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‘We were staring into the abyss’ – how Suffolk’s top rugby club survived coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 15:59 09 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:59 09 July 2020

The annual Greene King Sevens tournament at Bury Rugby club is unlikely to take place this year.  Pictured: The Bury Barbarians on the attack against the Samurai Academy in 2018.  Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

The annual Greene King Sevens tournament at Bury Rugby club is unlikely to take place this year. Pictured: The Bury Barbarians on the attack against the Samurai Academy in 2018. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

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The chairman of Suffolk’s top rugby club has hailed a “humbling” community response for helping the club through the Covid-19 crisis.

Crowds enjoy the action and sunshine at the Bury Sevens tournament in 2018.  Picture: ANDY ABBOTTCrowds enjoy the action and sunshine at the Bury Sevens tournament in 2018. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

During the pandemic, Bury St Edmunds rugby club has had support from local volunteers, government schemes and Sport England to help them through – as well as organising events such as a drive through food festival.

Club chairman, David Reid, said: “We’ve had a lot of support in terms of volunteers coming in just to tend the grass, keep the weeds back, do some general maintenance.

“It’s very, very humbling to know that certain things we would have had to pay for in normal times, people have just turned up and said ‘is there anything I can do to help?’.”

The annual Greene King IPA Rugby Sevens Tournament at The Haberden in Bury St Edmunds is unlikely to go ahead this year.  Picture: ANDY ABBOTTThe annual Greene King IPA Rugby Sevens Tournament at The Haberden in Bury St Edmunds is unlikely to go ahead this year. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

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The club play their matches in National League 2 South – the fourth tier of English rugby union – and were in the top 50 teams in the country when the season was cut short at the end of March.

“I think there is a sense really that as a club we’re in a wealthy situation, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It is an absolute challenge. Season in, season out.

“When coronavirus first hit we were staring into the abyss. Because what tends to happen is you build up a degree of debt over the season. You live hand to mouth and towards the last part of the season it tends to be expenditure exceeding income.

“Our income stream dried up overnight. So the first few weeks were managing expectations of our creditors. Then the government stepped in with grants and we were quickly able to establish a JustGiving page [which has now raised over £13,500]. That was very successful and humbling in terms of the amount of support that we got locally from members, supporters and friends of the club. We also very kindly got a grant from Sport England.

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“If you put all that lot together it enabled us to settle our debts and put us onto an even keel. I think we’ve probably come out stronger for it.”

Since the curtailed season, the club has had to furlough all but one of the staff on its payroll, including youth coaches, a facilities manager, hospitality staff, groundsman and caretakers.

“There are about seven or eight people that are on a payroll – predominantly part time – but they were very much reliant on the club, which is now a business, so we have to run it like one,” Mr Reid said.

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Others including the club’s top players – who are paid appearance fees – and casual staff were paid up to date by the middle of March.

The club is also likely to have to cancel their popular Sevens festival this summer.

“We’ve still got the sevens pencilled in for August 30. But I think you have to be a significant optimist to think that is actually going to take place.”

They were hoping this year’s festival would be more of a draw than usual, because of the new recruit Tom Varndell – an ex-England player and the all-time top try scorer in England’s top league.

Mr Reid said: “He’s a big name, so hopefully we will be able to attract some more supporters down on a Saturday.

“The big problem is we don’t know when the season’s going to start. There’s rumours that it’s early October, but that could stretch to November and that could even stretch to January.”


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