Dragons Community Inclusion Officer Gareth Sullivan knows all about the value of keeping in touch and he’s calling on those skills now more than ever.
Sullivan runs a variety of initiatives throughout the Dragons region from Walking Rugby groups to Mixed Ability rugby, Dragons Homeless rugby and even Sporting Memories groups for individuals who are socially isolated or suffer from dementia.
The rugby groups he runs are often a lifeline for the participants in more ways than one. They provide important physical activity - and vitally, a chance to make new friends and belong to a team, all vital for the mental health of the players.
Since the lockdown, Gareth has been busier than ever, keeping in touch with everyone and helping them to become more tech-savvy in order to take part in online sessions and quite literally stay in touch with the game and each other.
He has delivered balls so that players can practice their new skills at home, created Top Trump style playing cards featuring the Dragons ALLSTARS players, along with organising a weekly quiz and successful presentation evening.
“There has been some understandable disappointment to deal with due to our regular training and events being cancelled or postponed.
"They could have lost heart as the rugby groups are the highlight of the week for many players - but the key thing has been to stay as connected as possible.
"That wasn’t easy to start with, due to many of our participants not being online or on social media but we have turned that around into one of our biggest successes – enabling our mixed ability players to get online and most of our Dragons ALLSTARS players now regularly take part in our weekly quiz and it was really great to see everyone on our zoom presentation night.
“I’m constantly trying to think of new things to do to keep them occupied and trying to give the participants as much ownership as possible – the Dragons ALLSTARS team did most of the work themselves to produce their Top Trumps cards and we’ve got them printed for them to enjoy playing and we will now roll that out to other teams. They’ve also sent in video clips to explain what inclusion rugby means to them.”
Some of the groups provide even more challenges at this time.
“I’m trying to keep in touch with our homeless players and I’m available whenever they want to reach out but by nature of their situation it’s not as easy, they often need to change hostels but I’m staying in touch with them on a weekly basis through their support workers," he added.
"It’s the same with the Sporting Memories group – they obviously can’t come to Rodney Parade at the moment and they’re in the most vulnerable and shielded group too – but I’m working with one care home who are upgrading their software so that I can start to run group sessions via zoom."
While Gareth is busy helping others, the role is also giving him a great sense of personal fulfilment.
“The last year has been a lifetime ambition achieved,” said the former Cwmbran coach. “I’ve always volunteered within community sport – I still do a lot of voluntary work – so after I was made redundant, I’ll always be grateful to the WRU and the Dragons for the initial opportunity to start do this for a living.
“I get a huge sense of personal well-being seeing first-hand the changes in people who get involved in our programmes.
"To see skills and confidence develop week after week is hugely satisfying and to see the benefits of working with the elderly and those with dementia also gives me a great amount of pride in what I do.
"We chat about all sports and that brings back some great memories for the participants plus we also include some kind of physical activity. We are staying in touch with them via the care homes and through our newsletter Sporting Pink while setting up the online groups.
“We are all looking forward to seeing each other again but until then we will keep each other motivated and give each other things to look forward to.”
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week - hosted by the Mental Health Foundation - CLICK HERE
They could have lost heart as the rugby groups are the highlight of the week for many players - but the key thing has been to stay as connected as possible...