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World Cup stars visit Community Hospital garden 

by Gemma Melling

There were special visitors for a very special garden, when the Italian men’s rugby league national team popped along to Newton Community Hospital during the Rugby League World Cup.

Five members of the Azzurri squad were invited to Newton-le-Willows to see first-hand the RLWC2021-themed community garden, which was been created by people supported by national social care charity, Community Integrated Care.

The project was made possible through the charity’s partnership with Sport England and the Rugby League World Cup 2021, to create a ground-breaking Inclusive Volunteering Programme. This sees it host a range of aspirational personal development opportunities for people who access support in their daily lives, inspired by and delivered with the tournament.

The visit saw Italy hand over their Scudetto (translated as ‘little shield’), which they usually only offer to opposing teams, and the squad members spending time with Community Integrated Care’s inclusive volunteers who have co-designed and tended to the garden over the past 18 months.

 Gill Thayne, the Social Impact Lead at Rugby League World Cup 2021, explained: “We’re really lucky at the Rugby League World Cup that we’ve got Community Integrated Care as our social care partners. It means that together we’re creating life-changing opportunities through things like the community garden, the volunteering programmes across the tournament. 

 “They are all great experiences that ensure that people can get the most out of lots of opportunities for different individuals. We’ve watched international friendships being made and being brought together by this lovely garden, that will leave a legacy in the community beyond the Tournament.”

 Community Integrated Care Partnerships and Communities Manager, Craig Thomason said: “We were delighted to welcome the men’s Italian team to Newton Community Hospital to showcase our stunning, rugby league inspired, wheelchair accessible community garden. 

 “As the biggest social care provider in these communities, we have come together to develop opportunities that create greater social impact and local inclusion, through maximising the benefits of Renova’s estates and creating life-changing opportunities for typically isolated groups. It’s an accessible space that has become really useful for patients and staff at the hospital, as well as being a great project for the people that we support. 

 “It’s been fantastic to see the players’ reactions to something that wouldn’t have been possible without the unique creation of our Rugby League World Cupo 2021 Inclusive Volunteering programme. They were just blown away and how they engaged with the people we support was a joy to behold.”

 Italian Centre, Giordano Arena relished the experience at Newton Hospital. He said: “We will remember this day for a long time. For me to try and do something like that would be impossible. It’s very beautiful. It’s been a pleasure to take part in the gardening and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.”

 The garden is the result of a strategic collaboration between Community Integrated Care, Renova, which provides healthcare estates in Knowsley, St Helens, Halton and Warrington, and Community Health Partnerships.

 Shaun Anders, General Manager of Renova, hopes that the RLWC2021 garden project is the first of many more in coming years. He added: “This is a massive social experience for the people involved, a life-changing experience. I’ve loved every minute of it. 

 “You look at the friendships that it’s created, and gardening is a by-product of that. Yes the garden is fabulous, but it’s also extended their friendships, coming and being a part of it. We can roll this out again year after year on different sites, and what a legacy that would be for this project.”

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