To contribute to the conversation about inclusivity and diversity, our guest bloggers share their experiences about what makes these issues important both personally and in business.
Being born and bred in Wakefield, I grew up being immensely proud of my city, of Leeds and of Yorkshire. In my opinion, there is nowhere quite like it from its outstanding, awe inspiring natural beauty, its proud rural and agricultural communities to its cosmopolitan and metropolitan vibe and its rich industry where Yorkshire was the centre of the world in most opinions. It is the latter that inspired me, as a fashion designer, to establish my own brand in order to celebrate and revive that sense of pride. But, it can also be found in the most unlikely of places…
I grew up with rugby. My father being an ardent fan of the sport, playing from a young age to rising to someone of note within the grassroots clubs in Yorkshire, and one of my elder brothers representing the county on the pitch. However, in my teens I walked away from the sport because I felt influenced by the misconception that – being a gay man – I wouldn’t be accepted into what is perceived to be a sport that represented the epitome of masculinity.
In 2016 a new club was formed, the first of its type in the region and part of the biggest growing movement in the sport. The Leeds Hunters R.U.F.C. was founded on the basis that any man aged 18 plus of any sexuality from any background, can come and play the sport in a safe space where anyone is accepted and welcomed. However, due to anxiety, it took me a year to drum up the courage to go along to my first training session after coaxing from one of their members (who is a close friend).
I was terrified… I went along on a cold, wet October evening to their mid-week training session. I was very much welcomed and got stuck in, but I was very quiet, shy and reserved. Something that has been described as ‘a false advertising’ by players since. But, what was clear is that the club is a place where anyone and everyone is welcome, and you are quickly inducted into the team.
Over the following weeks, my rusty rugby skills came back, were utilised and updated, I found my place within the team and I quickly made friends. However, those newly formed ties were tested in the new year.
When you are an entrepreneur, everyone says how exciting it is, which it is. You have independence and freedom over your own career. However, what isn’t spoken about is when things go wrong and how isolated and alone you feel. Sadly, I have suffered from anxiety and depression throughout most of my adult life and I found my anxiety levels rising substantially, on the edge of an abyss that I hadn’t been near in many years. I no longer felt I had complete control of my emotions.
I hadn’t been to a few training sessions on purpose, as I wasn’t in the right mindset. Thus, I made the call to our Chairman, Tony, to tell him that I think it is best I leave the team temporarily, how sorry I was and to thank him for everything the club had given me. However, during that call, he persuaded me to get to training that night, to participate as much as I can and if I wanted to step out any point, I could, and he’d inform the coaching team privately. One thing I am good at is bottling things internally and figurative mask to make it seem that everything is ok. But still, I got in my car that night and went to that training session and have continued to go ever since.
What has become clear to me is that being part of The Hunters, you aren’t just part of a rugby club, you are part of a family. That may sound cliché and rather too warm and fuzzy, especially when talking about rugby, but it is true. The team has rallied around me and really got me through the tough times and they will always be there through the strong friendships that have been formed.
They have also inspired me. The team has run two ‘new player’ sessions this year – one in January and one this August – with the aim of recruiting people to come and #Showusyourtackle. Both times we have had players who had never thought they would ever pick up a rugby ball and, due to some having bad experiences at school, never thought they would. The new players who came in January have stuck at it and progressed beyond belief to become strong players within the team, representing the club on the world stage. The Hunters became Yorkshire’s first representation at the Bingham Cup in June.
The Bingham Cup is a bi-annual world tournament held by one of our governing bodies, the I.G.R. (International Gay Rugby). This year, Amsterdam were the hosts and it was beyond incredible. Whilst I personally was anxious about going, those worries were quickly laid to rest. What you saw were over 2,500 players literally descend on the city from around the globe from Australia to Europe and from Europe to North America. What became apparent from that event was that we are part of an even larger family and despite being adversaries on the pitches (we played six games in three days), everyone was welcoming to new people and friends who hadn’t seen each other since the last tournament, were reuniting. It was utterly surreal and incredible.
But, what I was most proud of was our team. It was our first time there; we had no expectations and nothing to prove. So, we set out to enjoy playing every minute on the pitch. We bonded so much as a team and outperformed even our expectations to reach a final for some silverware. What was incredible was that those new players who had come in January (and had never expected to be competing at a world tournament less than 6 months later), came out and delivered beyond belief. They were called on again to go play at a Touch Rugby tournament hosted by a brother club, The Birmingham Bulls RUFC. This time, the team came away with silverware, the Eden Tankard.
The Leeds Hunters has grown beyond all belief and expectation during its short history. For me, personally, this is because of the players and what they stand for as a club. They are always welcoming to whoever wants to come and pick up a rugby ball, but they also integrate anyone into the team through events that are both on and off the pitch. They have also demonstrated to me the power of teamwork, collaboration and cooperation which are all vital and easily transferable to the corporate/working environment. Some of these being qualities and skills I had personally not experienced during my time of working on my own.
I owe the team and every one of its members a debt. Being part of The Hunters has gotten me through, possibly, the hardest challenges I have ever had to face. Those few hours a week, I get to go down and not think about anything but playing rugby and socialize with them, they don’t see me as anything other than just Ross. Because of my feelings of gratitude towards the team, I nominated myself to be part of the committee and will work to give back to a club and team I love in order to repay what they have given me. The sense of pride and unity has been demonstrated again and again. From playing at tournaments to marching at Leeds and Wakefield Pride, the team is proud to represent community and the sport, and to demonstrate proudly our openness and unity.
For anyone reading this, I would highly encourage signing up to some team sporting activity. At Leeds Pride this year, we saw a huge representation from the Leeds LGBTQI sporting community from the likes of The Yorkshire Terriers F.C., The Leeds Frontrunners and Leeds Mittens, to name just a few. The Hunters are set and primed for another successful season which will end when we head to The Union Cup in Dublin to compete against European counterparts. New players are coming all the time and they receive warm welcomes and great encouragement. But for me personally, memories have been created that will stay with me for the rest of my life along with friends who will stay for life too. GO HUNTERS!
About Ross Barr-Hoyland: Fashion Designer, Entrepreneur, Mental Health Speaker, LGBTQI Advocate and now a Hunter.