A 140-YEAR-OLD South Lakeland rugby club is set to take a major leap into the future following a lucrative land purchase.

Kirkby Lonsdale RUFC's ground is set for an ambitious transformation in the near future after the club bought the near 30-acre site from Underley Estates for a sum believed to be in the region of £750,000.

It means that the club can now press ahead with developing its Underley Park home and in the coming years that will see the addition of new terracing, stands and grass pitch, a new artificial playing area, an upgraded clubhouse, improved changing facilities, increased car parking and floodlighting.


The club has also identified £1.6 million worth of development works it wants to carry out, as part of a five-year plan to allow the club to grow.

Much of the money required is to be raised through a scheme where investors can purchase non-voting shares in the club, with a target to raise £1.1m.

And the club's newly-appointed full time general manager says that the whole town is set to reap the rewards of the club's ambitions.

"We're going to increase the number of players we've got and further improve the facilities we can offer our teams, the community and local schools," said Ben Muschamp. "The club is growing and we want the town to benefit from it. We're unique in the sense of how many people in the town are involved with the rugby club, and we want to work together for the benefit of Kirkby Lonsdale.

"If we've got the resources in place, the team can go as far as it wants."

The team has played at Underley Park since the club was formed in 1877, but any plans to upgrade facilities have been limited as the land has been leased. The negotiations over the land deal has taken 18 months to complete and the club has worked with Kendal-based Napthen's Solicitors.

Club officials hope the works will ensure progression of rugby, develops an academy which supports players beyond youth teams and leads to the development of mini and youth rugby and serves the local and rugby communities.

Chairman Nigel Winn was equally excited about the potential that has been unlocked following the purchase of Underley Park.

"We want to strengthen the bottom of the pyramid so we have a solid foundation and go forward from there," he said. "Everybody is very excited and the fact we've now got the ground and can progress is an absolute dream.

"I don't know of a more scenic ground in the country and we now have complete control over what we can do."

One of the key elements in the plans for the coming years was the strengthening of ties with the community to help the whole town benefit from an expanding rugby club.

Rugby development officer Scott Armstrong has been appointed to liaise with local schools and a pathway from Queen Elizabeth Schools' vocational studio school into senior rugby at the club has also been set up.

"What we would like is for this to be a centre where schools can come down in the daytime and use the facilities," added Mr Winn.

"We want to put everything in place that we can to make sure that it goes forward.

"Kirkby Lonsdale is becoming known as a rugby town and we want better links with the community. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement – we want to be part of the town and vice versa.

"As soon as we've got the funding, we will start doing stuff."

The complex acquisition was made possible thanks to advice from the Cumbrian team at regional law firm Napthens solicitors, led by Commercial Property partner Kate Mallaband.

Kate, a long-term supporter of the club, said: “This acquisition will give the club far more control over its future direction. It will now be able to press ahead some very exciting plans to help develop the ground and the teams.”

Geoffrey Buswell, chairman of Kirkby Lonsdale Town Council, said the rugby club was one the town's major attractions and welcomed moves which would bring more visitors to the region.

"For me personally, it can only be a good thing," he said. "A rugby club that's thriving is only going to benefit the town.

"There's a lot of work the club does that isn't rugby related which helps the town, and in terms of what Kirkby Lonsdale has, it's probably among the top 10 features.

"It brings people into Kirkby Lonsdale who are not only here to watch rugby but also spend their pounds in our shops. As far as I'm concerned it's a major tourist attraction."

Robin Sadler, chairman of Kirkby Lonsdale Chamber of Trade, said the club already did masses to help the town's commercial ventures and welcomed efforts to boost visitor numbers.

"The rugby club is a massive part of Kirkby Lonsdale and it's much appreciated what they do in the town," he said. "Therefore, anything that they're planning to help them grow is likely to be received with a lot of enthusiasm.

"It's a great club with some great people involved."

More details on the club's share scheme to raise funds will be unveiled in the coming months, but Mr Muschamp said many people had already expressed an interest in investing in the club's future.

"We've already had interest from members looking to invest and purchase shares and they've contacted us about doing that," he said.