Raising pitch standards in grassroots sport

Due to its outstanding impact in football and cricket pitch improvement at grassroots level, the Pitch Advisory Service last year gained further support from Sport England and the Football Foundation. It also welcomes the two codes of rugby and has expanded its team of regional pitch advisors.

Since its launch in 2014, the newly named Pitch Advisory Service (PAS) - formerly the Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GaNTIP) - has assessed more than 13,000 pitches, supported 3,642 clubs and engaged with 4,794 volunteers to help raise grassroots pitch standards in a bid to increase playability, maximise player experience and decrease the number of game cancellations.

The rugby league and rugby union have now joined football and cricket in the programme, with Sport England and the Football Foundation supporting the scheme.

Programme lead GMA COO Jason Booth has been integral to its ongoing success and has helped secure an increase in funding from £2.5m for GaNTIP Phase 2 to £3.9m for the current Phase 3 PAS programme. This funding also supports an expanded team of 17.5 people, including a programme support lead, sport-specific key account managers and four new regional pitch advisors (RPAs).

Jason says that the key reason for the increase in funding support and why more sports wanted to get involved is due to the programme's ability to collate data and show evidence of its impact on sustainable pitch improvement, as well as the return on investment from the funding partners.

Volunteer Support

With sports' national governing bodies engagement and an expanded team in place, the main Phase 3 objectives are to help increase the volunteer workforce and upskill volunteers; utilise platforms (such as the GMA Toolkit and the HIVE Groundskeeping Community) to communicate information to volunteers; and use the Football Foundation's PitchPower app to collate pitch information and provide remote RPA assistance.

According to Jason, the sports are also planning to collaborate in certain areas, including workforce development and local authority engagement, both of which he says are vital at grassroots level.

"The focus of the programme is to give volunteers as much support as possible," he says. "For example, our interim works documents have gained 15,000 views and 13,000 downloads, the new GMA Toolkit has seen engagement by more than 41,000 users, and more than 2,000 volunteers have completed the GMA's online training courses.

These stats show that there's a big appetite from volunteers to engage with grounds management and maintenance support at grassroots/recreational level."

For more information on the Pitch Advisory Service, visit: thegma.org.uk/pitch-advisory-service

New RPAs join the programme

Ian Somerville, RPA for Rugby Union – North

Ian brings over 39 years' of sportsturf industry knowledge, covering all aspect of grounds management and maintenance, from golf courses including the Royal Liverpool Golf Links to full football pitch renovations and construction.

Previously, he worked as the contracts manager for 360 Groundcare, a sportsturf, and grounds management and maintenance company.

Prior to that, he was technical sales advisor for ALS/Pitchcare. He has also lectured at Myerscough College, where he taught students from Level 1 Sportsturf Foundation degree up to MA degree level.

Ian has also achieved an MSc in Sports Surface Technology from Cranfield University and says he's looking forward to helping to raise pitch standards for grassroots-level RFC clubs by sharing his knowledge with groundspeople and volunteers, helping them learn new skills and giving them the confidence and ability to maintain their pitches themselves. 

Andrew Welsby, RPA for Cricket – North and Midlands

After leaving school, Andrew joined HMRC as an income ta x advisor and admits  that he didn't  enjoy  working in an office. He says it was the view of Lancashire County Cricket Club's Old Trafford ground from his window that led him to enrol on a Level 3 BTEC Sub-Diploma at Myerscough College in 2013.

Andrew was a seasonal groundsman at Old Trafford from 2014 to 2016 while he completed an Honours degree in Sportsturf

Science. He then became assistant groundsman  at  Manchester  City FC Academy, spending the next five years maintaining five first-team pitches  and helping  with hybrid pitch construction .

Within his new GMA role, he'll work with County Cricket Boards, county pitch advisors  and  local authorities to help recreational cricket  clubs raise the standards of their pitches and provide a better playing experience for their communities.

"I've been a grounds volunteer at my local rugby and cricket clubs, so I know how hard it is to look after recreational sports grounds. Being able to support and develop the community through advice and training will be really rewarding," says Andrew.

Todd Harrison, RPA for Rugby Union – Midlands

After leaving school, Todd joined the army and served five and a half years in Germany and Afghanistan. On his return, he worked with vulnerable adults at Wolverhampton City College before gaining a Level 3 Extended  Diploma  in Horticulture and becoming a landscaper.

He then joined Walsall FC as a senior groundsman, where he was responsible for managing the three­ pitch training ground facility. He worked at the club for eight years and is currently completing his final year of a Foundation degree in Sportsturf Management at Myerscough College.

In his spare time, he coaches martial arts, particularly kickboxing, and has coached World, European and UK champions. Todd says he's looking forward to providing sportsturf management guidance and support to grassroots clubs to help improve and maintain their playing surfaces, and avoid match cancellations.

Ash Hendrikx-Nutley, RPA for Football – South West

Ash has worked in grounds management for 30 years. He started out as an apprentice at Bradfield College independent school aged 17 while he attended Berkshire College of Agriculture to study greenkeeping and sportsturf management.

He worked as a greenkeeper at Donnington Grove Golf and Country Club and managed a landscaping team for a local property developer before setting up his own company.

He moved to Park House School and Sports Academy, where he oversaw the maintenance of sportsturf surfaces and managed a 3G artificial pitch construct ion. He then joined Magdalen College School, Oxford, as deputy head groundsman before becoming head groundsman at the 110-acre Downe House independent girl s' school. He was also support pitch advisor for football at the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire County FA

"I enjoy sharing my knowledge," he says. "I will be compiling reports from the PitchPower dashboard to show clubs their pitch level within the pitch-grading framework and advise them on what practices are needed to raise their level and help maintain it.

This article was originally featured in our member magazine, Grounds Management. If you would like to read more articles on grounds management and receive many other member-only benefits such as discounts on training, you can become a member today by following this link.