It’s now official, rugby returns to Priory Park in January 2021. Fixture dates have been issued with the first of the matches to be played on Saturday 23rd  January with a local Merit style table of fixtures finishing on May 22nd. Sandbach Rugby Club has now joined Macclesfield’s group, along with Wilmslow, Lymm, Wirral, Northwich, Waterloo and Birkenhead Park. Head Coach, Andy Appleyard was keen to make sure that the team would be ready for competitive rugby: “We will most likely have a Probables v Possibles match on the 9th followed by a friendly match on the 16th with a local North Premier team, here at Priory Park, so everyone can enjoy the new Sin Bin bar”. In the meantime the 1st team squad will continue contact training within the adapted game structure, before the Christmas break.

There has been a lot of activity at Priory Park in recent months and here Stephen Branch, Chairman of Macclesfield Rugby Club, talks about some of the activities of members leading up Saturday’s climax.

“Last Saturday the Rugby Club celebrated the official opening of The Sin Bin Bar with a celebration lunch for a limited number of guests, all pre-booked and within the Covid guidelines. I took great pleasure in thanking all the individuals and businesses who had contributed towards the creation of this wonderful facility. It was Jeremy Bostock, who had lit the fuse that started the momentum to create the Sin Bin, through his significant donation; it was a pleasure to ask him to down the first official pint of ale. Everyone was then shown a yellow card and officially put in the sin bin. The Sin Bin is a fantastic semi-permanent outdoor facility where Club members, guests and people associated with the Rugby Club can enjoy food and drink in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Courtesy of the many individuals and businesses who donated money, materials, skills and time, the Sin Bin is fully equipped with heating, lighting and television screens. Picnic benches have been used to furnish the area and are ideal for complying with the rule of 6. The bar itself is wooden clad and the interior fittings have been beautifully created, courtesy of Scissorwood. The bar area and catering hatch are covered using a solid timber frame with structural roofing to protect guests from the elements. The sides are mostly a removable canvass wrap-around this allows for plenty of air to flow though the facility when wrapped. The bar is fully serviced by the Club caterers, Maggie and Barry providing a full menu of snacks and meals from the Priory Café which is adjacent to the Sin Bin. Service under the current guidelines is simple and effective: in compliance with the rule of six, people find and sit at a table; Q cards are available for track and trace purposes; a member of staff will take a food order at the table, followed by a drinks order; orders for alcohol are only taken once a substantial meal has been ordered; food and drink are served at the table and payment is taken by credit card.

The story of the Sin Bin Bar is really the story of how the membership and particularly volunteers have pulled together since the 4th July to ensure the Club’s social life can continue in a Covid secure environment and within the guidelines as they have changed. The story began when the Government announced its intention to bring the country out of the first lockdown on the 4th July and to allow socialising outdoors within the rules at the time. The Rugby Club had no outdoor hospitality facilities and no means to generate cash. Andy Appleyard, General Manager, had the idea of building a bar at the front of the tool shed used by the grounds team. The roller doors were opened and a bar top built across the front of the tool shed. The team brought over a couple of fridges and loads of ice and somehow managed to equip the bar to provide a full service, including draft beer. The bar, with the tractors and equipment behind was aptly named ‘The Tool Shed’ and thus the seed was sown and the story of the Sin Bin began!

The 4th July really did feel like Independence Day. It was the first Saturday after the 4-month lockdown and people were desperate to get out and to socialise as best they could within the guidelines. The Club announced that the Tool Shed would be open and would be Covid-safe, following Government guidelines, and that people should bring their own furniture and maintain social distancing, added to which an intrepid group of players, watched on by Wilkey proceeded to produce furniture out of old pallets in the pouring rain. The car park space at the Rugby Club is huge, so hosting a good number and maintaining social distancing was easy. What a memorable afternoon it was as a celebration of the release from lockdown and, whilst restrictions on lives and livelihoods still applied, the event proved therapeutic for many. The Rugby Club President, Pete (Harpo) Harper, had the idea to build a Petanque (Boules) arena at the bottom end of the car park and within a matter of weeks a properly designed and constructed arena was built and paid for, all by a small group of members, and the Priory Park Petanque Club was launched in the summer by our resident President of the Global Boules Society (UK) District Mrs Michelle Chevallier Cooke, who described it as: “Another great day for Macclesfield Rugby Club”! Through the summer and as the rules allowed, walking rugby started along with touch rugby and forms of training and, as these activities started, the Tool Shed became more popular and opening times were extended. So, within the guidelines prevailing at the time, The Rugby Club was active and enabling members to participate in sport, with limitations, play petanque and enjoy refreshment and a little socialising. Harpo then had the thought that if the Club was making more use of the car park then perhaps the outdoor spaces at the Club should be tidied up and made more presentable. A group of volunteers, about a dozen in number, now turn up every Tuesday morning between 10am and 12 noon, wearing their own blue and pink hi-viz vests’ and calling themselves ‘The Roustabouts’,  carry out maintenance work around the outside of the Club; the difference in only a few weeks is significant.

Whilst being great fun, and a release from the trials of everyday life, these things have been hugely important for the Club. The Executive team has had two simple objectives throughout the pandemic: to remain financially viable and; to do as much as possible, within the guidelines, to keep the membership and those associated with the Club engaged and involved. The Tool Shed Bar, Petanque and the limited sport activities achieved that and the spirit and morale within the Club remained high. As the summer drew to a close and the popularity of the Tool Shed and socialising outdoors had proved so popular the Club took a leap of faith and, through the leadership of Andy (Apps) Appleyard, organised a repeat of the Oktoberfest that had been held indoors in the previous year. Louis Smith very kindly loaned the Club a converted container bar and a very large canopy. Apps and a team of volunteers built some more robust furniture, Maggie and Barry provided the catering and an Oompah Band was booked. And what an entertaining evening was had by all. At this point the penny finally dropped! Wouldn’t it be good if The Rugby Club were to build a more permanent outdoor hospitality area that would serve the Club and its members and supporters well long after the pandemic was over; a facility that could even be hired out for functions and thereby generate much needed revenue for the Club. The idea for a more permanent outdoor facility was a collective one and driven by the success and enjoyment that members had witnessed from the Tool Shed and the Oktoberfest event. Jeremy (Boz) Bostock, a long-time member of the Club, ex 1st XV player and present Captain of the 4th team came forward with a significant donation to buy a converted container bar of our own; and as more people heard about the plan more volunteered of their money, materials, skills and labour and from an early ambition to have an outside bar with an awning and furniture, things evolved to the extent that we now have a magnificent outdoor hospitality area. The timber-clad bar is fabulous, and the TV screens enable the Club to show Rugby and other sports as part of the entertainment.

From little acorns do giant oak trees grow; the story of the Sin Bin Bar is one of the whole Club coming together, as one; creating a social space that has not only enabled the Club to generate income and give the membership an opportunity to remain engaged and involved in the Club activities, through a very challenging time; but that the Rugby Club now has a facility that will stand the test of time and give space for the enjoyment of members and supporters well in to the future.”

Well said Stephen, and all the better to enjoy our rugby again at Priory Park in January.


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