A man to the Grammar born

David Mearsin Schools & Colleges


We first took a tour of the school grounds, pitches and facilities, chatting and taking photographs as we went. (How we managed a day without rain and gales beats me, but we did!) Then it was to the shed for a cuppa, to hear more and to make some notes.

The main building at Bradford Grammar School

Born and raised in Sunderland before moving, at the age of six, with his family to Dewsbury ("Nice place really!" he says), Lewis Pattinson seems born to groundsmanship. "I sort of fell into it," he tells me. "I started my own small gardening business at the age of fourteen; mostly cutting lawns and gardening. My dad even bought me a petrol strimmer for Christmas, but I had to sell it back to him because I ended up scalping lawns which meant giving free cuts! I stuck to mower and shears after that!" So, enthusiasm for grounds work and to earn was definitely there and the gardening work kept Lewis active, especially during the school holidays.

I asked him where the real inspiration came from to seek a career in groundsmanship. "Sunderland AFC!" he said and smiled as I raised a curious eyebrow. "I went regularly with my dad to watch football; I loved the atmosphere and the ground was amazing. I wondered if I could be one who could make a pitch look as good as that! I was convinced that I could produce it if I worked hard."

Left: Lewis Pattinson, Head Groundsman Right: First team pitch

Lewis stuck to his mission and when his next door neighbour, who recognised his burning desire, asked him to work as an apprentice at his golf course, he jumped at the chance! Lewis progressed and worked at two Yorkshire golf clubs and five years as a groundsman at Headingley Stadium. During this period, he also spent time at college, mainly at Askham Bryan College. He has achieved NVQ Level 2 in Greenkeeping, NVQ Level 3 in Sports Turf Management and NVQ Level 3 in Management - smart training and learning. He also has his PA1 and PA2 spraying certificates. One award that he's particularly proud of winning the IOG Young Groundsman of the Year 2016.

Lewis met his wife-to-be in Dewsbury and they moved to nearby Birstall into their first house. "Great!" he says. "Then what did I do after three months? I got what seemed a dream job at the London Stadium as Deputy Head Groundsman!" He and his wife talked it through at great length. The job offer came as something of a "lifesaver" as he explained; "I was falling out of love with the industry and that seemed crazy! I really needed, for my own mental health, to do this. My wife was very supportive, but time apart was difficult. I threw myself into the job. I thought I was a good groundsman before I went to London, but soon realised that wasn't the case! I worked under Head Groundsman James Williams. We got on well from the first day."

On the tour - old and new school buildings

James was just what Lewis needed at that time. "James had a great influence on my career and imparted so much knowledge. He was never afraid to include me in all that happened. He went to great lengths to explain budgeting, fertiliser knowledge, irrigation systems and people management; I'd have struggled without his help!"

Despite the great job, after two years, shared accommodation and living away from home was becoming too much after two years. Lewis longed to be back in Yorkshire. "I needed my family and some home comforts. But I also needed a life!"

Luck was on his side, it seemed, when someone from a family they knew, with children at Bradford Grammar School (BGS), saw an advert for head groundsman at the school and immediately thought of Lewis! Lewis applied for the position and travelled from London to the school. He was interviewed by Ian Clint (Estates Manager), Oliver Rogers (Director of Sport) and a member of the Human Resources department. A short while later, he was offered the job. Lewis, thinking back, told me he now realised that learning the basics working in Leeds and preparing him well for a multi-use environment had stood him in good stead for the move to London and then the BGS job.

Left: Cricket square Right: Pitch no. 4

With Lewis, now 29 and eight months in and settled into the position at BGS, we went on to discuss the job, the team and the site. The team are three; Lewis - Head Groundsman, Steve Jagger and Martin Pottage (groundsmen). Steve (57) has been at the school for seventeen years. He spent time at Bradford College (12½ years) as a groundsman and gardener and Leeds City Council on grounds maintenance. He studied Horticulture at Shipley College. Each member can perform common tasks, but each groundsman has their specialities. Steve is responsible for all garden areas at BGS. The design and appearance is all down to him; horticulture is in his blood. What he doesn't know about plants isn't worth knowing!

