Volunteers are the backbone of grassroots

Greg Rhodesin Cricket

Sometimes though, volunteers are glad of a helping hand from the grounds professionals to ensure they can complete their sporting calendars. Groundscare business owner Will Dunger launched Will's Norfolk Lawns to focus on the gardens sector, but demand for his services from sports clubs means he now has a foot in both camps - professional and domestic.

Delivering high-end maintenance across both sectors is his priority. "I've played cricket and football all my life," says Will, 27, "and I worked in lawncare and grounds maintenance for several years."

"Garden lawncare can be seen as the bottom of the food chain and I aimed to change that when I set up the business in 2018, by bringing the methods and machinery of the professional sector into the domestic setting. Now, I'm applying turf maintenance programmes in sport as well."

That service includes the type of scarifiers, aerators and sprayers his dad Paul employs at Fakenham Cricket Club, where he and fellow local residents help maintain the square and outfield.

"The group of volunteers has been shrinking for some time," Will explains, "so I help out preparing the ground for the new season, renovating the square in autumn and providing winter maintenance."

The same is true at Horning Bowls Club. "I lived there and helped maintain the green for them when they were short of volunteers. They liked what I did and they've grown into one of my sportsground customers."

Although Horning's member numbers are dwindling, the playing surface is in use two or three times weekly, so Will's maintenance programme is critical to the match calendar.

Left: Fakenham Cricket Club Right: Will's dad Paul

Mid-February saw Will applying the first granular fertiliser of the year to the green, with verticutting following soon after, then regular mowing to gradually reduce cut height to 6 or 7mm. "Monthly application of liquid feed and wetting agents is the next stage in my programme," says Will.

"Club volunteers tend to focus on mowing, usually two or three times a week - I'm on site about once a fortnight for brushing off dew and moisture control."

Will introduced a new regime this winter - application of Headland 20:20:30 under a fresh disease management programme that is working well, he reports. He's applying the treatment at Fakenham too - it's designed to aid the grass plant in warding off disease more effectively, with dew control a key element of that process.

"I apply it monthly on the square to limit disease outbreaks," he continues, along with regular drag matting over winter. The 13-strip square - all natural - "we removed the only artificial pitch as it wasn't popular" - received its first powered brush in February, using the club's Dennis pedestrian mowers to remove dead grass and other organic matter. "The first verticut followed a couple of weeks later."

Horning Bowls Club

Fakenham is a club "very much on the up," Will states. A thriving youth section of around 100 members fields teams from 5s to U15s, with three adult teams competing on Saturdays and an over-40s team striding out midweek. "We're planning to reintroduce a women's team soon," he adds.

"Dad and I played here regularly. I was a bowler but have switched to batting, while dad, now in his 60s, used to open, but the social side of things is what he enjoys most. He puts in around twenty hours per week volunteering and handles much of the maintenance of the square with me. The club president usually mows the outfield on the John Deere five-cylinder fairway mower."

Sport is not the only upside for Will. "A lot of my time is taken on driving to and from clients across the county, so the club community feel is important for me," he reveals.

Common to both his domestic and professional service delivery are the Berthoud Vermorel 2000 knapsack sprayers Will and assistant Alex Wigney rely on to apply turf treatment liquids, whatever the surface.

"Alex started with me in July 2021 and handles lots of treatments. He had no background in turfcare, so I've trained him up from scratch. Because I run my own company, I can offer Alex a very competitive wage, as well as his own van, which saves him the insurance on his car, which he sold."

Will's not greenwashing when he explains: "The whole industry is moving to an environmentally more sensitive stance and I fully support the change. We strive to avoid spraying chemicals such as herbicides and fungicides and now use more organic nutrients."

Spraying efficiency forms part of delivering the circular economy, he maintains. "I've used Berthoud 16l Vermorel 2000s since I started the business and cannot remember having any issues with them at all. Straightforward to maintain, they are sturdy, convenient to calibrate and use, easy to fill and clean, and deliver a high level of consistency of spray."

"When you can spend much of your time with a knapsack on your back, it's important the kit is comfortable. The Vermorels' cushioned straps help minimise body stresses and strains so that you can spray in optimum safety."

Article by Greg Rhodes.

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