New research shows growing crisis for sport without new generation of grounds staff

GMAin Industry News

Launching the first annual GroundsWeek, the Grounds Management Association (GMA) calls on sports fans to recognise the importance of grounds staff and volunteers and urges more people to join the sector.

  • New research highlights the growing skills gap at community and professional levels, with a lack of grounds staff potentially leading to at least 9% of kids who currently play*, not being able to in the next five years (340,000 young players)
  • While 32% of kids want to work in sport, only 5% understand vital but overlooked roles like grounds management
  • During the first ever GroundsWeek, GMA urges sports fans across the nation to celebrate grounds staff and volunteers, their contribution to sport and keeping green spaces open for the public

During GroundsWeek (1-7 March 2021), a celebration week for the turf care sector, the Grounds Management Association (GMA) has released new research that highlights the crisis the UK is facing without the next generation of grounds staff and volunteers. The leading not-for-profit membership organisation for the grounds sector is calling on the nation to celebrate the vital contribution of grounds staff, and urging young sports fans to consider the profession.

The foundation of physical activity

Sport relies on grounds staff and volunteers to keep the nation active. However, with 40% of the workforce now over 50, this vital sector is facing a 9% reduction in those who maintain grounds and sports surfaces in the next 5 years. This gap means approximately 5,120 pitches in the UK could be left without a grounds person, leaving 9% of kids that play weekly (around 340,000 junior players) unable to play on safe and good quality pitches without staff and volunteers to care for them.

4.3 million people work behind the scenes in sport in the UK, fulfilling vital roles such as referees, coaches, physios, grounds staff and managers, and ultimately supporting 14,000 professional sports players. However, while almost 6,000 young people must join the turf care sector as professionals in the next 5 years to fill the skills gap, most young people haven't even considered it as a profession.

32% of young people said they wanted to work in sport in the future and 57% regularly take part in and enjoy sport, but overall, 95% of children asked didn't know the careers available to them in their favourite sports, and a meagre 2% had considered grounds management.

When it comes to adults, in a survey of 2,000 general consumers, 72% think grounds management is vital to sport, and 23% would encourage young people to consider grounds management as a career path, but only 11% of adults would consider it for themselves. Without an attitude shift, sport in the UK will face significant and potentially permanent challenges, despite it currently contributing £39 billion to the economy each year.

Volunteers are the backbone of enabling play; they make up 56% of the grounds management sector and overall contribute a value of over £120 million. Over 37,000 grounds volunteers in England offer their time to ensure sport at grassroots level can go ahead, supporting the 3.8 million children who would ordinarily play weekly. Despite this, only 9% of children and 15% of adults would currently consider volunteering as a grounds person in the future. Encouraging volunteers of all ages is even more important now; two thirds of community grounds volunteer are over 60, and are therefore more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Geoff Webb, CEO of the GMA, commented:

"We know how vital the turf care sector is to sport, but it's often misunderstood and undervalued. This #GroundsWeek, we want everyone - whether you're in the sector, a player, or just enjoy watching - to take the time to think about what grounds staff and volunteers do to make sport possible. Great surfaces don't happen without them.

"Come rain or shine, they're out there ensuring that your matches can go ahead - and by becoming a groundsperson, you can be a part of something amazing, and help make sport happen across the world. Let's celebrate their contribution to sport, give the industry the respect it deserves, and ensure that a new generation know that grounds management makes sport and physical activity possible."

Zeynu Bedru, apprentice at Harrogate RFU, said:

"I love my job. I came here as a refugee from Eritrea, and at first I didn't know what I was going to do. I entered the grounds sector as a volunteer, and was lucky enough to be taken on at Harrogate RFU as an apprentice. I would encourage anyone and everyone to consider becoming a grounds professional; you could get a job anywhere - including travelling abroad - and it's amazing to be able to work outside every day with such a great team.

"GroundsWeek is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the amazing work we do, and show young people what a career in grounds management can offer."

Wes Matthews, a volunteer at Cranfield United, said:

"It's great to see GroundsWeek being launched and to have people across all sports celebrating what we do. Getting the pitch ready for game day is so important, and incredibly rewarding - I actually gave up coaching and managing a team to focus on volunteering as a groundsperson! It's very satisfying watching the teams play on a surface I've helped prepare, and knowing I've been a part of making sure the game can go ahead.

"I'd love for everyone to get involved with the week by sharing the #GroundsWeek hashtag on social media, thanking their local grounds person, or even volunteering at their local grounds. Grounds management is a great way to stay active and meet new people, both in your local community, and in the grounds management community."

To help spread the word, the GMA has developed a toolkit for clubs, teams and organisations to engage with, including social media templates, graphics and imagery. It also includes top tips for looking after your local pitches, and tips for ensuring your club or team is doing enough to celebrate local grounds volunteers and staff.

For further information about #GroundsWeek visit: