A rugby tournament celebrating young talent in the game marked the official opening of Wallsend Rugby Football Club’s brand new home pitches.
Following 12 months of works, the two new state-of-the-art rugby pitches were put through their paces as part of the Friendly Festival on Sunday.
The under-6 to under-16 tournament took place across six sites with the new pitches at Wallsend hosting the under-14 games.
The land next to St Peter’s Road, Wallsend, marks the club’s first permanent home in its 51-year history.
Wallsend RFC secured funding totalling more than £215,000 from North Tyneside Council, the Rugby Football Union and Sport England to convert the disused fields into match ready pitches.
Ryan Thirlaway, chairman of Wallsend RFC, said: “On behalf of everyone at Wallsend we’d like to say a huge thank you to North Tyneside Council, Rugby Football Union and Sport England for securing the future of Wallsend RFU and providing us with a brand new home.
“This is the first time in the club’s history we’ve had our own home pitches.
“It will make a huge difference to the players, supporters and local schoolchildren from across the region who will all benefit from investment in the game.”
The completion of Wallsend’s state-of-the-art pitches is the first stage of a larger development plan for the club that will introduce top quality changing facilities and improved public areas.
Coun Eddie Darke, North Tyneside Council cabinet member responsible for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “North Tyneside Council is hugely supportive of Wallsend Rugby Club and the work it does to support people of all ages with a passion for the sport.
“As well as leasing the land for these new pitches the council also contributed £86,000 to the project.
“I’m delighted that they are now ready and play kicked off with this fantastic youth tournament.”
With just one year to go until Rugby World Cup 2015 arrives in Newcastle upon Tyne, the opening of the new pitches marks a significant legacy for the game on Tyneside.
The £80,000 contributed to the project by the Rugby Football Union has seen Wallsend RFC named a designated ‘Lead Up and Legacy Centre’ for the Rugby World Cup 2015.
Alex Bowden, Rugby Football Union area facilities manager, said: “The new facilities will improve the quality of the rugby experience for everyone using the site and provide more playing opportunities.
“This investment will also support the club’s financial sustainability leading into Rugby World Cup 2015 and will create a focus for England 2015 and a lasting rugby union legacy for rugby in the community.
“The new rugby pitches at Wallsend RFU will help the club raise its profile and encourage more players, volunteers and spectators to share the special values that distinguish the sport.”
It is hoped the new rugby pitches will encourage more children and young people to take up the sport and continue the club’s legacy of nurturing and developing talent.
Former Wallsend RFU prop Micky Ward went on to play professional rugby at premiership side Newcastle Falcons before joining the coaching staff as scrum coach.
Sport England property director Charles Johnston said: “I’m really pleased the £50,000 of National Lottery funding from our Protecting Playing Fields fund has helped Wallsend RFU get its first permanent home.
“Playing fields are a vital part of grassroots sport, often the places where people have their first experience of sport.
“By protecting and improving the places where people sport, we’ll ensure people can develop a lifelong sporting habit.”
The Friendly Festival (formally The North Tyneside Festival of Rugby) took place across various rugby football clubs and local playing fields.
More than 2,500 young players took part in the one-day celebration of the game promoting rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.
Games took place at Percy Park RFU, under-11 to under-12, at Rockcliff RFU, under-13 at Norham High School in North Shields, under-14 at Wallsend RFU, under-15 at Seghill RFU, under-16 at North Shields RFU and women and girls at Foxhunters Playing Fields in North Shields.