By Robbie Westacott 

 

A lot can change in a couple of months. As we’ve seen since the terrible outbreak of coronavirus reached the UK, our pubs and restaurants have closed, our children have been sent home from school, our rugby seasons – both grass-roots and professional – have been put on hold indefinitely. 

But while the UK public has been adjusting to a new way of life under lockdown, one thing which has not changed has been the tremendous work being done by NHS staff all over the country. Despite the dangers of this awful virus, our doctors and nurses have continued to work tirelessly to treat people in need and keep us healthy to the very best of their abilities.

One of those NHS heroes is the OWRFC’s own Doctor Richard Hutton, who plays for our First XV and works in the A&E department at St. George’s Hospital in Tooting. 

Richard was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about his experiences working through the pandemic, as well as sharing his thoughts on the recent lack of rugby and his hopes for its eventual return. 

We first asked Richard, what’s it been like working in a busy London hospital since the outbreak? 

“I’m currently a Foundation Year 2 Junior Doctor. After qualifying, all juniors must complete two years of foundation training, rotating through different specialties to broaden our experiences and knowledge. I was actually due to start my final rotation, in Urology, last month (April 2020). However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, myself and several other junior doctors have been relocated back to A&E to help cope with the expected surge.” 

“Obviously, the NHS has had to put precautions and measures in place to try to reduce the amount of people coming into hospital and lower the risk of spreading the virus. Many routine appointments and elective surgeries have been cancelled, and there’s been a big push in recruitment of other doctors to critical areas such as acute medical wards, ITU, and A&E to cope with the patient caseload.”

“From an A&E perspective, thanks to those precautions, things have generally been a bit quieter than usual. When lockdown first began we saw fewer typical medical emergencies like heart attacks and strokes, which was concerning initially. However, the hospital, alongside many others, has reached out and encouraged people to attend if they do feel unwell. As a result, we’re starting to see the numbers pick up again. This is encouraging because it means we can treat patients in the appropriate place and time.” 

“One other thing I’ve noticed has been the community spirit within the NHS, as well as the team morale. I’m very proud to say that, even without a global pandemic, the NHS has a fantastic sense of team spirit, but these recent events seem to have taken that to another level. This not only applies to the NHS, but to all the individuals who have embraced the government’s advice and are all playing their part in this fight against COVID-19.” 

It's great to hear Richard's positive take on the situation. That sense of morale and team spirit certainly seems to have rubbed off on our local community in the Wimbledon and Merton area as well. Here at the Old Wimbledonians, we’ve been working alongside charities, local businesses, and plenty of our club’s members to deliver food and other essential supplies to those in need during the pandemic. This has included delivering over 15,000 warm meals to NHS doctors and nurses working night-shifts at local hospitals to battle COVID-19, including Richard himself. 

Regarding his experience with this project, Richard said: 

“On behalf all staff at St. George’s, I have to say a huge thank you to the OWs and the Dons Local Action Group, whose generosity has not gone unnoticed.”

“It's amazing that the OWs has regularly provided us with fresh produce, baked goods, and warm cooked meals for all staff and key-workers, and we’re all extremely grateful. Hats off to President Dave Doran, chef Richard Brown, all the volunteers who have been working day and night in recent weeks, and also to everyone who has donated. To reach over 15,000 meals is a serious feat and a testament to our club, and I’m incredibly proud right now to be able to say I’m a member of the Old Wimbledonians.” 

Naturally, we were interested to find out how Richard came to play rugby for the OWRFC in the first place. He explained:  

“I first took to rugby when I joined Wimbledon College, and was fortunate enough to consistently play in the A Team before representing the school’s First XV for the first time in my under-16 year. Whilst playing at school I had trials with Harlequins Students and was also fortunate enough to represent Surrey County from age 14 to 18, which were great experiences that thoroughly improved my game.” 

“I then went on to the University of Birmingham, where I represented Birmingham Medics’ First XV from my first year onwards. I was grateful to be part of that team as we made five consecutive national semi-finals, and I was even given the honour of being vice-captain in my fourth year.”

It’s fair to say then, Richard – who is equally comfortable in the back row and the centre – has enjoyed an impressive rugby journey so far, and anyone who has watched him play this season will be well aware of the quality he’s brought to our side. 

So, we asked, why did you choose the OWRFC over potential opportunities to play rugby at a higher level? 

“During my university Christmas holidays, I played for the OWs in three of the traditional Boxing Day games which were all great fun. Playing alongside my brothers and some of my best friends from Wimbledon College is always a fantastic experience, and that’s a key part of the OWRFC culture. So, naturally, I decided to join full-time in the 2019/20 season to make the most of that opportunity after moving to London from Surrey in October.”

“The club is also very accommodating to each player’s individual situation, which has allowed me to find the perfect balance between working shift patterns, keeping up rugby training and matches, and being able to spend time with the team socially as well. It really is a great environment for young players from all kinds of backgrounds and lines of work.” 

Of course, the First XV’s season was sadly cut short in March when the lockdown came into effect. And it’s probably fair to say that everyone is missing sport right now, given the necessary measures in place to keep people at home until the coronavirus situation is under control. 

On that note, we asked Richard what positive role he thinks rugby, and the OWRFC in particular, can play in bringing the community back together when it’s finally safe to start playing again.

“I believe the core values of rugby – courage, gratitude, compassion, and perseverance, amongst others – have been exemplified during this lockdown period and long may this continue afterwards. Rugby is a sport built on respect and sportsmanship, both on and off the field."

"With rugby being a team sport, it also emphasises each and every player wanting to work hard for the whole team and not just themselves. So I believe the eventual return to rugby, across all age groups, will bring a large sense of togetherness and positivity to all playing and non-playing members of the community, especially at grass-roots clubs like ours.”

“Being a Wimbledon College boy, I was aware of the unique community spirit down at the Old Wimbledonians long before this pandemic began. But especially now, I feel very fortunate to be part of a club which is so welcoming, generous, and inclusive, and joining the OWs is a decision I haven’t looked back on. It’s been an honour to represent the team this season and I can’t wait to step back out on to the field with the boys again, hopefully sometime soon.” 

  

Please help us continue to support those in need! 

We’re asking for donations to help us continue to provide warm meals, baked goods, fresh fruit, and other essential supplies to the local community. We're delivering packages on a daily basis to doctors and nurses at local NHS hospitals, as well as vulnerable and isolated people across the local area. Please consider supporting this initiative. 

Any contribution you can make would be greatly appreciated. Click here to visit our JustGiving pageThank you!