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Coronavirus Kent: Gravesend Rugby Football Club future plunged into turmoil over grassroots grant

A 140-year old sports club fears it could soon fold after it missed out on an emergency government grant.

Donald Biggs Drive is home to Gravesend Rugby Football Club, just one of the many teams feeling the financial pinch of the coronavirus crisis.

Gravesend Rugby Football Club's future is in doubt if money cannot be found to support it through the crisis
Gravesend Rugby Football Club's future is in doubt if money cannot be found to support it through the crisis

All rugby-related activity in England was suspended from March 17 until at least April 14, pending review.

It's not just professional clubs making tough business decisions either with those at grassroots level also reporting they are having to give notice to staff.

The Gravesend-based outfit is designated as a "Community Amateur Sports Club" and boasts facilities for 400 members across tennis, bowls, cricket, wheelchair rugby and even pigeon fancying, among other sports.

This dates back to the club's ties with the old industrial paper mill which stipulated they all be banded together.

It had hoped the government would step in and offer relief in the form of a Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant for £25,000.

The club's home in Donald Biggs Drive, Gravesend
The club's home in Donald Biggs Drive, Gravesend

But chairman Mark Bruce says as the club's rateable value for all the teams combined works out at around £55,000, it falls just outside the government's eligibility criteria, set at below £51,000.

He said: "We are effectively being penalised for having more than one club operating under the same umbrella.

"A club such as ours serves the local community in more than one way and does not exist to make a profit, rather its sole purpose is to provide its members and the people of Gravesham with the best possible facilities it can at the most affordable rates.

"While rugby loses the end of season and all that goes with that, other sections face the possibility of not having a season at all."

He went on to say the effects of this would be severe, estimating the total cost in lost income and additional expense at around £100,000.

"This is money the club can ill do without and which may in other circumstances allow it to survive," he added.

Mark Bruce is chairman of Gravesend Rugby Football Club
Mark Bruce is chairman of Gravesend Rugby Football Club

Many clubs are having to rely on grants or sponsors, who too may be feeling the economic fallout of the virus.

The Rugby Football Union recently announced a £7m package to help the grassroots game but Mark says given the number of clubs within Kent he doubts whether the funds will stretch far enough.

Mark called on the government to do more to help community clubs such as his deemed "too big to benefit".

He said: "Gravesend Rugby Club has been in existence since 1880 and is celebrating 140 years this year.

"If we are to see another 100 years then government and other support will be required to maintain a club in its current guise with the facilities that we can all be proud of.”

Read more: All the latest news from Gravesend


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