I do it my way at Astley & Tyldesley Community Sports Club

Greg Rhodesin Bowls

These days, when turfcare professional Paul Bennick is busy rolling the strips for his cricket club clients, ready for weekend fixtures, he'll likely have his new work colleague with him - his six-year-old daughter Willow.

Solo since forming RPB Groundcare in 2008, after greenkeeping stints at golf clubs across his home county of Lancashire, Paul is working almost every day of the year on playing surfaces for several sports - so a little help would surely come in handy. Paul's workmate is a little out of the ordinary, however - it's his six-year-old daughter Willow.

Leigh Cricket Club and the massively busy Astley & Tyldesley Community Sports Club, which hosts football, rugby, tennis and bowls, even cycle speedway, as well as cricket, are Paul's regulars, not forgetting ambitious Pennington FC, bidding to rise into the next tier, with Paul's help.

"Since Willow began playing cricket at Astley & Tyldesley, she's started taking a keen interest in coming with me when I'm looking after the cricket square there or at Leigh nearby, preferring that to activity centres during school holidays," Paul says.

She has a hankering for turfcare kit too, he adds. "Willow's crazy about tractors. When she sees one, she's raring to go."

Willow's taking a leaf out of Manchester City groundswoman Tara's book, Paul says - "really keen and hard-working."

"Tara would be the perfect role model for Willow, if she decides to enter the sector, but I'm trying to wean her off City - Willow loves to celebrate a goal like her heroes Haaland and Grealish do - on to my club, Bolton Wanderers."

Mmm, good luck with that then, but what an inspiring way to fire interest in an industry still so male-oriented.

How does he hold down so much work and still find time to spend with the family? "I'm a local lad and have always been involved in sport," he explains.

"I've been a member at Astley & Tyldesley for many years, playing cricket there, and you just fall into jobs. Dad and my brother handled turfcare there and I'd helped them since I was six. When they stopped, and I set up the business, they asked me if I wanted to take over."

"Then Paul Tatton decided to end his work at Leigh, and he offered me the chance to step in."

Starting his career straight from school at sixteen as a greenkeeper at Leigh Golf Club, Paul moved on to Hindley Hall, then Bolton Wanderers for three seasons, returning to Hindley Hall before taking on the head greenkeeper Post at Manor Park Golf Club.

"When the financial crisis hit in 2008 and Manor Park went out of business, I decided to set up on my own."

A spell tending Manchester City's Carrington training centre - "I worked there four hours daily, five days a week and oversaw mowing and setting up the goals" - before the club moved to purpose-built facilities, was a prestigious job to land, and Paul has seen his fortunes flourish further with that of his other clients.

After Covid - "I was on half wages everywhere during the pandemic" - and a bad experience with a helper, "who let me down", he turned the corner.

"Ten years ago, Astley & Tyldesley was a sleepy sports club. Now it runs a huge fixtures list across several sports and age groups. Once it introduced women's football, everything snowballed. It's unreal - some teams run three different age groups, from under sevens upwards."

Although he runs a mini fleet of machinery, Astley & Tyldesley's own kit helps Paul keep the playing surfaces - first team, 9x9, three-quarters 11 for U16s and U17s, a 7x7 for U9s and U7s and a 5x5 pitch hosting the Little Gems - primed.

"The club is extremely well organised and are very good at gaining grant-aid. Football Foundation funding allowed them to buy various machinery including a Kubota tractor, Major ride-on, Fleming spiker and a Quadraplay. That kit helps me maintain the pitches to a good standard."

At Pennington FC, the Manchester Association Premier League club plans to move up to a higher level, but needs to improve the quality of its match pitch to do that, Paul explains.

"I loop between the three sites on Mondays, starting out at Leigh Bowling Club to cut their green before cleaning up after weekend cricket nearby and at Astley & Tyldesley."

"Pennington is still work in progress. They are building a stand with Football Foundation grant aid, but money dictates as always. The grant covers 100 per cent of the outlay for two years then tapers down in 20 per cent increments until things are self-financing."

"Also, the club is sited on a hill and the pitches lie on shale, perhaps spoil from when the area mined coal, so they drain well, even though there is no installed system as such. They looked into it, but the FF don't offer grants for drainage - they channel funding into improving the playing surface."

Paul works closely with local Aitkens dealer, James, to roll out a fertiliser programme and end of season renovations. "I Verti-Drain two or three times a year, then in May apply 200te of sand, Verti-Drain and overseed with forty bags of Aitkens renovation mix."

"Everything is price sensitive, especially with costs rising so much. Sand has risen by £8 a tonne, for example, and that has a big impact at a club like Pennington."

Besides his trusty New Holland T55 tractor and spiker, Paul recently invested in a Toro Groundsmaster five-reel rough cutter. "Ideal for the Pennington pitches. The name is a bit of a misnomer as the mower cuts well and its back roller gives a good stripe. The club is only two miles away from me, so it's easy to take it on a trailer over there."

"The back field I cut every ten days, but the main pitch I mow twice a week. You can hear the grass grow, it springs up so fast."

As if all that lump of work wasn't enough, Paul's taken on another site, once again thanks to client success. "Astley & Tyldesley is using the facilities of St Mary's High School, just a quarter of a mile away, for some of its fixtures. In return, the club maintains their pitches, which means me. The school has extensive sports provision, with two full-size football 11s pitches, rugby pitch, two 7x7s and a 9x9 area."

Shunning any suggestion that a solo turfcare professional, holding down so much work, has to be a dab hand at time management, Paul puts his success down to a key quality so many lack in business. "I'm laid back about things. Working alone means I run the company my way. The work always gets done, even if I have to stay late and clients leave me to my own devices."