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Be Inspired Series

Jonathan Gillespie

Summer Camp Manager
Centra Ulster Rugby

‘We are an efficient and energetic organisation and I feel it’s important that I reflect that to whomever I am working with,’ says Jonathan.

What does your job entail?

As the community rugby officer for Belfast I work with rugby clubs and schools to promote the participation of young people in rugby.

A big part of my job is to manage the Centra Ulster Rugby Summer Camps in the Greater Belfast area. This involves organising venues and working with the Community Rugby Team to deliver a professional programme and provide safe and enjoyable camps for the participants. 

The camps are sponsored by convenience retailer Centra. The largest group of summer camps are for six to 12-year-old boys and girls and we also have a girl’s youth camp, a senior camp at the University of Ulster and a special needs camp – all five days long and running between the end of June and the end of August. 

Once the camps are up and running day to day tasks include making sure everybody is where the need to be and usually involves keeping a close eye on the weather forecast!

Is it 9-5?

No. The nature of our jobs and the fact that we work largely with volunteers means that we have to be flexible and this can involve evening and weekend work. My working hours have always been flexible, so I am well used to it.

How did you get into this line of work?

I started at the bottom and worked my way up! I played rugby at school, and then began coaching as a volunteer straight after my school playing days were over. Since then a number of opportunities presented themselves and I have worked hard to gain the experience needed to work for the Ulster Branch.

Outline your career to date?

I started working as a part time youth development officer with Banbridge RFC and the IRFU Ulster Branch in 2007 and the following summer I joined Lurgan Tigers as their full time development officer. In January 2012 I joined Ulster Rugby full time as a community rugby officer.

Tell us about your qualifications/training.

I have completed the IRFU stage 4 coaching course and am an accredited IRFU tutor. As development staff we regularly attend technical workshops to stay up to date with the trends of the game.

What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?

Personally, I would say a positive attitude is really important. We are an efficient and energetic organisation and I feel it’s important that I reflect that to whomever I am working with. 

Professionally it’s important to have a good all round technical knowledge of the sport, but the trick is being able to pass that knowledge onto others, including the young people who attend the Centra Ulster Rugby Summer Camps. Some of them will have previous rugby experience, but some kids won’t have any and will be picking up brand new skills at the camps.

What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?

One of the biggest challenges we face believe it or not is the weather, I know we moan about it a lot, but when it leaves pitches out of action it squeezes an already tight season plan. 

On the flip side the biggest reward of the job is simple and that’s seeing smiles on faces. If young people didn’t enjoy their rugby experience then they wouldn’t stay involved with the game for very long. The Centra Summer Camps are a great example of that. 

Quite often kids who maybe haven’t played rugby before have come along and had a fun week playing rugby and meeting new people, then they end up wanting to join their local mini rugby club. 

They also love meeting their heroes from the Ulster team, who visit the camps each week over the summer period. It’s a real highlight for the participants.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy getting up into the mountains, and trying not to get lost, when I have a bit of free time. You may not always see a view at the summit because of the weather, but getting to the top is always satisfying. I can also be found listening to my music nice and loud any chance I get!

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

Football, not rugby, was my number one passion until I was about 14. I have been a big Arsenal fan since I can remember and enjoy squeezing in the odd kick about when I can. I try and get over to an Arsenal game once a year or so.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

As a rugby player growing up it had to be Jonny Wilkinson. He had great qualities and set the bar very high. What he achieved in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final with his ‘weaker foot’ was pretty impressive. 

All of my coaches back at the Royal School in Armagh deserve a mention too; their dedication and enthusiasm definitely rubbed off. They are probably the reason I do what I do today.

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