Walking Rugby comes to Bolton
The group was started as Prime Sports became aware of older people in Bolton that were interested in playing rugby but felt they couldn’t engage in the traditional sport anymore. There were some in the community who had enjoyed playing rugby when they were younger, but felt it was something they couldn’t do in later life due to the hard contact and touch tackles. They did, however, want to be more active. The Walking Rugby group enables them to play at a level that matches their physical capacity.
Prime Sports met with Bristol Rugby Union (BRU), who already offered walking rugby sessions, to see what would be involved with implementing something similar in Bolton. Thanks to the knowledge shared by BRU, Prime were able to successfully apply for an Ambition for Ageing investment and get things up and running.
The project delivers walking rugby sessions at Bolton School twice a week, for 22 weeks. All sessions are targetted at over-50s, but people of other ages are welcome to participate; part of the purpose is to build cohesive communities across all ages.
Each week, group members decide what they want to focus on and whether they want to play in two teams or on a one-to-one basis. Every session is adaptable and anyone with additional support needs is invited to share recommendations that could improve the group’s accessibility.
Tuesday sessions have been adapted to support group members with additional needs, such as those living with dementia. Two members have severe visual impairments; instead of excluding them from participating the group introduced rugby balls with bells inside them, so that these members could listen for the ball. They also receive one-to-one support.
A well-run intergenerational project has developed (attendees are aged 11-83yrs, although most are 50+). The group is attended by women and men, and sessions are adapted to suit the diverse needs of the community.
The coaching model allows attendees to upskill by leading sessions when they feel able and ready. This generates confidence and a sense of commitment and ownership amongst group members.
Generally, participation has improved the confidence of attendees by improving fitness and enabling some to lose unwanted weight. It has also proven an opportunity to connect with people of different ages, genders and abilities.
“I was brought up playing rugby from the age of 9 and even played for the country. But as I got older and had a family, I didn’t have as much time to play and - due to a health condition which came my way - I didn’t actually play for 45 years. Due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s I had become socially withdrawn. My condition means that I get tired quite easily, and going out just isn’t as much fun anymore.
One day I saw walking rugby advertised and I thought, this is an opportunity for me to do something to help myself and I wanted to give it a go. The sessions have been great, all my rugby skills came back to me and have helped me to see that I still have things to offer and teach others.
I feel tremendous for being able to play again, I can’t wait to go each week and I have noticed that my energy levels have actually increased and my sleep is better. I even help to deliver the sessions now, which is nice to know that I can give something back.”
One of the challenges this initiative faced was the varied abilities of participants. A flexible and adaptive approach was required, with an understanding that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. This led to the introduction of one-to-one support for some participants, while more confident participants provide coaching for their peers.
The group is currently seeking long-term funding to ensure the sessions continue.
Prime Sport Coordinator
T: 01204 597248