Maitland Rugby Club Clubrooms Facilities Upgrade
Maitland Rugby Union Football Club, NSW
Giving the Maitland Blacks a better place to call home
Maitland Rugby Club is one of the oldest in Australia. During its proud 140-year history, it’s also grown to be one of the largest.
“We’re a grassroot organisation, so we worked very hard to grow the club,” says Ben Emmett, the club’s Projects Coordinator. “But to continue growing, or even just maintain what we have, we needed to modernise and expand our facilities. We’d worked so hard to get to this point, the last thing you want to do is see it go into decline.”
The club, home of the Maitland Blacks, had swelled to roughly 850 playing members (total membership of the club including supporters, parents etc are in excess of 3500 members) – including six senior teams, 38 junior teams and female competitions. The clubhouse was bursting at the seams and no longer fit for purpose. Women’s rugby has experienced a surge since the Australian Rugby Sevens won Olympic Gold in 2016, but in the 1990s, when the clubhouse was built, there were no women’s or girls’ teams. There are no facilities for them to shower or get changed.
“We’ve had to put signs on the doors to stop people walking in when the girls are getting changed or showering,” Ben says. “We want female players to see that we’ve considered their needs. Expanding the building would be a win for everybody involved.”
But the catalyst for expanding the facilities was a more sombre occasion. One of the Maitland Blacks’ club members suffered a spinal injury in 2015. This brought disabled access issues into focus because it was very difficult for their friend to get into the clubhouse. It was difficult for the club, which relies on volunteers, to raise the necessary funds.
“As good as selling sausage sandwiches might be, by the time we would have gotten to our number the goalposts would have moved,” Ben says. “That’s why we decided to apply for a Community Sport Infrastructure grant.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked when I found out we’d been successful. We’d knocked on a lot of doors before finally finding one that opened.”
A place for the whole community
Maitland has a very mixed socioeconomic profile and ensuring everyone feels welcome is a key motivator for volunteers. This meant ensuring access to rugby isn’t dependant on income – especially when it comes to the juniors’ competition, which has been so central to the club’s recent growth. Play is always at the home ground, minimising travel time and expense.
“This is a place where you’re not defined by how much money you earn, you’re defined by whether you’re a good person,” says Ben. “It gives the kids an outlet where they learn social skills and improve physical fitness together. We call our club the Blacks Family because that’s what it means to us.”
The grant funding will extend this family, making it easier for the club to flourish. With dedicated female facilities, it will be easier for the Maitland Blacks to meet the growing demand for competitions among women and girls.
Improved access will also be hugely important. The upgrade will include a new internal lift to the second level of the clubhouse for elderly and disabled people, as well as a wheelchair access bathroom. With these provisions in place, the club is now looking to become a hub for disabled players – a service that doesn’t currently exist in the Maitland community.
There are also plans to improve the function of the clubhouse. There’s currently no juniors’ space, meaning younger members must leave if alcohol is being served for evening events. The funding will be used create a dedicated area for them. The canteen area will double in size to better meet demand, with the installation of solar power and hot water.
“Turn the training room lights on used to cause a brownout if someone was using the microwave in the canteen,” says Ben. “Solar batteries will make the club more functional.”
But it’s the future of the club that makes Ben most excited. If the Australian women’s team are playing in Newcastle, they’ll finally be able to train in Maitland. It also means the club can continue to grow its membership and provide more sporting opportunities for the community.
“Everybody is quite excited about the year ahead,” Ben says. “We’ll have some of the finest rugby club facilities in Australia.”