In the beginning…
In spring of 2017 following some earlier Mixed Ability training delivered to around ten of the Premiership community rugby teams, IMAS were contacted by former Gloucester Rugby and Samoan international player Terry Fanolua.
Terry had identified a great little community club in the heart of Gloucester, Longlevens RFC and asked for support to build the first Mixed Ability team in the South West of the country. In May 2017 youthful club member, Elliot Fortey worked to recruit new participants and regular club members for an IMAS led introductory presentation to Mixed Ability rugby, alongside fun inclusive activities on the pitch.
Following Elliot’s involvement in the first taster session he continued to support the Gloucester Community team with regular weekly sessions, but the constraints of ‘Project Rugby’ meant the sessions were likely to fizzle out when the twelve-week block of funding ceased. Elliot made the decision to coach the new participants after numbers had swelled to almost a full XV
That summer the new Mixed Ability team adopted the crest of Longlevens RFC and become the Gloucester Griffins playing their first fixture in September against the newly established Worcester Warriors Mixed Ability side and winning a competitive game 12- 7.
With a full-size squad and without the input from the Prem’ community team young Elliot knew he needed help to coach this growing side. Fortunately, he was put in touch with Rich Steward former Director of Rugby at Newent RFC.
The two coaches began work together to make the Gloucester Griffins sustainable. By contacting Active Gloucester, the Chamwell centre and forging links with Special Educational Needs (SEN) schools in the region the guys created a pathway for junior players who aspire to play for the Griffins.
Elliot talks about this time as a journey of self-discovery. “ I set out as a new rugby coach with little experience and confidence. Coaching mixed ability rugby has allowed me to expand and develop my skill sets. It has been a challenge that I have enjoyed every minute of. I now have the confidence to coach Mixed Ability players and I also coach at three SEN schools. Along the way I have been able to gain qualifications and share my experiences with other Longlevens members who have also benefited from making our club inclusive and a safe place for people with a disability to be welcomed and not judged.”
Recognition and awards
Since establishing the Griffins Elliot went on to win the 2018 Mitsubishi Volunteer of the Year Award, also in 2018 the team won the Gloucester Charity Business Award and were finalists in the Crabbies National Rugby Award. In 2019 Gloucester Griffins became only the third team in England to be recognised with the IMAS Mixed Ability Club Accreditation and they were able to make a Mixed Ability promotional short film.
The club have enjoyed regular fixtures and played many of the established Mixed Ability teams including Llanelli Warriors, Cardiff Chiefs, Shropshire Stags, Walcott Warriors, Derby Bucks, Cainscross and the Surrey Chargers and charity side the Wooden Spoon XV. Like so many teams, the Covid 19 Pandemic caused huge disappointment to Elliot and the Griffin players who had been excited to be a part of the scheduled IMART 2020.
Beyond Covid 19
New players joining the squad have taken numbers to over 50 players, and Elliot and Rich have been joined by four additional coaches. Elliot explained “the SEN projects have seen us coach on a weekly basis over 160+ children ranging from 7 to 16-year olds, along with over 50 senior players. We are continuing to fund raise for the postponed IMART world cup and most recently we’ve been invited by the RFU to be part of the Families Fund initiative. We’re being supported by IMAS and getting more families active through stimulating activities and boosting our club into a real community hub!”
With thanks to Cat de Klein for the Families Fund photograph. Elliot Fortey and Rich Steward for storyline.