A Huddersfield social enterprise initiative has been awarded almost £100,000 to celebrate the history of women in rugby league.

‘The Pioneering Years’ is a project led by Julia Lee, one of the first women to referee men’s RL in the 1980s. The project has been awarded £99,912 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Julia applied for funding for ‘The Pioneering Years’, a project which aims to rescue and preserve the memories and the records of the women (and their male allies) who have played and maintained women’s rugby league clubs and competitions since the 1980s.

It aims to ensure their achievements are remembered and their legacy is preserved so that girls and young women can learn from their experiences and discover new role models.

The project, which will be administrated by Common-sense Initiative, is made possible by National Lottery players and aims to engage with women both inside and outside of rugby league to deliver a programme of activities that will raise the profile of the history of the women’s game.

In addition, it will celebrate the achievements of women involved in RL and use the stories of rugby’s women pioneers to inspire new generations.

Julia, director of Common-sense Initiative, who has spent many years working to get the role of women in rugby league recognised, said: “This is a project very close to my heart which will help us put a spotlight on some amazing women who have been involved in rugby league.

“It gives us an opportunity to ensure that the history of women in rugby league is not lost and to uncover stories still untold.”

The project will work alongside the Rugby Football League, local partners and Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield to build on the tremendous momentum of the successful Heritage Fund-supported ‘Life with the Lionesses’ project, which ended late in 2022 following the Women’s Rugby League World Cup.

The latest project will:

  • Create an extensive new collection about grassroots women’s rugby league for the Women’s Rugby League Archive’ at the University of Huddersfield’s Heritage Quay;
  • Establish a statistical record and timeline of the women’s club game;
  • Develop a BBC ‘Reunion’-style oral history podcast series in which members of women’s clubs discuss their teams;
  • Organise heritage ‘deep dive’ events and initiatives in key rugby league towns where women can share their memories, be interviewed and display memorabilia and artifacts;
  • Stage local exhibitions in conjunction with libraries, community groups and clubs highlighting the story of the local women’s game;
  • Use these stories of past generations to inspire the next generation through talks, school visits and events with girls’ rugby league teams.

For further information about the ‘Pioneering Years’ project contact Julia on Julia.lee@csi2021.co.uk