Bath.co.uk caught up with Bath Rugby Foundation CEO Lynne Fernquest to discuss the charity and key issues including child poverty
It’s so sad that childhood poverty rates in the UK are increasing for the first time in 20 years (Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, December 2017). More than one in five children in Bath is now living in poverty (that figure rises to 50% in some parts of the city) and there are three main reasons. State support for people with low incomes is falling, incomes are falling in real terms and rents are increasing. Two of these reasons mean that rising employment is no longer reducing poverty.
What is clear is that children’s and young people’s charities (like Bath Rugby Foundation) will be needed more than they have ever been in recent memory.
Why is Bath different from other cities? Bath is an affluent city and for this reason the gap between the rich and poor is greater than in areas where there isn’t such a stark difference.
How long have you worked with the Foundation and what attracted you to join?
I have worked with the Foundation since July. Prior to that I spent 30 years in the media industry, ending my time in journalism as Editor of Bath News and Media.
Although CEO of a young people’s charity would seem like quite a switch from journalism, they have a lot in common. One pillar of good journalism is to highlight injustice and call on those in positions of power and authority to use that power for the benefit of those less fortunate. At Bath Rugby Foundation an important part of my role is to highlight the need in our community and appeal to those in positions of influence to use that influence for the benefit of others.
I first became aware of Bath Rugby Foundation when I was editor of the Bath Chronicle. My role there involved working many charities in the city and that was certainly where I became interested in using my business management backround to influence social change.
You are the CEO of Bath Rugby Foundation, what would a normal day entail for you?
My day is varied. Our team is made up of coaches, managers, fundraisers, event organisers and a marketing and communications specialist so it’s essential we have the right people doing the right things at the right time.
My overarching role is to ensure that all our programmes focus on the need in our community and that the funds and grants are available, not only to make those programmes happen, but to grow our influence and impact in a crowded charitable market place. We work with more than 4,300 vulnerable children and young people every year and we are motivated to help them change their lives for the better.
I am always planning ahead and every day involves me, in some way large or small, preparing Bath Rugby Foundation for what it will face in the months and years to come.
Are there any particular events/moments you look back on with great affection?
Although I have only been employed by Bath Rugby Foundation for a few months I already have many ‘moments’. One that stands out is the Summer Scrum which is a day-long festival of sport for around 100 disabled youngsters. It was a joy from beginning to end. Players, coaches, businesses, supporters and volunteers joined forces to make it the most memorable and fun-packed celebration. There were children who had never thrown a ball or ridden a bike taking part in a series of activities that their parents and teachers had never thought would be possible. It highlighted to me that sport can be such a powerful force for good whatever your ability. The photographs taken that day are some of the most motivational with we possess and we can’t wait to put some of them up in our new offices.
At the season ticket holder event Todd Blackadder said he would like the squad to get more involved with the Foundation. How supportive are the club with the charity?
Although we are separately financed and governed, the club is hugely supportive of its charity at every level. Bath Rugby staff, players and coaches take part in our programmes and fundraising events and are very generous with their time. During my time at the Foundation we have never been told ‘no’, infact ‘what can I do to help?’ is the most common phrase. Todd is an inspirational leader and a humble man and that rubs off on everyone around him.
We are also able to raise funds on matchdays which is such a valuable source of income for us and at The Clash at Twickenham on April 7th Bath Rugby Foundation will be the main charity to benefit. A charity shirt has already been designed and will be worn with pride by the players, and auctioned almost as soon as the final whistle is blown.
The Foundation covers many issues. Are there any particularly close to your heart and/or any others you would like to get involved with?
The Foundation empowers vulnerable children and young people to succeed and focuses on four areas of need – inclusion, health, employability and education – and we include activity (not necessarily rugby) in every programme we deliver. What is clear is that at every stage in young people’s development mental and physical health are closely linked and I am passionate about our charity collaborating with others on extending our influence in this area.
Where would you like to see the charity in five years’ time?
When Bath Rugby’s CEO Tarquin McDonald announced plans for a Stadium for Bath it was clear there was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Bath Rugby Foundation to rapidly grow its social impact on our community. I am confident that by partnering with Bath Rugby and Arena 1865 we will create something exceptional in our city – both on and off the pitch.
We will not settle for anything less than a stadium that befits a World Heritage City. Everyone involved in the project is committed to a stadium where you can watch the best rugby in the world, a stadium that revitalises the western riverside and from the east side of the stadium creates opportunities to develop children and young people who have been dealt blow after blow so far in their lives.
What could be better than a youngster leaving one of our Bath Rugby Foundation employability programmes to work at one of the riverside venues? They would end their day playing rugby, netball or soccer on the outfield. My vision is that they would also volunteer some of their time and be training for the Bath Half Marathon and raising much-needed funds for one of our local charities.