Published: 10:00, 22 April 2020
| Updated: 13:56, 10 July 2020
Sevenoaks Rugby Club have received a welcome cash grant and have urged others to check out funding that they might be entitled to.
The club, who play in the London & South East Premier Division, have received £25,000 to help them keep afloat throughout the coronavirus crisis.
Their season was terminated by the RFU and clubs have lost out on much needed revenue from their expected end of season fixtures and events.
Assistance in claiming the grant - which is already in their bank account - came through a company called Covid Help. Former Mighty Oaks player Tom May, who enjoyed a long spell as a rugby professional and won two England caps, put them in touch with the club’s commercial director Roger McKerlie.
Mr McKerlie said: “I received a call from a friend of a friend about Mike Chester (who runs the Covidhelp.org.uk website) and he runs a fantastic business. He has taken it upon himself to help out clubs and businesses to navigate through the maize of what they can and can’t get out of local grants.
“I was dubious and I was sceptical and I thought ‘is this real?’ He approached Sevenoaks District Council on our behalf and told me we were eligible for a £25k grant. The money is now in our account and that will help us financially for the next few months.
“Sometimes there are just good people out there who do good things.”
Chairman Trevor Nicholson says the funds will be a big help in steering them through to the autumn, when there are hopes rugby can be restarted.
He said: “It has been a fantastic help at this stage because of the fact that it has come quickly, that is really the thing.
“Some people are prepared to wait for the money and that is fine but a lot of expenses are committed and you have to pay it. We want to plan for the next three or four months, we can’t just say we will pay the bills today, it is not good enough.
“It has worked for us, that’s for sure, and it’s like it is too good to be true but it has been fine for us. We have the money now.
“It will help, it is not the whole story, all sports clubs are absolutely on the floor at the moment. It is very difficult, you have to cut costs back, furlough people, all of that kind of stuff.
“I hope we will be okay, we are at quite a high level in terms of rugby leagues but we don’t pay players, that is the big thing.”
The payment of players is a big issue for Sevenoaks and they are lobbying the RFU to make it against the rules for any club below the Championship to do it.
It’s one commitment they don’t have to worry about during the current crisis.
They have spent six years setting up a senior squad system which ensures the club are united throughout each team.
“Everybody plays together and trains together and the senior head coach Adam Bowman has been absolutely fantastic in organising it,” said the chairman.
“It is a good community club with good people and we are getting walk ins now from other clubs.”
Sevenoaks have seen some talented players progress through the club, including Ben Earl, who recently got his first England cap when appearing in the Calcutta cup this February.
Another former international, Tom May, has backed the company behind the funding help, saying: “Clearly a lot of businesses are struggling and suffering financially but Mike Chester (from Covid Help) has set up this platform and is doing amazing things.”
Mr Chester says other clubs could get help through business rates relief. His website has an online calculator that enables small companies, including sports clubs, to find out what they are entitled to, if anything.
Companies with rateable values below £51,000 can receive help but it's not going to benefit everyone. Gravesend Rugby Club fall outside of the government's eligibility criteria, by just £4,000.
"This is money the club can ill do without and which may in other circumstances allow it to survive," said their chairman Mark Bruce.
Mr Bruce 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.”
Canterbury Rugby Club have missed out on between £80,000 and £100,000 in end of season income after being forced to cancel their end of season events.
England Rugby has issued a lengthy support guide to help clubs but Mr Chester hopes his website can give club's immediate knowledge of whether they are able to receive grants.
He said: “My fear that many community clubs could fold on the back of coronavirus.
“As we all know it starts with grassroots sport and to think that Sevenoaks would of been on the verge of collapse is horrifying, especially after one of their own Ben Earl recently got his first England cap.
“Along with the likes of British & Irish Lions Andy Titterrell and Tom May that have been brought through the club. Hopefully now they’ll make through to their centenary year.
“I’m just pleased I was able to help."
His own furniture business is closed during the crisis and he’s been helping others out since then.
"I don’t think I have ever worked so hard and for so long for zero money but it is the most rewarding and proudest thing I have ever done," he said.
"People were asking at the start, 'is this a scam?' I got in touch with the Trading Standards and they have allowed me to use their logos because they recognise what I am doing.
"I thought about doing it as “no win, no fee”, so if they got £10k I would take £1,000 but they need all of that £10k right now. Since then I haven’t looked back.
"Clubs like Sevenoaks can now look forward rather than worry about whether they will survive. Hopefully I have helped take the immediate stress out of it all."