The Coronavirus pandemic has been a bleak and all-consuming cloud over society and the lives of people in Wales and across most of the world for over a year now, but as humanity begins to, hopefully, find a path towards the light, and the sunshine begins to part the clouds, Penarth Athletic Club has managed to discover a silver lining to Covid-19, telling Bro Radio that, in some ways, the pandemic was “the best thing that ever happened” to them.
Penarth Athletic Club is home to clubs in four different sports; rugby, hockey, cricket and a, currently dormant, lacrosse outfit. Participants from across all four disciplines are involved in the social scene surrounding the club, which, according to Sean O’Sullivan, Chairman of Penarth RFC and Stephen Newman, Chairman of the athletic club a representative of the overseeing body, has grown exponentially since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking about the WRU’s “Pathway to Participation” and the recent return to play for some of Penarth RFC’s younger age groups, Sean told Bro Radio that they’d never seen a response like it:
“We started the Minis and Juniors two Sundays ago and the response is incredible. Every section that we’ve got running is up to capacity, basically, apart from one age group. Our new influx of players into our U6s – kids who are 4, 5 and 6 – We’ve had 115 sign up. On a normal year, we’d be happy with 20 to 30, so the response has been incredible.
“We’ve basically come off the back of the success of the summer with the athletic club, when the club has become such a good place so parents want to bring their kids down there and we’ve never had a response like it. It’s been truly incredible. 115 kids signed up, we’ve never seen the likes of it before in one age group.”
Explaining to Bro Radio what he believed was responsible for this success, Sean said the club offers “the whole package” now, saying:
“I think it’s the whole package now that we’re offering. The athletic club is a successful venue in Penarth. The best thing that ever happened to us, basically, was Covid. We’ve adjusted the way we work, we’ve got this fantastic beer garden now and it’s an amazing place for kids to run around – it’s an enclosed beer garden the size of 6 rugby pitches, you couldn’t ask for more – and that success then has just generated an interest and it has translated through to rugby and I think it’ll translate to cricket as well.”
Chairman of Penarth Athletic Club, Stephen Newman, concurred with his colleague, adding:
“I think that Covid has been the making of the club. We had to close, along with everybody else, which gave us time to improve the facilities. The Vale of Glamorgan (Council) have been fantastic in their assistance whilst we’ve been closed, it gave us time to, not gut the club, but change it dramatically – we had issues with our toilet area and now it’s the best in Penarth, people think it’s fantastic.
“The method of serving people, having to use waiting staff, has worked fantastically and the beer garden, why it’s taken us 50 years to realise the fantastic beer garden where parents can sit and watch their kids run around and play on the swings and slides whilst they sit and have a glass of cider of an evening, it’s taken Covid for us to realise that.”
During the year, and according to Coronavirus regulations, Penarth Athletic Club has also hosted various pop-up food stalls from local businesses, which Stephen told Bro Radio made the place a “great place to come (to)”.
The club representatives also spoke effusively of the increase in community spirit in the area and how that had helped them to thrive and grow.
Speaking of plans for the future for Penarth RFC, Sean told Bro:
“We’ve written off this season, it’s gone, pretty much over. We’ll struggle to have a lot of matches because cricket is now played on the field, as of the 1st May, so from our point of view, it’s just about creating enthusiasm, training with the kids on a Sunday wherever we can and just keeping it ticking it over, but we can’t go too much because we’ll have burn-out then by September, so it’s getting the balance right of getting the skills back and not overdosing on rugby too much before the season starts.”
Stephen also discussed his plans for the coming months for the athletic club as a whole, saying:
“As far as the athletic club is concerned, hopefully, if figures remain the way that they’re going, indoors will open sometime in May, but, if last year is anything to go by people much prefer to sit outside, watch a game of cricket and drink their beer in the beer garden.
We’re hoping to have some events in the Summer, we’ve got the Lions, we’re hoping those games will be watched at the club and we’ll create a little fan zone for people to come down, again, all depending on how Covid is worked out.”
You can follow the progress of Penarth Athletic Club on their Facebook page, here.