The aptly named Storm Dennis certainly didn't prevent the annual Dennis and SISIS groundcare seminar from going ahead and, by all accounts, it once again inspired, educated and offered real solutions.
Hosted at the Durham County Cricket Club's Emirates Riverside Stadium on 18th February, over 150 volunteers and professionals representing schools, sports clubs, local authorities and contractors from all over the UK experienced a truly memorable day.
Marcus North, Durham Director of Cricket and former Australian batsman, kick-started the event much to the delight of the attendees. The left-handed batsman, who played 21 Tests for his country and played for five counties in England, proceeded to offer a unique insight into all the various pitches he has played on throughout the world. Not only did his talk offer a glimpse into an international cricket player's perspective but it also offered an interesting insight into a club's relationship with the groundstaff.
Iain James from TGMS Ltd followed with a plethora of advice on the construction and maintenance of a cricket pitch. No stone was left unturned as Iain went through every stage of a construction process offering some valuable tips to those who carry out the work in-house but also presented the questions one should be asking of a contractor. Lots of notes were taken as Iain covered the six key stages of construction - planning, design, build, grow-in, preparation and play.
Seminar delegates were then pleased to hear from the Institute of Groundsmanship's Ian Powell who provided a number of helpful tips in his presentation entitled 'Principles of decision making for pre-season preparations'. Ian discussed the utmost important aspects of pre-season preparations including seeding, rolling, scarification and nutrition.
Rounding off the morning in style, delegates had a rare opportunity to listen to and question an incredible line-up of some of the industry's finest groundsmen. Hosted by Vic Demain (Durham CCC), this new feature entitled Groundsmans Corner, saw a panel of experts including Keith Kent (Head Pitch Advisor for Rugby Groundsmen Connected), Jim Dawson (Head Groundsman at BT Murrayfield), Karl McDermott (Head Groundsman at MCC Lord's), Sean Williams (Head Groundsman at Gloucestershire CCC) and Gordon Gill (Former Head Groundsman at Bath CC). An interesting range of topics were explored and, in particular, the use of social media in the industry sparked an informative debate.
A complimentary lunch signalled the halfway point, and attendees got the chance to network with one another and gain even more groundcare advice from event sponsors - Limagrain UK, Boughton Loam, Thomas Sherriff, Stuart Canvas, Fleet Line Markers, Cricket World, SIS Pitches, Poweroll, Facility and Sports Club Development and Headland Amenity.
Upon settling down after lunch, Barry Glynn hilariously reflected on his career in 'Frustrations of a Groundsman: Part 2' before the legendary Keith Kent proceeded with a presentation entitled 'Winter Sports Pitches to Cricket Outfields - what do we need to do?' Delegates were thrilled when Keith drew on his wealth of experience as a groundsman to explore the transformation of winter sports pitches into cricket outfields.
In his presentation, Keith described the groundcare industry as a brotherhood; a family in which everyone should be supporting their colleagues and the general consensus in the room at the end of the day was that this event was an exemplary demonstration of camaraderie - no matter what your title or position.
One delegate, Derek Traill of Cricket Scotland, said: "The key message coming out of today's event is that it is all about communication and to strive to learn off one another - we learn from one another's experiences, failures and successes and, from these, we can build on them and improve as one."
For Ben Weatherall, a young Assistant Groundsman at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the event was inspirational which will serve him well in his career path: "It was great to get the opportunity to listen to guys like Vic, Keith and Jim. Listening to their stories, their experiences and where they came from was hugely inspiring. In my up and coming career, events like this will help me get to where I want to be."
One such groundsman who has found exactly where he wants to be is Karl McDermott and he was encouraged to see so many young people in attendance. "Sometimes you go to these kinds of events and it is mostly retired groundsmen that are helping out their local clubs - which is fantastic because they benefit a lot from the advice they receive. However, there has been a real good mix today and we need to look to the future and keep on trying to get the younger generation into this industry."
"Events like this Dennis and SISIS seminar will only help," he continued. "This is a great chance to network and to chat to people and actually discover that no matter what level you are at, club or recreational to test match level - we all have the same problems."
Robbie Thackray, Groundsman at the University of Leeds, certainly felt relieved to find out that he is not alone when it comes to certain issues: "I have found it extremely reassuring that everyone is in the same boat," he said. "We all have the same struggles, no matter where we work or what our job title is. Today has been brilliant and offered so many solutions."