Work to begin on £6m Rob Burrow MND centre one day after his death is announced

Work to build a new £6 million Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease in Leeds will begin on Monday, one day after the ex-rugby league player’s death was announced.

Burrow died at the age of 41 after a four-and-a-half-year battle with the incurable illness. He was just 37 and had three children under the age of eight when he announced the diagnosis in 2019.

Since then, the former Leeds Rhinos player had been spearheading a £6.8 million charity appeal for Leeds Hospitals Charity, where he received care, for a state-of-the-art purpose-built care centre for those with MND living in and around the city.

With almost £6 million raised for the project, work was to begin on Monday with an appearance from the Burrow family.

Despite the news of Burrow’s death on Sunday, the charity has said construction will go ahead as planned.

Paul Watkins, director of fundraising at Leeds Hospitals Charity, told the PA news agency: “The family still want it to go ahead. That just shows how magnanimous and gracious they are.

“All along they have thought about others.”

The build is expected to take about a year and the charity remains focused on raising the last £1 million of their target.

Mr Watkins, 55, added: “We’ve raised £5.85 million of the £6.8 million centre and we will continue until we get there.

“We’re just devastated at the news today. Rob’s work transcended the Rugby League community. At a time when he was most vulnerable he put himself out there.

“Few people in the UK now don’t know what MND is, and a lot of that is because of Rob.

“I was lucky enough to be in the room with him many times and fortunate enough to catch that glint in his eye or his smile. His smile would light up any room.

“He was a joy to be around.”

Fans gathered outside Headingley Stadium, the home of Leeds Rhinos, on Sunday to pay tribute to Burrow.

HGV driver Marc Hill, 31, told PA: “I’m absolutely gutted. Just devastated.

“I idolised Rob Burrow growing up and he was probably one of the main reasons I got into rugby. I met him a couple of times in passing. The funniest time was when I walked into a McDonald’s and he was sat in there. He always said hi and always had time for fans.

“He was a true inspiration and was relentless in every way. He meant everything to Leeds. He was Leeds.

“I’ve got a four-year-old and she was asking a lot of questions before I left to come here. We tell children he was someone you should aspire to be like.”

Mr Hill also praised Burrow for his dedication to raising awareness of MND both in Leeds and across the UK.

He said: “I didn’t know what MND was when it first came out. For me personally he raised awareness massively. It just shows how much he’s brought it forward.”