Helping hands at Hartpury

Laurence Gale MScin Industry News

Hartpury-Grounds.jpgHartpury College is located on a beautiful 200 hectare campus just five miles outside the city of Gloucester. It is home to a vibrant and international community of 3,200 full-time students of all ages, studying further and higher education courses, who all share a keen interest in the animal, equine, land or sports sciences.

Hartpury's continual campus development programme ensures that students have access to excellent teaching and recreational facilities. The college offers both further and higher education courses, and has links to the University of the West of England (UWE) - it was awarded associate faculty status in 1997. This means graduating students leave Hartpury having obtained a UWE degree qualification.

Stewart Ward is the Grounds and Sport Turf Manager who oversees "a dedicated nine man team".

"I began my career as a grounds man/gardener on an YTS scheme run by Rowntree Mackintosh plc," says Stewart "with 'off the job' training at Askham Bryan College in York. I spent two years learning the ropes on sports turf maintenance, looking after two rugby and five football pitches, one hockey pitch, two cricket squares and the factory's bowling green and, in addition, an eighty hectare site of gardens and open spaces."

"I completed my National Certificate and a National Diploma in Horticulture and Landscaping at Askham Bryan College. This was followed by more student life at Manchester Metropolitan University, where I studied Landscape Architecture and achieved my BA (Hons) degree. Finally, I achieved a postgraduate diploma in Landscape Architecture at Leeds Metropolitan. I'm currently working towards my Masters degree in Landscape Architecture. My thesis will consider the redesign of the Hartpury College campus for 2050 as a future environmental and ecology project."

"I have always been keen to learn new skills and, to meet this need, undertook a period of short stays in key areas of interest under the umbrella of horticulture. I was a groundsman for two and a half years, a landscape gardener for a further two years, a garden centre assistant for six months and a landscape designer for six months. All these roles were between my studies from 1987-1997."
"As a Team Leader for Baron Landscape Contractors in York, I was responsible for projects and liaising with clients in both the private and public sectors. It was a varied job, working on sports pitch maintenance, estate and commercial maintenance and hard and soft landscaping - a great experience in so many ways."

"Then it was back to Askham as Horticultural Resource Manager, managing a staff of thirteen, organising the day-to-day running of the college grounds and supporting the teaching staff on students' practical assignments in horticulture, arboriculture and sports turf. Here, I was running a budget of £300,000 including wages and maintenance."

"When I arrived at Hartpury in January 2008, I immediately thought its setting in the Gloucestershire countryside was, and would be, a fantasy place to work in, and it is!"

"When taking over as manager here, there were a few things that needed updating - the machinery for a start, as well as helping improve the skills and abilities of my team and the environment in which we worked. Despite the college being a beautiful place there was still much that could be improved, for example, the border lawn areas and sports pitches."

The Hartpury Team

Stewart has three ground staff who look after an extensive area of grass, which includes five rugby pitches, three football pitches, a golf driving range, a nine-hole chip and putt golf course and an artificial Jack Nicklaus USPGA specification putting green.

His assistant is Tony Hawker, who has spent over thirty years as a groundsman, the last eight at Hartpury. He has an NVQ Level 3 in Sports Turf. Ryan Duggan has six years service and has completed an NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Sports Turf. Steve Lane has been a gardener at Hartpury for five years and has completed an NVQ Level 2 in Amenity Horticulture and is now working toward an NVQ Level 2 in Sports Turf.Hartpury-Gardens.jpg

A team of gardeners look after the 200 hectare site for the equestrian school, orchard, accommodation environment, areas of open space and gardens, the fishing lake and also assist on the three-day cross-country event course. Students, as part of their studies, regularly work alongside the team on maintenance operations. The team also assist the lecturers on 'practicals' wherever possible - weather conditions allowing. "It is a very compelling and positive place to work" says Stewart.

