Charity organisation Rugby League Cares today announced it has forged a new partnership with Kirklees Council to help put plans in place at rugby league’s spiritual home.
The decision to establish the world-class facility in the West Yorkshire town was made following a recommendation by an independent selection panel, which had considered expressions of interest from locations across the North of England.
It was, of course, at The George Hotel where 21 clubs met on August 29, 1895 to agree a breakaway from the Rugby Football Union and enable working class players to be compensated for wages lost when playing rugby, thus forming the new sport.
RL Cares chairman Tim Adams MBE said: “I am sure everyone in the sport will welcome this decision to establish the National RL Museum at the George Hotel.
“The museum will tell the wonderful story of a sport that remains as important to the communities in which it is played as it was in 1895.
“We are looking forward to working with the members and officers of Kirklees Council to develop a museum that will be the envy of sports around the world in a location that means so much to so many people.
“I would like to thank all the other centres who expressed an interest in hosting the museum: Kirklees Council were not alone in putting forward a compelling case to the selection panel, who deliberated long and hard before handing down their recommendation.
“The interest shown is a testimony to the prestige that comes with being the home of the National RL Museum, and ultimately acknowledges the importance of the George Hotel to Rugby League.
“Our thanks also go to all the members of the independent selection panel who helped us reach this important decision: their wealth of knowledge of the museum’s landscape and the sport was invaluable.”
The George Hotel has been closed since 2013 (when it previously held Rugby League Heritage Centre) and has been purchased by Kirklees Council as part of an ambitious plan to make the museum the focal point of a multi-million pound redevelopment of Huddersfield town centre.
Bradford City Hall was initially announced as the proposed home of the museum in 2016.
However, an unsuccessful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund two years later meant plans hit problems.
Lengthy delays in the process saw Rugby League Cares announce in April they would re-tender the work with a partner organisation to develop their new National Museum.
Councillor Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, said: “This is absolutely fantastic news and we’re really excited to get started and bring Rugby League home.
“We asked our residents what they wanted to see in Huddersfield town centre and one of the most popular answers people gave was to get the George Hotel back open.
“We listened and made the decision to buy the building so we can make sure it not only reopens but stays open.
“It is so much more than a building to local people and to Rugby League fans across the world.
“This is where it all began for Rugby League and there is no better place to create a museum that celebrates and remembers the history of the game.”
Councillor Peter McBride, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “This is our biggest step towards delivering our Huddersfield Blueprint vision yet.
“Since we announced we wanted to bring a National Rugby League Museum to the George Hotel we have received a huge amount of support from across the world.
“It is the birthplace of the sport and it’s really important that we cherish that.
“Huddersfield and Rugby League have a very special bond, and we know that Rugby League fans from all around will be delighted at the prospect of visiting the museum.”
The announcement has been welcomed by the Chairman of the Rugby Football League, Simon Johnson: “On behalf of the RFL, I congratulate Rugby League Cares on this fresh and much-needed focus on celebrating the rich and unique history of our great sport of Rugby League.
“It is high time that there is a National Rugby League Museum to celebrate our sport’s rich heritage. How fitting then, that, as we celebrate the birth of our sport 125 years ago, the location of that radical meeting, the George Hotel in Huddersfield, should be the chosen location.
“I know that RL Cares had a tough choice to make from some compelling bids. I thank the other bidders for their participation in this process. I hope they too will appreciate the decision that RL Cares took.”
Work to renovate the interior and exterior of the George Hotel is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks, with plans for the galleries, exhibitions and interactive displays that will feature in the National RL Museum being drawn up in the coming months.
RL Cares and Kirklees Council will also work together to submit applications to the National Heritage Lottery Fund for assistance with funding one of the most important museum projects seen in the UK in recent decades.
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