A rugby-loving family who have transformed minis and junior rugby at Rotherham Phoenix Rugby Club have been recognised nationally after being shortlisted by the Rugby Football Union for the Honda Volunteer of the Year Awards.

Leanne Ghent-Clark, 37, Andrew Clark, 40, and Jo Clark, 36 – popularly known as ‘Panda’ –  have all held various volunteer roles at the club, from organising fixtures, through to driving recruitment and gaining sponsorship and are nominated in the Unsung Hero category which recognises local heroes who have had a major impact in their clubs and communities and demonstrated their commitment to the game over the past 12 months.

The group will now be represented at the national final at Twickenham in September when volunteers from across the country are celebrated as part of Honda’s Volunteer Recognition Programme.

Three overall winners will be announced on the evening for each of this year’s categories: Unsung Hero, Connecting the Community and Game for All, which recognises volunteers who have provided an inspirational and diverse offer to engage with their local community.

Leanne, Andrew and Jo’s efforts have meant that more than 100 new mini and junior players are now playing rugby in an area with few traditional links to rugby at a grassroots level.

As well as coaching across a variety of junior age groups, they have managed to secure funding to provide the club with extra facilities and kits and set up a strong framework for future coaches.

Speaking at the regional Yorkshire RFU CB award ceremony at Castle Park Doncaster, Leanne said: “It’s not just the growth in numbers that’s been significant, it’s the retention.

“We’ve had players that joined us when we first established the minis section in 2019, and have stayed with us, the work we have done to recruit players and coaches means we now have a team at each age group within the minis section and that’s something as a club we’re really proud of.

“That’s not just credit to us, that’s credit to our whole coaching team that have come on board.

“When you walk down to our pitches, there’s a real family environment – there’s fun, there’s enjoyment, there’s smiles.”

Andrew added: “As humbling as it is for us to have been nominated, our achievements and growth as a club is down to our volunteer network and the sense of connection and belonging that comes from being part of a rugby family, which has been particularly important throughout the pandemic.

Club members nominated the trio for the transformative efforts across the minis, juniors and girls' section saying: Coming from an area where rugby has few established links, our club has seen an amazing growth of over 100 new juniors thanks to the efforts of a single family. Their work in securing funding, coaching, facilities and more has helped us reach so many people in the community.

The Honda Volunteer Recognition Programme brings the opportunity to thank those who have gone above and beyond this year for teams, clubs, referees’ societies and educational establishments.

With Honda recently coming on board as a partner, and supporting volunteering in the grassroots game, this year’s Awards will help to recognise and celebrate volunteers for their achievements and efforts, both on and off the field.

Speaking about the awards, RFU President HH Jeff Blackett said: “I am delighted that through the Honda Volunteer Recognition Programme, we are able to recognise the exceptional work that has gone into getting Rugby Clubs back up and running over the last year. There are so many outstanding volunteers who have really made a difference and the Honda Volunteer of the Year awards provides a great opportunity to say thank you.”

Jean-Marc Streng, President Honda UK, added: “Honda was built upon the Power of Dreams, that same challenging spirit can be found in abundance at local Rugby clubs up and down the country. “Honda UK is proud to help recognise the volunteers who work tirelessly to support their local Rugby communities.”

Over 100,000 volunteers give back to grassroots rugby, week in, week out. From the kit washers to the line painters, the bus drivers to the tea makers, the game that we all know and love wouldn’t be the same without the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes.

Volunteers are the backbone of grassroots rugby in England. If you’d like to get involved and make a difference at your community club, visit: www.englandrugby.com/volunteering