Recruitment is the challenge for Norwich Union
I was invited to the Norwich Union RFC dinner at Sprowston Manor near Norwich and got talking to Rob Huson, who at 28 must be one of the youngest Rugby Club Hon Secretaries in the country, about the problems of keeping a small club going.
Norwich Union RFC was faced with being wound up at one stage and it is worth reading an article I wrote in 2011 (The Norwich Union name lives on…) to get some background. Since then the club has rejoined the Eastern Counties Leagues finishing a creditable sixth this season with some narrow losses that they would hope would go their way next year. The committee are nearly all current players, the club fields a regular 2nd XV in the Norfolk Merit Table and with nearly 100 guests at the annual dinner I got the impression of a club in good health.
But like all good club officers Rob has an eye to the future and we spoke about how the clubs recruits its players. I naively assumed that most of them worked at Aviva, formerly Norwich Union, but whereas that was the case in years gone by, only about 20% of of the club’s players now work there. The rest come mainly from referrals, players getting their friends to play, reinforcing the social nature of the club. One of the barriers is the club’s name with potential players believing that you need to be an Aviva employee to play for them, something that was true 20 years ago or more.
When I look around other one and two team clubs in Eastern Counties they tend to have a strong identity with where they play. Thurston has a High School from which it can recruit players from, Cambourne Exiles draws its players from the new town west of Cambridge and Mersea have a fierce pride in their island status that attracts people to play for them. Norwich Union have a corporate identity rather than an obvious geographical identity.
To borrow an idea from The Apprentice I set Rob and the rest of the membership the challenge of establishing a Unique Selling point for Norwich Union RFC and find innovative ways to promote that USP in the city. The temporary self-imposed suspension of rugby at the University of East Anglia presents an opportunity but I will be interested to see how the club can build on that and compete for players with the big-hitters like near neighbours Norwich RFC and North Walsham, as well as Lakenham-Hewett, Wymondham and Crusaders.
Let’s see what they come up with and I will revisit them next season to see how they have got on.