When I arrived, he was preparing soil next to a stone wall in a dark corner. By the end of my visit, this had been transformed into a delightful and bright small garden area with climbers at the rear to add depth, colour and cover to a wall! Lewis has tasked Steve to produce new designs for other garden areas and looks forward to his proposals.

The grounds team in front of the Sports Pavilion

Martin (51), with his greenkeeping background and training, has been at BGS for almost a year now and came from Woodhall Hills Golf Club. He'd previously spent thirty years as a greenkeeper at Bradford Golf Club. He attended Shipley College on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) scheme and also studied at Askham Bryan College gaining his greenkeeping experience. Having a long greenkeeping background, Martin's skills mean he's brought a wealth of knowledge and experience with him to BGS. Turf maintenance is his forte as is his abilities with grounds machinery. Lewis has tasked him with the total control of the in-house machinery maintenance.

The Grounds Team are responsible for all on-site outdoor sports facilities and gardens. They also maintain the area around the off-site boat house on the River Aire where students go to row. All are fully compliant with current legislation and each has the necessary spraying certification. (Spraying, incidentally, is not permitted whilst the school is in use).

Ongoing training is arranged for the team; Lewis has been on an IOSH Managing Safely course and Steve and Martin are due on a similar course shortly. As there are many mature trees on site, most with TPOs, the team have all trained in inspection and preservation techniques. BGS has an H&S officer and there are designated first aiders and fire wardens on site also. The school, to ensure they mitigate any foreseen H&S issues, have the Estates Department meet before the start of each school year to carry out risk assessments and implement new policies, if deemed necessary.

Left: Second team rugby pitch Right: The new hockey pitch

The site covers 28 acres and comprises four rugby pitches, one and a half hockey pitches (artificial, sand based), a junior under 10s rugby pitch, two tarmac netball/tennis courts, ten cricket pitches on the main square and three on the junior square. There is also a 300 metre running track. There are three cricket covers and floodlights on the tennis/hockey courts.

I asked if the pitches were used/hired by others. "Yes, particularly recently," Lewis said. "BGS was pleased to be able to help the local community by making pitches available to those who suffered flooding of their facilities. We also generate additional income from evening lettings."

Speaking of flooding led us on to other weather related issues. As Lewis said "We were waterlogged in February but then weren't we all? High winds are an issue but we haven't suffered any real damage."

When Lewis first arrived, he needed to assess and prioritise tasks for the predominantly sandy site he was now responsible for. He was given full control of the grounds budget which is agreed by Ian Clint. Lewis needed to obtain approval for major purchases over £2500. The first project was to address his main concern; the need to seek an agronomist's opinion and plan from there. Knowing such a person, Mark Atkins, who possesses a wealth of turf and pitch experience, particularly with Premiership football clubs, a detailed survey was agreed, carried out and reports produced. It was decided that custom made controlled release fertiliser be produced for the sports pitches by Evolution Agronomists.

New hockey pitch and dugouts

Advance Grass Solutions (AGS) provided regular granular fertiliser for use across the site and continues to do so. The total treatment now adopted is the application of the Evolution Agronomists' product. This is followed by top ups of fertiliser, as well as calcium magnesium sprays. Continuous testing prevails to ensure improvements are evident. Another issue was a very acidic pH on the cricket squares. This is now improving by the regular but steady use of granular calcium oxide. The results of this project are clearly evident and Lewis can rightly claim that this project was his first major achievement!

Another project, not so big, but in Lewis' mind still important, was the rugby posts. He told me that the ones he inherited were steel and going rusty, but the big issue was their removal. It seems that, prior to his arrival, a lorry with a HIAB crane was brought in to carry out this task across the site! This was a bit of a nightmare, especially when the ground was wet. Lewis soon sourced up-to-date lightweight and hinged aluminium rugby posts which can now be taken down with ease!

