Sport and community hub unveils major improvements

A regional sport and hospitality hub which began as a village rugby club has unveiled the latest phase of a major improvement programme worth almost £500,000.

Pictured on the newly refurbished terrace at Brantingham Park are (from left) Hull Ionians president Pat Wilson, ERYC councillors Claire Holmes, Richard Meredith and Pat Smith, and Hull Ionians chair Stephen Townend.

The investment by Hull Ionians RUFC over the last six years has helped to provide floodlights, an all-weather cricket wicket and refurbishments to changing rooms, with the enhanced facilities driving increased activity in rugby, rounders and cricket.

Hospitality facilities at the club’s home at Brantingham Park, Elloughton, have also been upgraded with improvements to the bar, kitchen and toilets. The latest project has brought weather-proof cladding for the roof of the main function hall, and a renovated and extended patio which includes an accessible area for watching matches.

But visitors to the launch event were reminded that Ionians was founded in 1926 as a village rugby club. They didn’t even have a clubhouse until 1963, but the merger with Hull & East Riding in 1989 provided a platform for growth. The re-branded Hull Ionians sold off a large part of their site in 1995 and ploughed the proceeds into the development of Brantingham Park.

Further improvements followed over the years and a key contributor was East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which was represented at the launch by Councillor Claire Holmes, portfolio holder for planning, infrastructure and housing.

Councillor Holmes said: “The contributions to this came from commuted sums which are made available from developments in our area and I wanted to attend this celebration because it’s really rewarding to see the good that comes to the community from development, and to see the effect that it has on people.

“It’s a community hub which benefits not just this village but also surrounding villages. And it’s not just rugby, it’s multi-sport, multi ages and brings the community together.”

Stephen Townend, chair of Hull Ionians, thanked East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Elloughton-cum-Brough Town Council which supported the club’s funding applications, and other funding bodies including the Rugby Football Union, the England and Wales Cricket Board and Sport England.

He said: “We will continue to try and improve our facilities to ensure that, as a community club, rugby and other sports will be available to everybody in East Yorkshire, and most importantly to ensure that the sporting experience at Brantingham Park is enjoyed by all regardless of age, gender and ability.”

Pat Wilson, president of the club, added: “The onset of Covid restrictions in March 2020 meant there were no sports and no income streams and this continued for the next 14 months but we still had bills to pay.

“With the generosity of our membership and funding from the various organisations we were all relieved that we had overcome the pandemic financially and I’m delighted and proud that we are in good stead going forward. We are passionate about maintaining standards and we are always looking at ways to improve.”

Graham Steadman, who joined Hull Ionians as head of rugby in 2021 after a career playing and coaching at elite level in  rugby union and rugby league, said the club’s commitment to the community attracted him to a role which involves working in schools and other organisations in the amateur game, and with the professional rugby league clubs to provide a pathway for players at all levels.

He said: “That’s the reason I’m here. I was approached about 15 months ago and I had no hesitation because I always said I would love to put something back into the community.

“We are very fortunate to work with a great group of people and 90 per cent of them are voluntary and do outstanding work to make sure we can do what you see here. It’s a diverse set-up which is classed as a rugby club but which encourages other sports to play here. I have a privileged position and with continuing support this club can grow and go from strength to strength.”

Numbers of participants across all the rugby age groups have increased by about 10 per cent since the pandemic. In addition a second rounders team is also playing out of the venue, responding to the pulling power of high quality facilities.

Emily Wheal, chair of the women’s  rugby section, said: “We have about 35 members who include doctors, nurses, teachers, prison officers, all sorts of different professions. They come from across the region – Hull, Beverley, Hedon, Grimsby –and we play against teams from as far away as York, Harrogate, Scunthorpe, Doncaster.

“They are always really impressed with the facilities when they play here. It’s a good rugby experience and we are very, very privileged.”

Anthony Kaye, chair of the mini-junior section, said: “We now have about 300 members who travel from a radius of about 30 miles. There are great opportunities for them to progress and we have a number of them across all age groups who are making an impact at county level. You often hear parents saying they came here because of the quality of the facilities.”

John Doris, who guided the club through the funding processes, said: “With the growth of mini-junior rugby and the introduction of a women’s team we knew we needed to do some work on the clubhouse. We have now ticked off three key phases, investing nearly half a million pounds and delivering every phase on time and on budget.

“It was about repairing and refurbishing and it has improved the quality of the venue with a dedicated viewing area for disabled spectators and increased capacity for people who want to enjoy sport.

“We are also very much open to the community as a venue for school proms, scout groups, blood donor sessions – a wide range of activities which take place here. There are functions and conferences and other events happening nearly every day. Some are sport related but many are not. We are a very progressive club and we have ambitious plans for the future.”