The garden team is run by acting supervisor, Matthew Newman, who has been a gardener at Hartpury for six years. He holds an NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Amenity Horticulture. Len Hingston has been with the college for five years, and Richard Coburn for seven years. They both have NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Amenity Horticulture. David Bicker, has 18 months service and has an NVQ Level 2 in Amenity Horticulture.

There are two trainees, Henry King and Dan Bickers, both of whom are studying towards an NVQ Level 2 in Amenity Horticulture.


"When I arrived at Hartpury the machinery was of a 'different standard' to what I was used to, says Stewart "and, whilst still working well, was a little outdated. So, having worked with companies like Etesia, Dennis, BLEC, Makita, Stihl, Reco and Merlo at Askham Bryan, I approached these companies Hartpury-Etesia.jpgagain and explained our needs in terms of the maintenance environment and the needs of the students. Working within my budgets, and utilising the relationships I had forged with these companies, I managed to improve the fleet, which has, in turn, increased the department's productivity and the machinery's reliability to a standard which is more acceptable."

"As a result of these relationships, we have been loaned equipment which we can use as a department. It also allows the students to carry out basic maintenance tasks so that they become confident and familiar with these manufacturers and their brands."

"In return for the loan equipment, we offer the facilities as an event space for dealer days and training seminars. For example, Etesia has held successful events here to profile their products and the company. Going forward, I hope to expand on this and build up stronger links with these companies, as well as looking to forge new links with other companies in the landscaping and horticulture industry."

"For me, the best part of this is that it's a win-win situation for everyone - the campus is well presented and the staff and students are using modern and up to date equipment and, occasionally, we are also involved in demos and trialing prototype equipment like the recently introduced Etesia mulching mower."Hartpury-Blec.jpg

The Grounds

"Over the last year and half we have continued to change the lawns and borders to help streamline the maintenance programme. We are currently looking to start grading some of the lawn areas as, over the past year, building and pipe work has altered borders, making the shapes difficult to maintain and mow. The majority of areas were strimmed to achieve the desired affect. So, to reduce strimmer time, we changed the shapes to suit the machines that were doing the jobs."

"We have a list of tasks each month and aim to achieve them as a team. This is always affected by weather conditions, the amount of games and training time on each pitch, fixture requirements and swapping teams around to suit the needs of individual pitches so that the pitches perform at their best."

"In December last year the college played host to an overseas schools tour. An Australian Schools Under 19 rugby team were resident and trained on site in preparation for a series of matches against the England Academies. One of the games was played on our grandstand pitch against the under 19 regional academy XV. This required our team to change the maintenance programme to ensure that the pitch was immaculate for the occasion - a tough challenge given the weather conditions at the time.

The Sports Pitches

Hartpury-Works.jpg"In late May last year, sportsturf contractors, J Pugh Lewis, completed new pitches - two rugby and two football. These pitches have had the top 150mm of soil stripped off and stored on site before being reused. The grounds were sub-soil graded and drainage pipes laid every five metres at a depth of around 600mm. Around 200mm of pea gravel was placed on top of the pipe and backfilled to the surface with a medium-grade Mansfield sand. The site was graded and stone raked again."

"The sand was applied twice, firstly with 25mm thick topdressing and cultivated in, and then re-applied, before seed was sown. A fertilising dressing of 10:15:10 at 400kg/ha was also applied. In September last year the college held an Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) tournament on the two new rugby pitches, and they both stood up to the task very well."

"During September and October the pitches needed to be in regular use, and it was difficult to get others to understand that, being new and with the bad weather coming in, we needed them to only be in play when conditions were favourable - it was a frustrating two months to be a sports turf manager! The new pitches needed time to bed in and develop the root structure required to support the delicate 50mm of top soil surface."

"The football facilities consist of three full-sized grass pitches, together with a 3G all-weather pitch. They are utilised by teams from grass roots level right up to the professional game, as well as servicing the college academy teams."

