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Rugby club homeless for 23 years calls for improved sports facilities in Inverness

By Will Clark

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Women's captain Hannah Chisholm, Club president and coach Jess Butler, coach and player Jenna Woods and women's vice-captain Donna Mackenzie.
Women's captain Hannah Chisholm, Club president and coach Jess Butler, coach and player Jenna Woods and women's vice-captain Donna Mackenzie.

THE president of Inverness Craig Dunain, who have been homeless for over two decades, says there has to be greater emphasis on building new sports facilities in Inverness.

Jess Butler spoke out after their latest hopes of finding a permanent home have been put on hold.

Their dreams for a new home ground on a new all-weather pitch at UHI, which saw planning permission granted in May last year, were crushed after Highland Council revealed that the £1.3 million project had been put on hold amid spiralling costs.

Inverness Craig Dunain lost their previous home at Westercraigs to a housing development by Robertson Homes 23 years ago.

As part of the original agreement, Robertson Homes were due to provide new sports facilities for the area to make up for the loss of the rugby pitch.

However in 2016, it was agreed that the developer would instead make a financial contribution towards a new facility to be created in Inverness.

The club has been moving to various facilities for training and games across the years, and is currently training at Merkinch Nature Reserve.

Without having its own home ground for official games – and rugby posts being removed from Bught Park and Inverness High School – ICD teams had to rely playing at neighbouring clubs at Ross Sutherland in Invergordon, Moray RFC in Elgin and Highland in Inverness for the past two seasons.

Butler says having no permanent home has had a negative impact on the club’s ambitions to move forward. She says the club are frustrated by the announcement that plans for a pitch at UHI were put on hold.

“No permanent base restricts our potential to grow and provide the best physical environment we can for player development,” she said.

“It also severely restricts our ability to generate sponsorship income to further develop the club.

“The club have been in many discussions with Highland Council over the years. At one stage, Inverness High School was put forward as part of a proposed community hub. This option was superseded by the UHI development and we finally thought that our prayers had been answered, but it was not to be.

“After some really positive work moving forward at the start, when it was led by UHI, Covid hit and understandably everything stopped. Once Highland Council took over the project, dialogue with the club ceased and only through our persistence in trying to speak to officials at the council we were told what we had come to fear.

“So here we are 23 years on, worse off than before. “Still no home and no pitches available to let from the council in Inverness.”

She added: “The council have been sat on the money given to them by Robertson’s in 2016 in lieu of a new pitch to replace our original one and we have seen no benefit from it.

“We thankfully have access to a training area in Merkinch, although it’s in dire need of some attention. We have a storage container with an intermittently leaking roof that has seen better days. Sadly, across the region there is a shortage of recreational facilities for so many sports clubs. We are not alone in being affected by that issue.”

Butler admitted the lack of permanent home has been hard for the club. But they are determined to carry on and provide opportunities for people to get involved in rugby.

She said: “Our hard working committee and players deserve better.

“I confess that at times, I’ve felt overwhelmed with the magnitude of challenges we face to remain operational.

“Then I think of the loyalty of our players and the joy they get from the game and representing our club. I know we make a positive difference to lives.”

A spokesman for Highland Council said: “We are discussing potential solutions with the club, and these will continue.”

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