In the final part of a series of articles to encourage people back into playing rugby, reporter Will Wood looks at the new Community Rugby Coaches in Gloucestershire.
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THE new season marks a new beginning in Gloucestershire rugby, with two more community rugby coaches starting work.
Dave Barley and Ben Smith will look after the Stroud and Cheltenham areas under Rugby Development Officer (RDO) Greg Bayliss.
They join fellow CRCs Ashley Stevens and Stuart Bradfield, who began their new posts in April and June respectively looking after the Forest of Dean and Gloucester.
With three CRCs being appointed in the Bristol area as well, that makes a total of seven for Gloucestershire under the three regional development officers in the region.
Their jobs will be to work with all of the grassroots clubs from their areas, establishing problems and coming up with solutions to overcome them.
A total of 120 CRCs have been appointed around the country as the RFU recognises the problem of falling playing numbers, particularly in the 14-24 age bracket.
Forest of Dean and Gloucester city rugby development officer Don Parsons says the two biggest problems he encounters from clubs are lack of players and money.
With the new personnel now in place, funding will now be provided to clubs to create the best possible environment for players to be attracted to.
Parsons said: "This is the start of trying to put foundations down and actually strengthening the numbers playing rugby in Gloucestershire.
"Players are getting older and injured and people are leaving the game and that is not a sustainable model.
"I can't see how we can continue particularly in the Gloucester area because clubs are dying on their feet without mini and junior sections or colts coming through.
"These guys are there to service their needs so clubs should welcome them in and take advantage of everything they can offer.
"Our guys need to go into the clubs and they have all got presentations to give to the clubs offering their services and what they can do.
"From that they will create an action plan once the clubs have got an understanding of the services and then it is a matter of delivering it.
"It might be for example that half of the coaches might not be qualified or the coaches are all forwards or all backs.
"It is putting development plans together and hopefully it can be a more enjoyable and efficient environment for everybody and in turn it will be more attractive for players."
Stephens will take care of Berry Hill, Bream, Cinderford, Drybrook, Lydney, Newent, Westbury-on-Severn, Spartans, Gloucester All Blues, Gordon League, newcomers Hardwicke and Quedgeley Harlequins, Longlevens and Hartpury College.
Bradfield is in charge of Coney Hill, Chosen Hill, Brockworth, Matson, Huccelcote, Tredworth, Widden Old Boys, the University of Gloucestershire, Old Cryptians, Old Centralians, Old Richians, Gloucester Old Boys, Gloucester Civil Service and Dowty.
Barley will look after Cainscross, Cirencester, Dursley, Fairford, Minchinhampton, Painswick, Stroud, Tetbury and Wotton while Smith has Cheltenham,Cheltenham Civil Service, Cheltenham North, Cheltenham Saracens, Norton, Old Pats, Smiths, Stow and Tewksbury.
With Stephens and Bradfield already underway in their posts, Barley and Smith began their jobs last week with results expected to emerge by the end of this season.
With 48 clubs to look after in the North Gloucestershire region, it was impossible for three RDOs to take care of all of their needs and interests on their own.
In recent times the biggest problem in the county has been falling numbers and the quartet is fully focussed on developing pathways into mini's and junior sections at each club.
With many people turning off rugby it is inevitable that aging squads will need reinforcing and Parsons said that is where junior rugby plays such a pivotal role to provide a brighter future.
He added: "The 14 to 24 is a guideline age group is our target market but the clubs really are the centre of everything we are doing.
"If they want to start mini and junior sections next year then the CRCs will establish protocols like child welfare officers and who is going to coach.
"They will provide education for the coaches and send them on courses, providing 50 per cent funding for coach development next year which is fantastic.
"They will go in and set up bespoke programmes befitting to what the club needs are and will develop them.
"The work they might do at a sixth form or in the University of Gloucestershire, if we can attract some players into a rugby club from there then it is fantastic really.
"It is about helping the club and creating an environment where people want to go, whether it is for first or third team rugby so that they can get the rugby they are looking for.
"We are not the most sparsely populated region in the country and Gloucestershire is a hot bed for rugby, and we had one community rugby coach for the entire county which is ridiculous for 80 clubs.
"We are working with clubs to address coach development and coach education and providing for coaches at the clubs.
"We are doing work programmes with local schools and creating club/school links so there are pathways.
"While the CRCs are at schools they will do teacher education so they trying to make a more sustainable model.
"After six weeks of coaching they have invested some time in the coaches and teachers, so when they pull back those guys can carry on.
"These coaches are in place to hopefully develop and create new players from schools, whether they go into the 15-a-side game or touch rugby, they are taking part in rugby-based activity.
"We now have the resources to get to the depths of the work that really needs to be done in terms of development so we are moving in the right direction now."
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