This week we are shining a spotlight on our network across Wales as part of our ‘Croeso Week’ and the important work the clubs across the country do to support older people.

Our work in Wales is possible through support from the first phase of the Healthy and Active Fund, a £5.4m Fund run in partnership by the Welsh Government, Sport Wales and Public Health Wales.

Dragons Rugby operate four clubs across the Newport and Southeast Wales region as part of their fantastic community work. On Wednesday (23 March), they will be hosting a special event alongside us for ‘Croeso Week’ which will welcome over 50 Sporting Memories participants for a day of fun and reminiscence.

Ahead of the day, we caught up with Gareth Sullivan, Head of Inclusion, and Karen Burgess, Lead on the Sporting Memories activities at the Dragons, about what Sporting Memories brings to the Rugby club and its community efforts.

“We’ve been partners with Sporting Memories for about two-and-a-half-years now, and we’ve grown from one club to four clubs – and we’ve had Covid in the middle of that as well! Our Headline Community partner, Centerprise International also share our vision in providing life changing opportunities and delivering positive outcomes and we are delighted that they provide support to enhance our Sporting Memories provision” Gareth began.

“The outcomes of the sessions are really important to us at the Dragons and that means supporting our older people that are isolated or living with dementia. As a sport, our demographic is on the older side, so we’ve found that using rugby in this type of environment has helped us to engage more with the local community, particularly those groups that our members come from.”

Dragons Inclusion Officer, Karen helps to run the clubs on a weekly basis and she believes they all bring their own distinctive aspect to the collection of Sporting Memories clubs.

“All our clubs also have their own unique elements which make them special, for example our Risca hub includes a lot of ex-committee members and players from the Risca Rugby Club so there is a nice link there between our club and where it is based”.

“At the Cwmbran group, it is very mixed – we have lots of couples who attend and it is appears to have kind of become a hub for the local community. It’s based near a lot of community services which means there are a lot of travel links close to it, which ultimately has helped the group go from strength to strength, to the point now where we have quite a few people at the club. Our other clubs also brings a range of knowledge on local sport and community matters from times gone by which we otherwise wouldn’t know!”

Gareth believes the Sporting Memories clubs adds value to Dragons Rugby support of the local community through the various projects and initiatives it operates. Creating that sense of value for the people of our communities is something which Dragons take great pride in.

“I think creating a culture of feeling wanted and welcomed is at the heart of everything we do at Dragons Rugby – regardless of characteristic – and we use the hashtag #DragonsFamily quite a lot, and we mean it.

“We provide a lot of provisions for a wide range of groups locally and that’s important to us as a professional rugby club. What we deliver through the community department off the field helps make Dragons Rugby special”.

“We’re thrilled to be hosting the event for Sporting Memories Wales, and I know Karen has been speaking to all of our groups, particularly the one based here at Rodney Parade, about the event and they are all really excited – it’s given them something to look forward to.”

Karen believes Sporting Memories provides a support system for the members of the clubs and knows how it can change lives of those involved.

“From the sessions, our Sporting Memories Family build friendship groups and for many, this is often the only interaction they have with the outside world, and it is something they look forward to and it is their highlight of the week.

“I’ve seen people come out of their shells and make friendships, also those living with dementia from not speaking – to laughing and smiling – and that makes it enormously rewarding for someone like me who has seen these sessions improve the lives of those who come.”