Weeds across the site were in abundance and it was agreed that a contractor be brought in to resolve the problem. This one-time eradication and regular normal maintenance with a spray at the end of season, means that control is maintained now.

We next talked about renovation and Lewis produced a Renovation 2020 document. He said that, prior to his appointment, all that happened was a topdressing of sand and verti-draining of the sports pitches. He recalled what James Williams told him: "You are only as good as your last renovation and this will define the season you have!"

With this in mind, Lewis plans to heavily scarify during the eight weeks summer holiday period. "Martin Crompton, a local contractor will carry out this work" said Lewis.

Left: Marking out Right: Lewis Pattinson - new posts a priority

Renovation work is affected by events - summer camps and other bookings scheduled for summer when the school is closed. As part of their new regime, the team take quarterly soil samples to help ascertain work required. Day-to-day brushing/cleaning of the artificial surfaces is carried out by the team with a deep clean and renovation bi-annually. "The team have to work within budget, but it's not an issue," Lewis commented.

I asked where presentation ranked. "That's easy" said Lewis. "Presentation ranks high, but playability is king!" He went on to complain about the persistent February rain; "It just did not seem to stop! We were having to stay off pitches to prevent damage." He has recorded the rainfall on-site this February as 161mm! The average is 72mm. With Bradford's average annual rainfall being 840mm, the school has seen, in one month, 20.4% of a year's worth of rain!

The school has an excellent environmental policy in place and local flora and fauna is important. Currently, BGS as a whole is making recycling and waste reduction a huge priority project, with the requirement that nothing goes to landfill!

A special project relating to environmental issues under construction is the use of electric machinery. BGS would like to see how this would contribute to meeting climate change and emissions legislation.

"Have there been any major projects in recent years?" I asked. The answer was a proud yes. May 2019 saw a massive £4.2million investment by BGS in sports facilities. The Barn, a huge and superb indoor sports facility, measuring 65 x 35 metres, was erected. It boasts four hi-tech tennis/netball courts. I asked Lewis to stand in the middle of the empty building to convey better the immense size of the space.

Lewis shows the size (65m x 35m) of The Barn indoor sports facility

The investment also meant that the artificial hockey pitches were constructed and floodlights erected. Tarmac tennis courts were also part of the investment, along with surrounding gardens. All of this is most impressive and does demonstrate the commitment to sports at BGS.

"What of future projects?" was my next question. Lewis said that to grade all earth-based sports pitches was in the pipeline. Undulating surfaces can be an issue at times. Looking at certain angles at some of the playing areas, I could see what he needed to address, budget permitting!

Another environmental issue that needs addressing is the machinery washpad. To ensure pollution prevention, Lewis wants to install a washpad water recycling system adjacent to the shed and hopes this project can be tackled soon. "This will not only ensure we are legally compliant, but will save thousands of litres of water by recycling." I understand Lewis has already made enquiries.

Machinery is purchased outright, usually through Gibsons in Colne (GGM). There is no loyalty to one brand and 'best for the job' is the criteria. I asked which piece of recently acquired kit has helped improve playing surfaces. "Without a doubt, it's the SISIS Litamina 1200 Rotary Brush" said Lewis, "an absolute godsend!"

BGS do not usually need to hire kit as they have machinery and tools to handle most jobs. However, they will bring in a spraying contractor occasionally.

Martin carries out the pedestrian mowers servicing in-house, whilst tractors are serviced by GGM. All is now well documented by Lewis.

"Okay, so top of your kit wish list?" I asked. "Without a doubt, a Verti-Drain!" was Lewis's response.

Left: Inside the shed with latest addition Kubota GR2120 centre Right: The shed

We then talked about the state of the industry and the value of grounds personnel. "Many in our industry consider employers will treat groundsmen and greenkeepers as bottom of the pecking order, so yes, you can understand why a number feel undervalued. Maybe this is due to a lack of knowledge of the industry? This job is not just cutting grass and painting white lines!"

