To fulfil their dream of having a community clubroom with heating and running water, a rugby club in Bolton enlisted the help of the crowd and Sport England. 

Westhoughton Lions are the only Rugby League club in Bolton with both a junior and senior section. They have upwards of 220 junior members, ranging from under 4s to under 18s, with open age teams and a girls team in development. Run entirely by volunteers and beloved by their community, this club has a commendable ethos to give everyone a chance, whether that’s to administrate, train, play, coach, officiate, volunteer or spectate.

Though in their 25 year existence they’ve never had running water or electricity on site. This has posed serious problems for the club as they’ve had to use converted shipping containers as changing rooms. This, along with the lack of other facilities, has lost them players. 

Needless to say, Westhoughton Lions have always longed for their own clubroom so they could help their members “develop into their best selves”. To make their dream a reality, they applied for grants and, to their delight, got an offer of investment from a local business woman. 

Though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their project saw major delays and, unfortunately, their local investor pulled out. This left them with very little funding and they knew they wouldn’t be able to complete their project without a cash injection. To raise the final amount needed, they set up a crowdfunding campaign with a target of £20,000

Neil Hart, Head Coach at Westhoughton Lions, explained, “We had heard previously that Crowdfunder was a great way to fundraise and engage with different groups of people through newsletters or social media. Though we had never tried it because we didn’t really know how it worked or how easy it was to set up a project. We had a conversation with a member of staff from Sport England who suggested we should look at it and that if successful we could also get a boost of +Extra funding to add to the project

“We wrestled with the amount of money we felt was realistic versus what we needed to keep the project on track. We knew we had a large number of members but also that many had already financially contributed earlier in the project. In the end we went for £20,000 and then shared it out to our members for them to pass on again. Where in previous fundraising attempts we were going directly to our members and their close families, this time Crowdfunder allowed us to spread it further via social media platforms to a larger audience. Once it was out in the public domain we had large donations from individuals outside of the club and also from the wider rugby league community.”

After 46 days, they had successfully raised £32,789 from 322 supporters! This included £10,000 in funding from the Sport England’s Active Together fund which is helping the sport and physical activity sector through the pandemic. 

On the funding, Neil told us, “As a club we lost £200,000 when a donor went into administration without giving us a penny. This forced us to find as many different funding pots to complete our dream. The £32,000 we got from the Crowdfunder included £10,000 in +Extra funding from Sport England. This not only allowed us to keep the contractor on site, enabling us to continue building, but also created confidence in members and other funders that the project will get completed. Since getting the funding, we have had individuals come forward to complete parts of the build for free or at much reduced costs because they have seen the Crowdfunder and the Sport England funding and have bought into where we are.

“For the last 25 years we haven’t had anywhere for the club’s community to call our own, but most importantly we haven’t had running water, electricity or heating for any activities on site.  This project is enabling us to do that!” 

After such a successful first experience of crowdfunding, and receiving the amazing boost from Sport England, we wanted to know Westhoughton Lions’s top tips for anyone else thinking about raising money from the crowd. 

Neil said, “Ensure that your members are aware of the project and will share it around with friends and family. Offer rewards that supporters can see a benefit from. Be realistic in whether you can meet your target and stretch target in time. Don’t forget to share the story in as many places as possible. We did podcasts, social media, radio interviews and whatsapp messages within the club.”

Feeling inspired? Find out if you could be eligible to unlock +Extra funding for your sports club from Sport England’s Active Together fund