Heritage of women in rugby league project awarded funding

James Gordon

A project inspired by the story of the first woman to referee men’s rugby league has been awarded National Lottery funding.

Commonsense Initiative (CSI), which inspires and empowers young people and women to unlock and achieve their potential, has been awarded £32,400 by the National Lottery to explore the heritage of women in rugby league.

Crossing the Line (CtL): Women in Rugby League 1950 to present day, is inspired by Ref! a play, written by Sarah Jane Dickenson, about Hull born Julia Lee who became the first woman to referee a men’s rugby match of any code in 1991.

Julia will now lead this project by delivering intergenerational workshops for women.

CtL will develop participants’ oral history skills, collect and preserve experiences, memories and artifacts of women who have been a part of the rugby league over the past fifty years in the Batley and Featherstone districts of West Yorkshire.

The project will present a wide range of stories as these women had different roles in the
rugby league; they may have been players, administrators, volunteers or supporters of this sport. Telling their stories will enable other women to draw on their experiences and find a place in a male-dominated sport.

The participants will co-create an exhibition of memories and artifacts collected at the workshops through a Social Museum and Art (SMART) Gallery and a Rugby League (RL) SMART Gallery website that will allow the stories to be shared with a wider audience.

The SMART Gallery will be hosted in each community for two to three weeks allowing attendees to learn about an unknown part of their local sport heritage.

Julia Lee, Director of CSI, said: “We are so excited to be able to work with Featherstone and Batley Rugby League clubs on this project and to collect the memories of women in rugby league.

“There is very little recorded about the history of women in the sport and will begin to
fill the void.”

Made possible by National Lottery players and awarded through the Heritage Lottery
Fund (HLF), this multi-layered arts and heritage project is the first attempt to explore
this heritage and record the testimonies of those who drove the female rugby
presence in West Yorkshire. It is those women who are the inspiration and driving
force behind this project.

David Renwick, Head of HLF Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, people will uncover the hidden heritage of the female rugby league community in West Yorkshire and, for the first time, tell the stories of local women who paved the way to changing attitudes and influenced today’s sports scene.”

This exhibition will be stored in the Rugby League Archives at Huddersfield University’s Heritage Quay, for display at the planned National RL Museum, Bradford.