Improving natural grass playing surfaces

The Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GNTIP) is designed to raise the standards of sports surfaces as well as the understanding of sports turf management practices among those who manage and maintain the thousands of public sports pitches for football, cricket and rugby throughout England and Wales.
   
Funded by the IOG, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), The Football Association (The FA), the Rugby Football League (RFL) and Sport England, the initial three-year programme – which builds on the established success of the IOG/ECB-funded regional advisor network – will be headed by national manager Jason Booth, formerly head groundsman at Leeds Rugby. He will lead a team of turf care expert regional pitch advisors covering London, the south east, north west, north east & Yorkshire and West Midlands, as well as the east, south west and East Midlands.
   
Each regional pitch advisor liaises with the national governing bodies and reports directly to Jason. They provide support services, training and education to local councils and their contractors (as well as to grassroots clubs and sites), while also managing the development of pitch performance standards through reporting and advising on grounds improvements.

What to expect
As a result, local government officers and those responsible for the maintenance of public pitches, will be able to access expert turf care advice, training and technical knowledge, as well as guidance on coping with flood damage, for example. Importantly, GNTIP will also enable players to access the best possible facilities in their local community and therefore maximise potential opportunities for growth locally, and deploy a strong infrastructure of support to the public sector particularly during a time of financial austerity. The GNTIP also aims to reduce the likelihood of cancelled matches and training, thus helping economic viability.

Pitch Awareness
Commenting on the agreement, IOG chief executive Geoff Webb said: “The IOG’s regional advisor network has over the years helped to vastly improve the standards of many sports surfaces, especially at grassroots and volunteer level where funding is often very limited. Now, with additional support from more national governing bodies of sports, we will be able to continue this important work at a much higher number of venues.”
   
National manager Jason Booth reported that by the end of its first six months, GNTIP has seen more than 100 visits and reports delivered (to The FA) concerning local authority and club sites, along with numerous workshops delivered throughout the country.

“The GNTIP team has made steady progress in raising the much-needed awareness of pitch maintenance and its importance to all sports – especially at grassroots level,” said Jason.

In addition to the RFL’s initial emphasis on Tier 3 level clubs, The FA has focused on raising awareness of pitch maintenance while also offering support to clubs that are going through asset transfer from local authorities that simply can no longer maintain facilities.
   
Also, The FA has already provided significant investment to clubs with machinery being supplied to a number of sites, and this will continue with the help of GNTIP.

National governing bodies say
Tessa Hayhurst, national funding operations manager at the ECB says: “GNTIP will support the ECB’s mission to get more people playing cricket, more frequently in teams. Central to this mission is the continued improvement in the quality of pitches.” Kelly Simmons, director of National Game and Women’s Football at The FA, said: “The FA is pleased to be part of the Programme which will help deliver and support The FA’s targets in the National Game Strategy. It will help deliver against the key aims of growing the game, the retention and development of players and raising standards.

The quality of natural turf pitches is key if we are to continue improving and attracting more people to play and enjoy participating in football. GNTIP will enable football to offer support, guidance and training to affiliated clubs and leagues to ensure that they have all the resources and information required to enable players to play on the best pitches possible. The programme will also inform how we can best direct our investment and ensure that we provide value for money.”
   
Carol Doran, national facilities manager at the Rugby Football League, said: “The RFL is committed to increasing regular participation in rugby league and therefore believes it is crucial that the sport has access to good quality pitches. GNTIP will have a significant impact on the standard of natural turf pitches by helping to provide essential services and support to grounds staff.”
   
Charles Johnston, Sport England property director said: “Good quality grass pitches are important for helping people get out and play sport. We recognise the real value and importance of those who maintain and deliver quality pitches every week.”

Partnership to deliver training
The Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) has partnered with the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) to deliver joint courses which support the maintenance and provision of parks and green spaces.
   
Optimising available resources is especially relevant in the current climate and the IOG is supporting APSE in a range of courses which support local authorities, including health and safety, asset management in parks and green spaces, as well as street cleaning supervisory skills for team leaders.
   
Commenting on the partnership, IOG head of education Chris Gray says: “Together we will be able to offer training that brings together the expertise from both organisations, providing an enhanced and well-balanced service to meet the needs of local authorities.

“In particular we are able to provide bespoke training which can address the specific needs of individual authorities in a cost‑effective way. One area that is currently being developed is that of providing training to parks volunteers whose services are increasingly being relied on to reduce management costs and to further engage and empower a community in local decision‑making.”
   
Jan Kennedy, APSE’s head of training, added: “It is all too easy in the current climate of budget cuts to neglect the training and development of key staff and partners, but this is often a false economy. Getting services right first time, ensuring best practice and good health and safety, as well as delivering for local communities in local environmental services will ultimately deliver dividends in service cost, quality and efficiency. I am really looking forward to delivering our training programmes in partnership with the IOG.”

Further information
www.iog.org