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Mixed Ability Reading Rugby Pioneers Score Community Funding

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Berkshire’s first mixed ability rugby team has received funding to help the club expand and grow, while still meeting the needs of its players.

Mixed Ability Reading Rugby

The Berkshire Brigands received the support from the Community Fund, a joint initiative between the University of Reading and the John Sykes Foundation.

The Brigands was set up by Colin Stonehouse, a member of the Security team at the University. He was inspired to start the team by his youngest son, Duncan, who wanted to play rugby like his older brother Drew.

Duncan’s Down Syndrome created a barrier, preventing him from participating in traditional contact rugby, but he loved watching Drew play and was eager to participate. It was Duncan’s ongoing interest in the sport that convinced Colin there was a need for a space where both of his sons could play the sport they enjoyed so much. With that, Berkshire Brigands was born.

A place for everyone

Mixed ability rugby enables players, over the age of 16, to play in the same team regardless of whether they have a disability or not and is a perfect way for players with disabilities, be they mental or physical, to get involved in the sport. It breaks down the traditional barriers many face in taking part in mainstream sport, enabling all to enjoy the great game. Berkshire Brigands is like any other sports team, because as well as playing regularly, they also enjoy the social benefits of being part of a club.

The support from the Community Fund will help the Berkshire Brigands achieve its ambitions of becoming a team that can play other mixed ability teams, social sides and regular club teams around the UK. They also hope to compete in the International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament, the equivalent of the Rugby World Cup, in Ireland in June 2022.

Upskilling and expanding

The Berkshire Brigands applied for funding from the Community Fund, a joint community-focused initiative set up by the University of Reading and the John Sykes Foundation. The application was successful, and the team was awarded financial support to help them provide additional training for four coaches and volunteers.

Head coach, Duncan Jones, said: “I coach the Brigands because I strongly believe in complete inclusivity in sport. Because of rugby I have been able to travel around the world and make amazing lifetime memories.

“I feel anyone should be able to reap the many benefits of team sport, whether that be making lifelong friendships, challenging yourself or just feeling part of something. By leading as a coach for Berkshire’s first mixed ability rugby team, giving people in Berkshire who beforehand may have felt it to be a huge obstacle, an opportunity to join a rugby team, is incredibly inspiring to me.”

Boosting confidence

All team members are taught rugby union’s core values: Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship and coaches emphasise these, rather than the need to win. The focus on creating a positive environment for everyone involved has empowered members of the team to step outside their comfort zone and become more confident in their abilities.

“My 21-year-old son went to play with the Berkshire Brigands, and I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time in 12 years he had been anywhere without me. It’s the best part of his life,” one parent said.

Feedback from players and their family members has been overwhelmingly positive, with many reporting a feeling of increased independence, confidence and acceptance.

Kate Stonehouse is team manager for the Brigands, and Duncan’s proud mum. She said: “We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received since suggesting the idea, and how committed everyone has been to making it happen.

“And it is finally happening! Duncan is playing rugby with his brother, and with other likeminded players, with learning disabilities and autism and without.

“The standard of rugby is astonishing, and just watching is a truly joyful experience. We are already finding that wherever Duncan goes, he is finding others equally loving their rugby, and ready to offer friendship rooted in it.”

Community first

The funding from the John Sykes Foundation and the University will enable the team to better equip its volunteers and coaches to meet the needs of the players, and hopefully increasing numbers taking part.

Colin Stonehouse, who founded the Berkshire Brigands, said: “Membership is open to new players. Everyone is welcome in the Brigands family, and we want to ensure we can always provide that training and experience to all players, new and existing.

“This funding will enable us to provide high quality training and support to those in our community, no matter their ability. We are really grateful for the support of the Foundation and the University – it is enabling us to do more with what we have, and to reach more people.”

Mixed Ability Reading Rugby Video

Watch video of the Berkshire Brigands at their first training session.

The Community Fund was launched in April 2021 by the University of Reading and the John Sykes Foundation. It offers financial support to projects that benefit the people and community of Reading. This is the first year of a two-year pilot, with both organisations contributing financially.