History of Advantage!

Advantage! started in January 2019, in a coffee shop, when three people shared a vision on how to use rugby league, sports and fitness to improve the lives of people in their home town of Barrow-in-Furness
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History of Advantage!

Advantage! started in January 2019, in a coffee shop, when three people; Steve Neale, the then new chairman of Barrow RLFC; Denis Fay, then a recently retired Headteacher and National Leader of Education; and Siona Hartley, a vastly experienced PE teacher, ex-Leeds United Ladies footballer and nationally ranked athlete, shared a vision on how to use rugby league, sports and fitness to improve the lives of people in their home town of Barrow-in-Furness: a community with areas that suffer from high levels of deprivation.  

Advantage! is named, because it seeks to restore an advantage to those who may suffer disadvantage and is based on the rugby call from a referee, when a team is allowed to progress and the game is not stopped. 

As well as a vision for the town, all three are Barrovians and shared their passion for the community and their longing for it to reach its potential. Barrow is a fantastic town, with a rich culture and fantastic people.  

Steve pledged the resources of Barrow Raiders to the journey and with that initial impetus, Siona Hartley, armed with a part-time contract and three newly arrived Papua New Guinea players, she set about renewing the impact that Barrow Raiders, and iconic club in the town for nearly 100 years, had on its community.  

Our PNG internationals, Stargroth Amean, Willie Manoga and Watts Puara Jnr, under Siona’s leadership, made an almost immediate impact on their adopted town.  

Within weeks, Advantage!, which started with no funds and no rugby balls, was delivering cultural workshops and free coaching in over 20 local primary and secondary schools, as well as running school holiday multi-sports camps. In the last four years, Advantage! has undergone a rapid expansion, and now has added to its schools’ work, with a wide range of other community initiatives with a focus on health and wellbeing.

There is a now a team of eight staff, led by Charlotte Gibson and overseen by the Advantage! Barrow Raiders Community Foundation, which became a registered charity in May 2021. 

Charlotte is an experienced manager, having worked on Cruise Ships in leadership roles over the last five years. Charlotte is a very able netballer and all round sports person, and a fantastic role model to the younger age groups, especially girls.  

Charlotte’s drive and experience brings an added dimension to the team, allowing Advantage! to respond to the increasing demands on our services as a result of our success. 

Another member of the leadership team is Lisa Neale, who is Operations Manager across Advantage! and Barrow Raiders RLFC. Lisa is highly experienced, having worked in management within Cumbria County Council for over 25 years, and is ensuring all procedures and structures are in place in this fast growing organisation.

Charlotte Gibson, Ruth Parker, Ellis Gillam, Isaac Prosser, Ellis Archer, Luke Broadbent and Caroline Boyle are using rugby league, sport and well-being to improve the lives of those in the local community. Most recently, Louise Scarr has joined the team, taking the lead on our Touch RL league initiative. Louise’s extensive knowledge of Rugby League, along with her connections within the community made her a perfect fit for the role and in turn, has started with a bang – engaging over 100 participants in just the first 8 weeks.

Ellis, Luke, and Ellis are our three Raiders players, and their passion and experience in rugby league is making a significant difference within the community. 

Ellis Gillam has developed our sports leadership programme and coaching within our community clubs and secondary schools, to help increase participation numbers. Ellis is passionate about rugby league, especially inclusivity, and he works hard to develop, not only boys’ rugby, but girls and disability rugby. Ellis is always willing to do more, if it means he can develop and coach rugby, and each half term Ellis leads and delivers a three-day intensive rugby camp to boys and girls, as well as our commitment to the Cumbria County Council Holiday and Food Programme camps each Easter, summer and winter.  

Luke Broadbent and Ellis Archer are both relatively new to the Advantage! team.  Luke recently joined Barrow Raiders having previously played rugby league for Warrington, Workington Town and Whitehaven. Ellis Archer has joined Barrow Raiders after his time at super league side St. Helens. Both players will bring a new dynamic to the team and will hopefully inspire the local youth being from Barrow themselves.


We now have five non players, all very experienced within teaching and coaching.

Ruth is a highly experienced coach and former higher level teaching assistant, who has made great strides in our delivery of health and wellbeing initiatives for the older population, such as chair-based exercise and walking rugby. Ruth is also passionate about the community game, especially growing participation numbers for boys and girls within Barrow and District, and as such, volunteers her time to manage the Barrow Ladies reserve team squad. Ruth’s dedication to the promotion and development of women’s rugby has been recognised by the Rugby Football League and she has been accepted on to their Women’s Leadership and Performance Programme. 

Caroline is an ex-Olympian, having competed in two Olympic games as a road cyclist and mountain biker. Caroline is passionate about giving back to her community and improving the health and wellbeing outcomes of people within Barrow and the South Lakes area, through her work with the running and walking groups and the chair-based exercise.  Caroline is dedicated to the expansion of Advantage!  and is now becoming involved in the strategic focus group, looking at opportunities for organisational development.

Isaac has thrown himself whole-heartedly into the role, he plays competitive football and recently qualified as a football coach as well as rugby league, boxercise and dodgeball. Isaac too has a calm and reassuring approach, and he has particularly enjoyed working with our Able Raiders, adults with learning disabilities, attending festivals with the Able Raiders Super League team. Isaac has also made great strides developing Dodgeball, where his fiercely competitive side comes to the fore!  

Most importantly, Advantage! would not exist without the support of Steve Neale and Barrow Raiders RLFC! 

Now, thanks to the initial support from the Sir John Fisher Foundation, which attracted support from other organisations including BAE Systems, Cumbria Community Foundation, Sport England, the National Lottery Community Fund, Boost Charitable Trust, Frieda Scott Foundation Trust, Furness Building Society and many other organisations, and local businesses, Advantage! is a sustained, but still developing programme, touching the lives of over 1000 people per week, maintaining its initial focus and impacting on the wellbeing of the community, in the heart of Barrow.