Clubs recently received a letter signed by me and other Eastern Counties officers detailing another reorganisation of the Rugby Development Team in the area. I thought it would be useful to explain some of the history behind and the events leading up to the change.
Once upon a time, long long ago in 1990, the RFU employed Youth Development Officers (YDOs). Essex was still part of Eastern Counties and its 80 plus clubs were served by Peter Kennedy who spent his time helping clubs develop youth and mini sections and running coaching courses (Peter was the tutor when I did by RFU Preliminary Coaching Award, equivalent to Level 1). He was succeeded by Dave Palethorpe (who tutored my Intermediate Award) but he was promoted to Regional Manager after which we had a short spell with a South African YDO whose name escapes me.
I think that it was about this time that YDOs became RDOs (Rugby Development Officers) and there was a recognition that the huge area that Eastern Counties covered needed more than one person so Matt Hyndeman and Phil Smith were appointed, Matt being replaced by Nick Greenhall when he moved on. Phil Smith lasted a few years but he eventually departed and some help was found for Nick by appointing three Community Rugby Coaches (CRCs), Alan Brown, James Nicholson and Tim Reed.
Essex split away from Eastern Counties leaving Nick and his team around 50 clubs to look after, and this was the status when Lee Adamson took over. Tim Reed remained CRC for Suffolk and the other two were replaced by Penny Chapman in Norfolk and John Naylor in Cambridgeshire.
This continued until last season when a review of the RDO network revealed a wide disparity between the number of clubs RDOs had to support. Smaller counties like Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire with 15 to 25 clubs each had their own RDO while the RDOs in Eastern Counties, Essex and other CBs had 50 clubs or more to support.
It was concluded that the RDO workforce should be redistributed so that they would look after about 30 clubs each and in nearly every area of the country this was achieved. Some got extra RDO support and others found that they would have to share an RDO that until then had been exclusively theirs. This worked well almost everywhere but Eastern Counties ended up with a bit of a mish-mash.
Lee Adamson was allocated those clubs geographically in Norfolk and Suffolk and Keith Green was given all the clubs in rural Essex including the seven that are affiliated to Eastern Counties. At least these two RDOs had the same Regional Manager but the solution for the ten ECRU clubs in Cambridgeshire was to allocate them to Sam Rouse, an RDO working under a different Regional Manager in the Midlands.
The reaction of ECRU, sub-counties and clubs was to see how it would work as overall they were getting extra support, but problems started to become apparent. Eastern Counties volunteers found it hard to relate to three different people, two of whom spent the majority of their time with clubs outside of the ECRU area. Each RDO had a different way of working and although the idea was that consistency would be achieved through the Regional Manager, in practice this was difficult when one of them had a different line manager.
The Essex and Cambridgeshire clubs were getting a good service from their new RDOs but there was an increasing disconnect from Eastern Counties as a result of what appeared to be a lack of joined up working. This was in no way a reflection of the quality of work of Keith Green and Sam Rouse who were both very diligent in visiting and supporting clubs and Keith is to be commended for his work in trying to form the North East Essex clubs into an effective cluster group.
Just before Christmas Bob Cranna (ECRU Chairman), Roger Pierson (ECRU Hon Secretary) and I had a meeting at Twickenham with Andrew Scoular, the RFU Community Rugby Director and Jo Martin, Regional Manager for London North. After explaining the problems we were having we agreed a solution that would see Lee Adamson look after the Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk clubs and Penny Chapman be promoted to RDO with responsibility for the Norfolk clubs. This was subject to the budget being found but this wasn’t seen as a problem and a letter was sent from Andrew Scoular to confirm the arrangements.
What none of us had foreseen was that John Steele’s reform of the RFU hierarchy would see Scoular dismissed in early January (see A New Order at Twickenham) before the agreement could be implemented. I spoke to Rob Udwin, chair of the Community Game Board, who said that as far as he was concerned the agreement would be honoured, but February came and nothing had happened. I managed to meet with John Steele and explained the situation to him and although he was supportive he needed to find out more from his staff.
Next we went to Jez Allman the Club & CB Services Manager and Jo Martin’s boss but things got more complicated when it was announced that Steve Grainger had been appointed as Director of Rugby Development and who would have the RDOs as part of his remit. However Steve would not start his role for three months.
Bob, Roger and me were busy with the ECRU 2011/12 Action Plan and let the issue lie for a while until in May we decided that we needed to act. So we sent a letter to Jo Martin copied to Jez Allman and John Steele demanding some action otherwise we would rethink the amount that we planned to contribute as a CB to the cost of our CRCs. This seemed to have the desired effect and Jez and Jo came to Stowmarket to meet the three of us.
They came with positive news. They had raised the issue with Steve Grainger on one of the occasional days he was at Twickenham before he started officially and he agreed that the changes could take place which came as a huge relief.
So we have lost Keith and Sam but we have two RDOs who work solely in Eastern Counties and who are already used to working together and with Eastern Counties volunteers. It took a long time to finally get what we wanted but in theory this will be better for ECRU clubs and therefore better for the game in the area.