Lewis's manager (Ian Clint) offered his comments on Lewis and his appointment at BGS to me and, as you'll read, they do not reflect what some grounds personnel feel: "Following a highly competitive, rigorous recruitment and selection campaign, Lewis started with us back in July 2019. He has brought a whole new level of professionalism to the grounds team here at Bradford Grammar School. Lewis operates in a structured, methodical manner; he has systemically analysed the grounds operation and come up with a development plan, already improved operational efficiencies, and is currently drawing up a renovations schedule for the summer months."

"His Premier League grounds experience is currently paying dividends for the school, with the rugby pitches looking and playing amazingly."

"I feel he will be a real asset to the school and the wider community and look forward to working with him over the coming years."

View across hockey pitch from pavilion

In conclusion, it is clearly evident that, as Bradford Grammar School moves forward from being predominantly academically orientated to now include first-class sports facilities, the commitment is there. This is exemplified by way of huge funding, appointing a committed and professional head groundsman and fully supporting the grounds team. The achievements made by Lewis with his team since last July speak for themselves.

The last words should go to Lewis: "The first and last thing prospective parents see at the school are the grounds and playing facilities. If we in the grounds department contribute even one percent to their decision to send their children here, then we'll have done our job!"

Weekly maintenance regime

Our weekly maintenance regimes consist of daily mowing of the rugby pitches and cricket squares when conditions allow. We currently cut the rugby pitches at 30mm using the Baroness triple, I find the shorter the grass is cut the quicker it will dry out with high winds.

The cricket squares are maintained at 25mm with the Honda Pro rotary but, the closer we get to cricket season, we will gradually lower the height to around 15mm with the Allett, as well as thinning out the grass sward. We are drip feeding the cricket squares with (CAO) Calcium oxide to improve the soil PH.

On my arrival, we were very acidic at 4.2 but, with little and often applications, we are currently up to a PH of 5.7. This is a slow process but it also has its negative points as worms thrive in soils with a PH of 6-7.

We treat our worm problem with a product called Purity. The conditions have to be perfect, unless you are lucky enough to have an irrigation system; if the product is washed in correctly, I found it is the best thing on the market.

The rugby pitches are marked out when required with the Bowcom Atom and Quantum ready to use paint.

Garden areas are cut with the Honda pro roller and fertilised when the grass is starting to lose its colour.

Monthly maintenance regime

Monthly maintenance regimes consist of brushing the artificial hockey pitches using our Sisis Litamina 1200 to clear debris and the Sisis Twin Play brush to agitate and create a true surface.

The garden planting areas are weeded and turned over, with any damaged/dead plants replaced.

Fertiliser applications coincide with our fertiliser programme.

What's in the shed?

Kubota B3030 tractor with snow plough
John Deere 2032R tractor with front bucket
Kubota GR2120 ride-on rotary mower with collector
Baroness LM331 cylinder triple mower - used for cutting sports pitches
SISIS litamina 1200 rotary brush - cleaning up debris on all pitches
SISIS Twin Play with flexicomb and straight brush
SISIS slitter
STIHL BR600 blowers x 2
STHIL SH86C vacuum
STIHL KM94RC combi tool with edger, tree pruner, rotary bristle brush and hedging attachment
Toro Flymo
Honda Pro HRD536 roller mowers x 2
Dennis G560 cylinder mower
Allett Kensington 20 cylinder mower
ICL SR2000 fertiliser spreader
SISIS Auto Rotorake with rotary brush and verticutting cassette
Billy Goat vacuum
Stothert & Pitt 32RD cricket square roller
Bowcom Atom marking machine with front disks
SISIS Combi rake/brush - cleaning out the cricket pitches

Our thanks to Bradford Grammar School for providing some of the images and information on the school. All images by David Mears except where otherwise stated.

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