A trio of clients are central to the work of injured players charity.
The RFU’s Injured Players Foundation is adept at exceeding targets and ensuring that their clients live life to their potential. One reason they are so successful is that they have clients working at the very centre of the charity and bringing unique insights. Two are Trustees, Dr Stephen Duckworth and Lee Jones, the other is the IPF Welfare Officer, John Burgess.
Lee Jones was catastrophically injured seven years ago playing for Solihull rugby club Silhillians and is now the club’s chairman as well as a Trustee of the Injured Players Foundation. He was also voted the BBC Sports Personality Volunteer of the Year for the Midlands in 2020.
He is the epitome of someone who wants to give back to rugby, focusing on getting more people playing at his club, as well as becoming an IPF Trustee.
Injury Prevention Research Impressive
What amazed Lee at his early Trustee meetings was the scientific research that the IPF is involved in to make the game safe on behalf of all players.
“It’s really impressive," says Lee. "I don’t think many people realise the charity is so involved in injury prevention. I knew about the help that’s there for clients, of course. I was 34 when I was injured, and they have always been there since day one. I have been on Battle Back weekends which make such a difference. I even managed archery on that! I’ve been welcomed to the special IPF hospitality box at Twickenham on match days. I’ve had a standing wheelchair funded which is fantastic and, to keep me connected, I’ve been provided with an iPad and phone. The social side of the IPF brings clients together with online chats and a Facebook group as well as gatherings at Twickenham and other rugby clubs nationwide.
“At my club, the appetite for rugby has grown both with men and women and if anything, the pandemic brought us closer together. Clubs really helped out in the community when it was most needed.
“To be a part of the rugby family feels so special when you are playing and to carry on being a part of this wider family when injured is a vital lifeline for those with catastrophic life changing injuries,” says Lee. “The IPF is the vital link in this relationship and keeps injured players involved. Once a part of the team, always a part of the team, that’s a feeling that is difficult to express with words.
“My small contribution back to the charity through my Trustee work is just my way of saying thanks to everyone at the IPF and the wider rugby family for their contributions and donations to help our clients live their best lives ! I was grateful for the opportunity, eager to give a client’s perspective and excited to be involved in helping shape the rugby landscape to ensure the safety of our players going forward.”
John Burgess is an ideal person to be the IPF Welfare Officer. Not only is he an injured player and client himself but he comes from both a science and education background. Having moved from biotech research to teaching, he was voted National Teacher of the Year in a secondary school. He was recruited by the IPF having moved back into scientific research.
“The IPF has been such an important part of my life in terms of inspiring me to do what I couldn’t imagine doing and believing that injury doesn’t stop you achieving what you want to,” he says. “The charity has had an amazing impact on my life. When I had the opportunity to have an impact myself, I couldn’t think of anything more worthwhile. I wanted to help clients through the first phase of an injury and on to the longer term, keeping them on track and making sure they have what they need to achieve in their lives."
Injured Players Deserve the Very Best
“Joining the IPF team has really improved my quality of life and satisfaction, working with people who know injured players deserve the very best and are committed and doing what they do for all the right reasons," continues John. "Taking on this role is the best career decision I have ever made.
“The injured players themselves are a team that you never want to be part of but they are a very closely knit team and so supportive of each other. They are true friends, a family within the rugby family. There are online groups where they support each other and each other’s families, as well as meeting up regularly both at Twickenham internationals and outside Twickenham.
“What the IPF genuinely does is give injured players belief that they have a future and that the charity will support them in their goals and objectives. Of course, those will be different with different levels of injury but the IPF will help everyone achieve their goal, their dream. It’s not in a rugby player’s psyche to give up but it’s hard thinking my life has changed now. It’s important to understand that life is not going to be better or worse but it’s going to be different. Most rugby players have the attitude that they can achieve important goals in their lives, if they are catastrophically injured it’s the IPF’s job to help them do that.”
Dr Stephen Duckworth was injured at a training session as a 21-year-old, third-year medical student in 1981, when he played scrum half for Guys Hospital, which he proudly insists is “the oldest rugby club in the world.”
At that time there was no Injured Players Foundation and no player insurance, so when Stephen was in Stoke Mandeville he and his family were on their own. His father petitioned for more help and insurance for those catastrophically injured playing or training and Stephen says “My accident started the ball rolling. I’ve only really understood the impact my injury had on my parents since being the father of four sons playing rugby.”
Stephen is very involved in working to improve the world for 'us wheelchair folk'. As well as being an IPF Trustee, he’s Trustee for Leonard Cheshire Disability and Non-Executive Director for Hampshire Hospital NHS Trust, Network Rail and the group involved in upgrading Parliament’s environment at the Palace of Westminster.
As an IPF client, he has been able to travel on holidays because the charity has funded a carer since his wife Rose’s arthritis has made it impossible for her to help. “I couldn’t have a family holiday without it,” says Stephen. “And family is tremendously important to me.”
Stephen believes having client Trustees is essential to understand their lived experience and says that since he became one six years ago, he has been most impressed with the charity’s design and development, citing three key areas.
“The initial support is crucial, both immediately after an injury and in that transition to home from hospital, that’s almost harder than breaking your neck. You move out of this vacuum where everything is done for you to where you used to live and find it’s no longer accessible. Then there’s the time when you have to get your head around it and realise you can be part of challenging events, like tall ships sailing, ski trips or Battle Back weekends when you are with other injured rugby player buddies.
78% of Clients in Employment
“And, impressively, there’s the level that the IPF helps clients get back into education and training. When I joined the Trustees six years that figure was 50%, now it’s 78%. Set that percentage for injured players in education or employment against the national average for those with high level spinal cord injuries and it’s seven times better for IPF clients, the national figure being 10%. So we have many more contributing members of society paying taxes.
“The line I take is we’ve helped clients to be valuable assets not seen as damaged goods. They are an integral part of the rugby family and we are proud that they are at the heart of it. In the IPF hospitality box on a Test match day it’s just great. I get a huge amount from being there and hope everyone does. We have a few beers, a laugh, nobody’s talking about when they were injured, we’re all just friends catching up.