By Damian Dolan
London Irish Amateur Rugby Club is well on its way to reaching its £40,000 fundraising target – an amount needed to help safeguard the club’s future.
The loss of essential revenue due to the forced cancellation of several significant fundraising events and the suspension of all rugby by the RFU – in light of the Covid-19 pandemic – has forced the club to launch an emergency Covid-19 appeal for financial help.
London Irish Amateur RFC chairperson, Kevin Flynn, says they’ve been overwhelmed by the response.
Since the club set up a gofundme page on 21 April, more than £29,000 has been donated.
“We can’t believe that people have stepped up so quickly to help the club out – it’s very humbling,” Flynn told the Irish World.
“There are a lot of worthy causes out there at the moment, such as the NHS, but [it shows] what the club means to people.
“They’ve been willing to put their hand in their pocket, so quickly and so generously.
— London Irish ARFC (@LondonIrishARFC) April 22, 2020
“It spurs everyone at the club on to make sure we’re ready for the beginning of the season, whenever that is.”
Flynn has been humbled by some of the comments on the club’s gofundme page, from those who’ve donated so far.
“One guy said ‘I’m a member of the club, my son plays for London Irish and I feel like I owe it to the club to support it in its hour of need’,” he said.
“Another guy talks about how his son started playing for under 8s 31 years ago, and now his grandson is in the under 7s.
“That’s the sort of members we have at the club – they’re unbelievably loyal.”
The money will be vital in helping to cover the club’s rent at its Hazelwood training ground, which it shares with London Irish’s professional team, and costs incurred to run revenue generating events, which it’s been forced to cancel.
“That’s been the double-whammy; we weren’t able to run the events, yet we’ve incurred the costs,” said Flynn, who is preparing for his third season as chairperson.
Those events include its London Irish City Lunch, Leprechaun Lunch, St. Patrick’s Day Festival, Annual Awards Dinner, Walton Heath Golf Day and London Irish Mini Festival – the “biggest mini festival in the UK if not Europe” which attracts 2,000 children.
All of which provide income to fund the club’s ongoing running costs.
“That [the Mini Festival] was a big blow [financially], and a massive disappointment to the kids who were coming across from Ireland,” said Flynn.
The club estimates the cancellation of these events equates to £40,000 in lost revenue.
London Irish were left “reeling from the impact” says Flynn, but it quickly moved to safeguard its future “like any business”.
It cut outgoings and is working with its key suppliers and stakeholders at Hazelwood to manage payments.
The £40,00 will leave the club on a “sound financial footing” and provide it with the “platform we need to get ourselves as best prepared as we can”.
Exactly how far into the future that amount will safeguard the club’s future will depend on when rugby resumes. Flynn remains hopeful that rugby will restart in September.
In the meantime, the club is preparing for every possibility, and that includes measures that could minimalize levels of contact.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get back at Hazelwood in September, and even before that for pre-season training,” said Flynn, who comes from Greystones, Co Wicklow.
He came to London in 1997 and immediately became involved with London Irish Amateur RFC. For Flynn, the club was a “home from home”.
Nowadays, the club is just as important to its local community – staging events such as comedy and open cinema nights – as it is to those who are Irish, or of Irish heritage.
London Irish Amateur RFC has men’s, ladies, minis and youth rugby – and has a total membership of 1,200.
“There are loads of people from the Sunbury, Shepperton and Ashford area who see London Irish as their local club. It’s a real mix of people down there,” said Flynn.