KNITTING might not be something usually associated with big tough rugby players, although some may have had stitches at some point in their playing careers.

But one club in the North-East has swapped rugby balls for balls of wool to create a powerful community project ahead of Armistice Day.

More than 10,000 woollen poppies will be displayed at Consett Rugby Club as crowds pass to pay their respects at the cenotaph nearby on November 11.

Players, their families and club members have got involved to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, in memory of those men from the former steel town who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Construction manager Jonathan Walls, 32, from Consett, who plays as a tighthead prop, said: “It was quite hard at the start but once I got into the routine of it, a few pointers off me mam, and a few ladies at the club, it came back to me.

“I was a bit of a natural because I did it at school in design technology many, many, many years ago and it was actually really enjoyable. We are big lads with good hands, and that is pretty much what rugby is all about.”

Backrow player Ryan Blenkhorn, 40, who works as an operations supervisor, is married to Fran, and has three sons, aged three, six and eight.

He said: “I was taught by my mother years ago and the hard part was remembering how to do it, but once you get into the rhythm it is easy and you are away.

“My boys have just laughed at me and said: ‘Dad, what are you doing?’

“But it is a good way for them to learn about the reasons behind it.”

The project is the idea of Traci Jewitt, 43, from Delves Lane, whose son James, 14, plays as a prop forward for the club’s youth team.

She was moved to do something following the death of her grandfather, Robert Murray, a soldier for many years, in October last year at the age of 81.

Ms Jewitt said: “The response has been tremendous.

“It was a bit a challenge at the start for some of the players, but we held a series of masterclasses over at The Demi and we have got big burly rugby coaches sitting with knitting needles not knowing what to do. We have got pictures of little old ladies showing them how to do it.

“They were useless at the start, but these lads have taken it on themselves to learn and they have done it.”

Ms Murray said there will be more than 10,000 poppies by Armistice Day, 100 for each year since the end of the war. The poppy project has been supported by Consett-based military charity I Support A Hero, which was founded by former police officer Shaun Bailey, and his daughter Helen, who served during the Second Gulf War in Iraq.

Mr Bailey said: “What they have done here is really impressive and remembering the centenary of the First World War has to be passed on younger generations.”

As well as the woollen poppies, there are also garlands made using painted plastic bottles and paper poppies coloured in by local youngsters.

Club treasurer John Hetherington, 41, from Consett, said: “We are putting the club at the very heart of the community and showing that we remembering the sacrifice people made.”