I have joined other MPs, Marie Rimmer, St Helens South and Whiston, and Conor McGinn, St Helens North, in backing Saints’ campaign to raise funds for St Helens Autism Support. Saints have launched a one off replica shirt for Rugby League’s Magic Weekend and the special edition kit will be worn in Newcastle when they play Huddersfield Giants on 22nd May.
I am backing Saints’ campaign because it demonstrates how sports clubs can help raise the profile of important issues because they are so well integrated into their local communities.
I went along today to talk to Mike about how we can take the example of this campaign and share it with other clubs across all sports. If all clubs worked in this way just think how quickly and effectively we could disseminate messages about all sorts of key issues that affect society, especially around disability issues.
Having autism, or having someone with autism in your family, can be a very isolating situation when so few of us really understand the condition. But when a club like Saints takes the time to raise the profile of an issue it can help us to talk more openly about it and start to break down the barriers. So, I would encourage all Saints fans to be in that number and support a great cause at the same time!
Mike Rush, CEO of St Helens RFC, said: “We were delighted to welcome Debbie, Marie and Conor to the club today to demonstrate why our campaign to raise awareness of autism is very important. Since launching the shirt we have received support from all over the world and across all sections of sport, TV and music. We estimate that well in excess of eleven million people have had access to information about our shirt thanks to social media.That is doubly pleasing for me as not only has it already had a positive impact on people in our local area but it is raising funds for a cause very close to my heart. I have a close understanding of autism and the difficulties it can present to families not only in St Helens but across the country.”
“I am proud of the Board of Directors and the Club for backing a local charity and for all those fans from St Helens and other clubs who have bought shirts. With support from the three MPs who came to the club today, the awareness of this cause can only get bigger.”
Marie Rimmer, MP for St Helens South and Whiston, said: “I’m very proud to see Saints launching these limited edition shirts in support of such a fantastic cause. Autism needs to be better understood by all of us. There are so many autistic people who have great skills, abilities and potential but face barriers to fulfilling it because of a lack of knowledge and understanding from others.”
Conor McGinn, MP for St Helens North, said: “This campaign will raise awareness of the condition in St Helens and across the rugby league world, whilst raising funds for a local charity and I’m pleased to be supporting it. Saints are the heart and soul of our community and this latest initiative in support of a local charity is further tribute to Eamonn, Mike and everyone associated with the club. In choosing to raise awareness of autism in this innovative way, St Helens RFC and St Helens Autism Support have made an impact far beyond our borough boundaries.”
“I am delighted that Debbie has recognised the hard work being done locally on this and other disability issues in St Helens, and I hope the fantastic work being done here will serve as an example and give encouragement to those campaigning across the country.”
Each replica shirt also carries the logo of St.Helens Autism Support, a local group making a massive difference in the area by helping raise awareness of the condition and aiding people, particularly children, with all levels of autism. The players’ matchday shirts will also be signed and auctioned off for the charity.