Dragons are delighted to announce that Gareth Sullivan – our Rugby Inclusion Co-ordinator – has been named this season’s Phil James Community Award winner.
The Award, named in honour of Dragons Community Officer Phil James who passed away in 2016, is normally awarded to a player who has gone above and beyond to support the Community department throughout the Season.
However, this season the award goes to Gareth after his outstanding work across the inclusion programme over the last 12 months.
Mike Sage, Community Manager at Dragons, said: “This prestigious award was set-up to keep the legacy of Phil alive, with all the inspiring work he conducted over 14 years of service at Rodney Parade.
“This season the award deservedly goes to Gareth. His work in the inclusion space has been phenomenal, he has certainly gone above and beyond and deserves the recognition of the award.
“The work he has done to inspire our homeless, mixed ability and disability teams, also working with Sporting Memories and people who are suffering with loneliness and depression, has been outstanding.
“I’m now looking forward to working with Gareth and seeing the inclusion provision within the Dragons region continue to grow.”
Matt James, the son of Phil James, added: “Rugby can be for everyone and was something my father was very passionate about.
“Gareth’s hard work throughout the community for inclusion rugby has been admirable and something he should be very proud of.”
Earlier this season we spoke with Gareth for a feature in Fired Up magazine about his work in the inclusion programme…
The Dragons Community team has seen its rugby inclusion programme grow over the last 12 months, as it bids to make the sport truly accessible to all.
Dragons are continually looking at alternative provision to widen the rugby landscape and engage with enthusiasts from all walks of life – all under the #JerseyForAll banner.
The benefits of the inclusion programme includes improved physical well-being and mobility, but also boosting self-esteem and breaking down social barriers.
Gareth Sullivan, Inclusion Co-ordinator, has helped drive the programme, after initially getting involved via the Dragons Allstars - our mixed ability team.
And he revealed he has a personal reason why he is keen to open the doors for everyone to play a sport that has given him so much.
“I was born with a deformed hand and was told when I was 11-years-old that I would never play any rugby by a teacher,” said Gareth. “I went outside of school and proved them wrong and ended up playing rugby.
These opportunities were not around when I was younger, but they are now and we must open it up to anyone who wants to engage with us.
“It is not just the physical benefits, there is the mental health benefits, the inclusion, the meeting of friends. It’s not just about rugby.
“With the mixed ability groups, the friendships that have grown from that is just brilliant. They socialise outside of training now too.
“The support of the Dragons is massive and wearing the brand is huge to the participants and helping us grow.”
The Dragons Allstars mixed ability team is just one of the success stories from the inclusion programme, having grown dramatically over a short space of time.
“We had one member for the first six weeks, but when we moved to Cwmbran we gradually grew it to where we are now, with 37 registered male players,” said Gareth.
“We train every week and have a variety of abilities, from brand new to rugby to disabled players and those with learning difficulties. We have a wide range of ages involved too.
“People can often get confused between disability rugby and inclusion rugby – this caters for the whole spectrum.
“The men’s mixed ability team is growing week in and week out. We played 26 fixtures in the last calendar year which is terrific.”
And the mixed ability offering is not just for men, as Gareth explains.
“Karen (Burgess) came up with the idea, with some of the wives and partners, of doing some ladies touch rugby too, all as part of the Allstars,” he said.
“They’ve played festivals and it’s open to girls and women of all abilities and disabilities, from 14 years up.
“We have also created a mixed ability inclusion side and played out first game up at Worcester, before the European game at Sixways.”
Gareth admits the support of the region and partners has been crucial as Dragons Allstars, Dragons Phoenix – our homeless ruby team – Walking Rugby and Wheelchair Rugby have all expanded.
“We’ve had some fantastic support throughout the year,” he said.
“New York Welsh have been brilliant with our mixed ability work; Newport City Homes have backed the homeless team brilliantly too.
“The WRU has also supported the programme. Last year the Allstars played at the Principality Stadium and we’re hoping to play next year at the mixed ability World Cup.
“It’s an exciting time and period of growth for our work,” added Gareth.
“It’s great to see mixed ability rugby, homeless rugby, walking rugby and wheelchair rugby all under one banner. “Over the last 12 months it’s really grown. We now have over 100 members and we have only just started.
“Coupled with our inclusion work, we also have the Inclusive Community Club (ICC) scheme which aims to engage children and young adults with disabilities in the local community through non-contact tag-based rugby sessions.
“There are sessions at Caldicot and Ebbw Vale and all are tailored specific to participants needs. It’s a great initiative and I’d encourage people to get involved.”
Want to get involved with our inclusion programme or discover more about the provision? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.