Former soldier seeking rugby kit donations for sporting project in Kenya

Tom Coney with army jeep
Tom Coney has been helping to source rugby kits for young Kenyan players.

27-year-old former soldier Tom Coney is seeking donations of second hand rugby kits to help get impoverished children in Kenya involved in playing rugby league.

The former Royal Engineer, from Altofts near Wakefield, became involved in promoting the sport in Kenya through his friend Dennis Gem who trains disadvantaged children how to play. 

Dennis coaches boys and girls in primary and secondary schools, orphanages, and other communities in Kenya, helping hundreds of children access the sport. He has also been involved in helping to find good causes to support through the fund set up following the untimely death of fellow soldier Jack Mitchell.

Tom was in Kenya to establish a Geo Cell within the British Army Training Unit (BATUK) Training Wing after being stationed with the Grenadier Guards the year before.

Tom Coney at Mount Kenya
Tom Coney at Mount Kenya during his trip to Kenya. Photo: Instagram/kohknee.t

A geo cell is where a Geographic Technician (Royal Engineers) will sit and produce maps/geographic products using computers to enable accurate planning and everything else associated. Tom set the first one up in BATUK and produced air charts, training area maps and kept the map store organised.

Shortly after his arrival at BATUK, Tom needed to see Dennis in the IHUB to gain access to the IT system and the two began discussing rugby. The Briton soon joined local team the Nanyuki Jackals and turned his hand to coaching young Kenyans.

However, Tom was only in Kenya for about five months as it was just a short “tour”.

Tom Coney at Mount Kenya
Tom Coney during a climb up Mount Kenya. Photo: Instagram/kohknee.t

However, Tom was only in Kenya for around 5 months, but told Dennis that when he returned to his unit, 42 Engineers RAF Wyton, he would ask his Commanding Officer if their old jerseys, tackle bags and shields could be sent to Kenya since they had no post protectors, having to use mattresses during match days instead.

True to his word, Tom convinced his bosses and rugby captain, Staff sergeant Liam, and Dennis was able to receive the kits in person during a visit to the UK.

Dennis Gem at RAF Wyton
Dennis Gem at RAF Wyton.

Subsequently, RAF Wyton sent another set of jerseys and also contributed money to buy boots for the children.

Tom Coney and Dennis Gem
Dennis Gem receives the donated rugby kit from Tom Coney at RAF Wyton.

Last year when Doncaster Knights were doing end of year sales, Dennis saw a post on their Facebook page that they were selling shorts for £1, much cheaper than they would be in Kenya. So he asked Tom if he could secure 120 shorts for him.

Tom generously did as he had been asked and more, sending an additional 40 pairs of shorts last year. Although it was a struggle, Dennis managed to repay him last month and Tom subsequently launched his appeal for more kit donations from the UK.

The biggest challenge for Dennis in Kenya is the cost of sending the kits over, with it costing between £20 to £30 pound postage fee per box, but Tom is also trying to help out with this too.

Dennis Gem rugby kits
Some of the young Kenyan rugby players in their donated kits from the UK.

In Kenya, only primary education is state funded. However, a route to secondary education and beyond is possible through rugby scholarships, illustrating how life changing developing a skill in the sport can be.

For their appeal, Tom and Dennis are looking for donations of boots, socks and any other sports kits. If you want to donate your old gear or sponsor a box of equipment, please call Tom in the UK on 07397 182007 or contact Gem Rugby on Facebook.

Leave a Reply