OXFORD Harlequins have barely had time to pause for breath in a frantic year.

Take a look out of the big windows of the clubhouse at their new Horspath Sports Ground home and you will see an artificial rugby pitch available for all teams in Oxfordshire to use – a gem for the county.

Quins are the custodians of this facility, but it is about far more than just the £800,000 playing surface funded by the Rugby Football Union.

Walking outside and turning your back to the pitch, there is a refurbished clubhouse and dressing rooms.

It was a mammoth effort put together with £200,000 and countless hours of hard graft from dedicated club volunteers to have eveything ready for the official opening last October.

“There’s a legacy here and you can’t take it away,” said chairman Neil Hopper. “It can only get better, bigger, and now we understand what we’re doing.

“We almost went into it like a two-footed tackle with our eyes closed, but we’ve come out of it pretty well.

“I was stood looking out of the windows in the clubhouse the other day and I thought ‘Jesus, how did we manage this?’”

The journey started long before last May when Quins officially moved from Marston Ferry Road, where they were tenants on land owned by Cherwell School.

It arguably began in 1996 when the club was born following the merger of Oxford Marathon and Oxford Old Boys.

From there, a nomadic journey also included spells at Horspath and North Hinksey, the latter including a proposed – and failed – merger with Oxford.

In 2015, there was an intention to build something of their own, to settle in one place, when Quins officially moved back to Marston Ferry Road and set about forming a ‘one club’ ethos with their minis and juniors section.

A discussion between Hopper and Oxfordshire RFU’s rugby development officer Dave Larham a year later saw those plans change gear with another potential move tabled.

“The idea to go back to Horspath was born on a dark rainy night in December 2016,” said the Quins chairman.

“We went into the first round of applications in January 2017 which went down to the wire between us, Oxford and Oxford University.

“We then had to apply to get licences and money in place.

“In reality, that took from then to the opening for the first game of September 2018.

“We had to get the council and the RFU to agree leases and to do that in 20 months was impressive.”

Equally so was the effort of Quins volunteers to turn the run-down facilities at Horspath into a venue that could host rugby for all ages.

While the RFU were in control of installing the pitch and began a 14-week build last May, a lot of work was needed on the existing buildings at the site.

Their achievements have recently been recognised with a place on the shortlist for the ‘facility development of the year’ at the National Rugby Awards.

“We had three and a half months to take it from the shell it was – the clubhouse windows were decaying, the roof was falling in, everything was just wrong,” said Hopper.

“The effort was huge and there were a lot of people working late at night. You can’t name everyone, but they know who they are.”

None of their efforts were in vain. Quins were able to play their first home game of the 2018/19 season at Horspath on September 8 and had everything ready for the official opening on October 6.

The first team also delivered on the pitch, beating Wimborne 37-5.

Andy Boyle, who has since departed as head coach due to work commitments, was in charge that day.

“The club is lucky to have the facility and it was all a bit of a whirlwind,” he said.

“In all the time I was at the club, ten years give or take, I never really felt like we were home.

“Marston Ferry Road was cosy, but it belonged to the school and there was very little we could do with it.

“But when I walked into the clubhouse at Horspath, I was quite emotional because I just thought it was incredible what had been achieved.”

Among those putting his body on the line on the artificial surface is club captain Allan Purchase.

Approaching his ninth season at Quins, he has now played at three different ‘home grounds’ and is looking forward to seeing the benefits of having somewhere they can truly call their own.

“It’s been a great move and the committee have done an excellent job,” said Purchase.

“Certainly the changing rooms are a vast improvement on what we had at Marston Ferry Road and the clubhouse is far bigger.

“It’s just brilliant and it’s now about understanding how we grow into this space.”

So what is next for Quins?

While the fortunes of the first XV are always important, the club’s future is about more than what happens on a Saturday afternoon.

“The facility is the biggest thing now,” said Hopper.

“The pitch takes care of itself, for us it’s building the facility to be bigger and better for the kids. It’s all about them now, the seniors know what they’ve got.”