It’s been almost 30 years since Gareth Chilcott pulled on a rugby shirt in ‘anger’. But the former Bath, England and Lions prop forward was desperate to get his hands on as many shirts, shorts and other kit items as possible at Hungerford Rugby Club on Sunday 20 February 2022.
Coochie, as he’s known throughout the game, visited the Triangle Field club in his role as ambassador for SOS Kit Aid, which distributes second-hand rugby kit to disadvantaged young people all over the world. In 20 years, the charity has distributed £6 million worth of kit to almost 300,000 young people in more than 40 countries. They’re the only charity officially backed by the sport’s ruling body, World Rugby, and work mostly in eastern Europe and Africa – though recent beneficiaries have included youngsters in tsunami-hit Tonga.
Importantly, recycling is a crucial part of the process, as SOS Kit Aid regional organiser Richard Westaway explained: “Our work has saved more than 1,500 tonnes of carbon emissions and is a huge motivator for our donors and those who receive the kit. We’re all about recycling. We don’t ask for money, just kit and boots that would otherwise just be thrown out.”
Gareth Chilcott, who has been working with the charity for 17 of its 20 years, is equally passionate about recycling: “We collect kit that would otherwise just end up in landfill. We do our bit to fight climate change and at the same time help to really change the lives of youngsters.
“People might think a bit of kit isn’t going to make a difference to these kids’ lives but what we experience proves that’s wrong. When teams who have had to play in torn, unmatched kit put on a matching strip for the first time you can see how it makes them ‘grow’. It bonds them, it makes them believe in themselves and that confidence is crucial to helping them improve their lives. And, of course, they look great when they step out on the rugby field.”
Hungerford junior section’s players and parents answered the SOS call in impressive style and the club handed over almost 100 kilos of kit on Sunday. Junior section secretary Louise Evans said the club planned to make this a regular event. “We are so happy to support this brilliant charity and make good use of shirts and other kit which would otherwise go to waste. Our parents were great and really bought into the idea, and our young players really appreciated that their kit would be going to help other children.”