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24 July 2020

SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) and Ulster Rugby have announced the allocation of the Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary fund.  A total fund of £8,000 was made available by SONI to help support community rugby with the anticipated expenses of a post COVID-19 return to activity.

The fund was tiered in three bursary levels of £1000, £500 and £250.  Individuals were asked to make applications on behalf of clubs who supported their community during the ongoing pandemic.  Twenty clubs have been awarded a bursary, with many clubs being nominated multiple times.

Coleraine RFC and Ballynahinch RFC were awarded the maximum bursary of £1000.  Coleraine Rugby Football Cricket and Hockey Club offered the free use of its car park for staff and patients at the neighbouring Causeway hospital, as well as being involved in a community response initiative with the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, donating food parcels and running errands for vulnerable residents. Ballynahinch has been delivering food parcels, donating refreshments to emergency services and fund-raising for mental health services.

Jo Aston, Managing Director of SONI, said: “We are proud to be able to support community rugby clubs throughout Ulster as they seek a return to activity.  I personally have been overwhelmed by the individual efforts each nominated club made to support vulnerable people during COVID-19.   These are extraordinary times and we recognise more than ever that rugby clubs are a vital asset to the communities they operate within.”

The Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 bursary, is an extension of the Real Rugby Heroes programme which was put on hold as COVID-19 took its toll on the game.  SONI in partnership with Ulster Rugby agreed to repurpose budgets to support community rugby clubs as they navigate a return to the game.   The original Real Rugby Heroes format will recommence later this summer.

Barry Willis, Rugby Operations Manager at Ulster Rugby said: “We are incredibly proud of how the clubs have reacted, and would like to congratulate each and every club who have been awarded a bursary.  It is often said that communities pull together when times are tough and in rugby circles the Real Rugby Heroes of COVID-19 has very much proved that point.”

A full list of bursary recipients is below:

Tier 1

Ballynahinch RFC, Coleraine RFC.

Tier 2

City of Derry RFC, Dungannon RFC, Lisburn RFC, Lurgan RFC, Malone RFC, Randalstown RFC.

Tier 3

Ards RFC, Banbridge RFC, Bangor RFC, Belfast High School Former Pupils RFC, CIYMS RFC, Clogher Valley RFC, Donegal Town RFC, Grosvenor RFC, Larne RFC, Limavady RFC, Omagh Academicals RFC, Portadown.

SONI is responsible for the safe, secure and reliable supply of electricity into the heart of communities across Northern Ireland. Currently, SONI is developing a greener energy system which will enable the grid to handle 95% of renewable energy at any one time.

For more information on SONI visit www.soni.ltd.uk or follow on twitter @soni_ltd