"During the 2009-10 season, Blue Square Premier side, Forest Green Rovers, have increased their usage of the pitches up to a full-time basis, with manager David Hockaday stating that "the facilities on offer are of the required standard to accommodate the match preparations of a professional team". This has been echoed by Bradford City, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Rochdale, Morecambe and Blackpool, who have all trained at the college on route to away fixtures in the South West in recent seasons."Hartpury-PitchMain2.jpg

"In addition to Forest Green Rovers, local Conference North side, Gloucester City, regularly use the facilities, training on the grass pitches during their pre-season programme before switching to the 3G all weather surface for the winter months. The 3G surface is also used on three nights a week by the Cheltenham Town Centre of Excellence, with age groups ranging from U12 to U16s able to train in comfort whatever the weather. Local youth football club Ashleworth Woodpeckers have an additional booking on this surface one night a week and the Gloucestershire Girls Centre of Excellence are able to train on a similar basis."

"The rugby facilities consist of five full-sized pitches including two floodlit pitches, extensive grass training areas, a floodlit rubber crumb pitch and a scrummage pit and sled for coaching forwards. Similarly, they are used by teams from grass roots level up to the professional game, as well as servicing the college academy teams."

"Gloucester Rugby use Hartpury as their permanent training base and train on the pitches several times a week. In addition, the facilities and the pitches are often used by visiting premiership sides playing Gloucester at Kingsholm, as well as England U18 and U20 teams and England Regional Academy sides."

"In order to keep on top of the extensive rugby programme and pitch usage, a rugby diary is adhered to which consists of regular aeration with our vertidrain and groundbreaker machines, plus regular mowing."

Helping hands

"Not only are we working with manufacturers and the students, we are also upskilling our department and learning new skills to improve the environment and our teaching abilities. This includes a safer environment for the students and others to work in. For the students our aim is always to improve on the year before and become the best in our field."

Hartpury-SchoolKids.jpgStudents are also given the opportunity to represent the college in national competitions, including the UK Skills Challenge. This is a landscape competition that is open for students to show off the skills they have learned. Over the last seven years I have been involved with the teams at Askham Bryan College and Hartpury College. It's been fascinating to work with them and develop their skills, often training intensively, but always at their own speed so they are comfortable and gain confidence in their abilities."

"The competition has evolved over time, with teams varying in numbers from two to four students. Last year, Hartpury entered a team of just two students - their aim, to build a garden in just twenty-two hours over three days. Hartpury's team finished a very respectable fourth place in the national final at the Malvern Autumn show and was the only English college team there. It was also the first time the college had reached a major event final. This year the competition is taking a different route again - one student will demonstrate their skill on disciplines such as planting, turfing, timber work, paving and walling."

"In addition, we have also sent a student to Askham Bryan College for a training week, where his skills and potential for being in the British Landscaping team will be assessed. The college is also assisting several students in this year's competition."

"We are also supporting students who will be under the age of 21 in 2011 who are good enough to be selected for the British training camps, as they are fixing their targets on 2011 London World Skills Landscape competition - as large an event that any young student could wish for in the landscape industry."

"Last year, the First Diploma Horticulture students were working with the grounds team on the bedding programme at the College. This involved growing from seed and cuttings from the bedding around the main Hartpury House, and creating large bedding displays around the college and equine areas, which included planting around the buildings and on the ten-mile cross-country course. This will enhance such events as the Festival of Dressage and the Hartpury
Horse Trials."Hartpury-Plants.jpg

"Foundation Studies students also help the department with preparing hanging baskets for the grounds and for the local village school, which they sell to help with their fund raising activities. To date, the College has helped to raise over £500 on two projects including summer and Christmas baskets, and we hope to continue with the project again this year, getting the school pupils to start the ball rolling and sow the first batches of seed."

"Hartpury is a lively, happening place and I am very proud of what my team and I have achieved over, what is, a relatively short space of time. The grounds are extensive and we are aiming to change the landscape to suit our needs and then maintain them to an extremely high standard."

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