly Stephens and Maddy Lawrence Memorial Cups respectively to commemorate the lives of two young rugby players.
And Webb said: “I think everybody who is engaged is a parent or has young people in their lives, so to be here honouring Olly and Maddy is a real honour for us.
“And I think everybody here is just pleased to be playing rugby together in a competitive tournament where they can play with their peers and then have the fun afterwards.
“This is one of the largest Vets festivals and it just keeps growing.
“We’ve already got teams who said they want to play next year and there’s definitely a legacy building with this Vets tournament.
“These people are engaged, want to do more and want to fund children and vulnerable young people in their areas.
“We’re looking to take it around the country because other regions want to host.
“So I know that we’ve got Surrey already lined up, York were looking for it and it’s being asked for, which is amazing.”
Maddy, a vibrant 20-year-old girl loved playing sport and started her rugby career at university, tragically lost her life after developing sepsis in hospital, after an injury at a game. Olly, a happy teenager, who regularly enjoyed watching live rugby with his Dad, heartbreakingly died after being lured to a park by a teenage girl, where he was stabbed and killed by two boys waiting for him.
Over lockdown, Wooden Spoon provided a strong front to fund food banks and hospices who were struggling throughout the pandemic.
And with rugby now back on screens and grassroots pitches all over the country, Webb is acutely aware of the impact Wooden Spoon has on local communities.
She added: “We are fortunate in the fact that we are a grant giving company so we just did everything that we could.
“We released some emergency funding for projects that we wouldn’t have considered normally.
“We don’t have the pressure of front line delivery but we were very efficient with our funding to make sure that we raised as much as we could.
“And this is testament to that.”
Participants and supporters of Vets Fest 22 were welcomed by HRH, The Princess Royal, who attended an afternoon reception to meet people involved in the event and watch some of the games. Webb said: “We are incredibly fortunate to have Her Royal Highness as our patron she’s very engaged and involved.
“She loves rugby and encourages us to work together within the rugby community.
“Fundraising’s always been an integral part of why we do the event but it’s also about succession planning into our committees, making sure we raise our awareness across all the regions and that all the funds that we raise stay local.”
Register for next year’s Vets Fest event at: https://woodenspoon.org.uk/wooden-spoon-vets-fest-2023/