A Hartlepool-based sports club that offers free rugby for children has secured a £1,000 grant from the Venator Community Fund.

Hartlepool Rugby Football Club (RFC) received the top award from the fund after its application drew the most votes (3,948) in an online poll. The club is one of 40 organisations to have benefited from the fund, which has handed out more than £50,000 to schools, community groups and charities across the region since it was launched in 2018.

Lee Dodgson, treasurer of Hartlepool RFC, said the money would be invaluable in helping the club to continue offering free rugby to children in the community.

He said: “We’re thrilled to have won this award from the Venator Community Fund. The money will go directly to the junior section of the club. We intend to use it to buy two sets of rugby kits: one for the girls’ team and another for the under 15s boys’ team. Any money that’s left over will go towards our running costs so we can continue to ensure that kids can play rugby for free.

“I’ve been at the club since I was 12 and I’m now 36. I went through the junior section, progressed into the senior section and now I’m part of the management team. I’m really proud to be part of a club that offers free rugby for kids. We’ve just established the under 15s boys’ side and we’ve also formed a girls’ team for the first time in our history.”

Around 200 juniors aged 5-18 play for Hartlepool RFC, which has been part of the local community since 1893. The club also has three senior men’s sides as well as a ladies’ team. 

Karen Fenwick, Vice President Corporate Branding and Communications at Venator, said: “The fact that the club polled almost 4,000 votes shows just how much it is valued by local people. They were worthy winners of our top prize of £1,000.

“Hartlepool RFC provides a brilliant service to the local community, helping people of all ages to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle while working together as a team towards a common goal. We were delighted to award them with a grant from our fund, which is designed to support North East charities, community groups and educational establishments that have innovation and teamwork at their heart.”