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In celebration of both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Premiership Rugby are shining a light on key female figures in the game. In a series of articles and interviews, we will be sharing the stories of influential women who have found success both on and off the rugby pitch. From rising stars on the field to powerful decision-makers behind the scenes; community teams to TV presenters; and even TMOs to CEOs; Premiership Rugby will be celebrating them throughout March.
Sometimes, if you want something all you have to do is ask.
That’s certainly what Sale Sharks Community CEO Alison Warwood did when she decided that teaching wasn’t for her, and instead wanted to pursue a career in community work through sport.
A simple knock on the door led to a year of voluntary work at Manchester City Football Club before she subsequently earned her first paid role in the industry back in 1995.
Fast forward to today and Warwood has since spent ten highly successful years at Kick It Out, worked as an ambassador for Oxfam and also been awarded The American Express and Cosmopolitan Magazine Woman of the Year Award for her work in education.
That’s without mentioning the seven years spent at Sale Sharks, where she has continued to excel in her passion to drive positive change in the community through sport.
“When I left university I trained as a teacher but then decided working in the classroom as a teacher wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” Warwood said.
“So, I literally knocked on the door of the community office at Manchester City and asked whether they had any community work that might involve teaching and using sport in a non-traditional way.
“The man who ran the community scheme, Alex Williams said they really liked the idea, they didn’t have any funding for it, but they invited me to do some voluntary work and if I could get funding for community sport and education programmes then they would employ me as a community officer.
“It was when they were only just starting out with community foundation programmes, nobody had ever really used education in a sporting way before. I was one of the first non coaching community officers really working for a professional club.”
Warwood’s career has seen her involved in a vast number of both national and international initiatives across football and rugby.
But, she is particularly proud of her work with Premiership Rugby’s award-winning HITZ programme and the players which she has worked with on local projects that really matter.
“I love the impact that you can have on different sections of the community,” Warwood added.
“By using sport in a way that’s a focus for people, it draws on the power professional sport can have and seeing the local and individual impact, it can change people’s lives.
“With Premiership Rugby programmes like HITZ, you can see the impact on a person from having no hope and aspirations to having a job they never thought they’d have and actually believing in themselves for the future.
“We are doing everything we can to make rugby union as accessible as possible in the North West, using rugby’s core values as our unique selling point to make a positive impact on the region’s community.
“We get some really good player ambassadors who are passionate about things. A lot of players reach out to us to support their community work.
“In the last couple of months Marland Yarde wanted to do some work with homeless young people in Manchester, so we’ve partnered with him to do a project around helping the charity Centrepoint.”
Alongside her work Warwood is also a mother to two sport-mad boys who she gets involved with rugby.
And, having been an International Women’s Day ambassador for Oxfam, she understands and preaches the importance of female role models on and off the field.
“When I started working at Man City there were very few females involved working in sport,” Warwood said.
“For me, it’s always been really important that I was given an opportunity to do what I wanted to do, and just providing that for other people.
“Now girls have some of the same achievements on the pitch you want to see them come up through the game in an administrative way, a sports performance way and ultimately to get into the boardrooms as well so they’re represented at all aspects of the game on and off the pitch.
“As you go up into the boardrooms you still haven’t seen loads of change, although you do see more women in the media. There’s still quite a lot of work to do for things to be fully equal.
“I want all girls growing up to believe they can achieve whatever they want in the sport, on and off the field.
“Having an International Women’s Day is just a really good opportunity to raise awareness of success stories that different women have had. It really helps with aspirations, a girl growing up can see it and think ‘well I can do that’.”