When we last interviewed Adam Tester, Sports Grounds Manager at the University of Leicester, back in 2009, he had recently joined the facility and had big plans for the Stoughton Road Sports Ground and Manor Road Sports Ground complexes.
Six years on, we catch up with Adam again to find not only a fuller beard, but also a man whose plans have come to fruition. In this question and answer session, he explains all.
How did you get into the industry and where did you work prior to your current position?
Groundsmanship has been in the family for generations. My great grandfather, William Kimpton, was a groundsman at Chelsea Football Club, my grandfather, Peter Kimpton, had fifty years at the Hurlingham Club, and my uncle, David Kimpton, was Grounds Manager at the Queen's Club. Now, my cousin Graham Kimpton is the Grounds Manager there.
From a young age, I knew I was going to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather. I used to help him as a kid whenever I could. I used to help litter pick, and he would let me drive the cricket roller, knock in croquet hoops and paint them in the close season. I was always very excited to work with him when I had the chance.
So, when I left school, I went to Brooksby College to study for a Diploma in Horticulture. Within this, I had to do twelve week's work experience which, to my joy, Peter Craig at the Hurlingham Club let me do there. I managed to get my first real taste of life as a groundsman and fully enjoyed the experience working at such a prestigious place.
After my diploma, I decide to take an apprenticeship (NVQ level 2) at Enderby Golf Course. From there, I went to Leicestershire County Cricket Club where I worked with some of the best groundsmen in the cricket industry. My bosses were Andy Ward (still in charge at Grace Road) and Andy Whiteman. My supervisor was Gary Barwell (now grounds manager at Edgbaston) and Simon Brown (now Deputy Head Groundsman at Grace Road). I had an amazing couple of years there learning about cricket wicket preparation.
From there, I went to Leicester City Football Club, where I worked under another great groundsman, Ed Mowe, who is now Head Groundsman at the FA's St George's Park complex. It was good to learn football groundsmanship at such a great club.
I then moved to CARE Shangton (a domiciliary care home in Leicester) where I became a gardens manager. This was a step away from the turf, but I wanted to get as much experience in every aspect of grounds management as possible. Here, I managed ten acres of grounds and taught people with learning difficulties about all sides of horticulture.
What training and education did you undertake?
I have undertaken National Diploma in Horticulture and NVQ Level 2 in Sports Turf, PA1, PA6, chainsaw course, various short courses, City & Guilds certificates in horticulture, plus a host of in-house training at the university in budget management, using SAP Systems, appraisals, first aid health and safety etc. I really want to do my foundation degree in Sports Turf Management and was expecting to go on a course at Myesbourgh College last year, but I couldn't get the funding through the university. Hopefully, in the future, I can complete that.
Was there one person who inspired you?
My grandfather, Peter Kimpton, is my idol; I became a groundsman because of him. He was the hardest worker I know and a perfectionist. He made groundsmanship look effortless, and I will always strive to be as good as him.
Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to someone else?
I am in complete control of my budgets. We use a sap system that allows me to build a yearly report on how and where we are going to spend our money. When I took over my budget, it took me right out of my comfort zone, I wasn't one to sit behind a computer; I'm a hands on person! But, with a bit of help and advice from my director, I managed to learn it very quickly.
My budget is always tight, so I am always looking at the most cost effective way to produce the best grounds I can. I have a monthly head to head meeting with my Sports Director, Colin Hide, and a monthly budget meeting with senior managers.
What additional staff do you have?
Chris Vickerman (35) is our Senior Groundsman at the Manor Road grounds. He has been with us eight years. Tom Hoegger (28) is Senior Groundsman at the Stoughton Road grounds. He joined us recently from Leicester Tigers RFC. Finally, there's Thomas Wilson (24) who is a part time groundsman with five year's service. I am very pleased with the team I have around me. They are all very hard working lads with an eye for detail. With such a small team, and having two sites, we all have to be pulling in the same direction because, at times, it can all get a little stressful.
What additional help to you get?
We have contractors carry out our end of season renovations. Companies we use include Hewitts, Pugh Lewis, ALS and Technical Turf. If I ever have any problems or need advice, I am very close to Andy Ward at Grace Road and Ed Mowe at St George's; they are always at the end of a phone to help when needed. I love to meet people in the industry and chat about work.
How would you describe the soil profile?
We have a very heavy clay soil profile (which I think is common across Leicestershire) at both of our sites. This is why, yearly, we have sixty tonnes of sand put on to the pitches to try and achieve a better draining profile.
Our spiking regime is very important because of this; we slit and solid tine regularly. We borrow a verti-drain every two or three months, depending on when we can get it. Over the last six year, we have slowly managed to get on top of this clay issue and now have pitches that rarely get over wet. As a result, we have seen the cancellation of fixtures drop massively in recent years. We still have problem areas but, hopefully, they will be eradicated over the next few years.
Are your pitches used by the community or hired out to outside agencies?
We have a lot of external use on our grounds. Since the last article in 2009, we have had Leicester City Football Club using our facilities whilst their training ground was being redeveloped. Others have included Leicester Tigers first team, Cardiff Blues rugby team, the Iceland national football team, Leicester Tigers academy, Leicester Ladies academy, England rounders, national softball competitions, blind cricket festivals and many external schools and football clubs. We even have a Leicester City legend, Muzzy Izzet, use our pitches for one to one training sessions.
It's the part of the job I enjoy most; having professional clubs use and give good feedback on the grounds.
What is the total acreage and how is this split up?
We have two sites with a combined area of fifty-two acres. Stoughton Road has thirty acres (increasing to thirty-six from summer 2015). Here, we have five football pitches, three rugby pitches, two cricket squares and outfields, one lacrosse pitch, one American football pitch, four artificial cricket pitches, and a geophysics field. Our second site at Manor Road has twenty-two acres, accommodating one rugby pitch, one football pitch, one artificial hockey pitch, one 3G 5-a-side football pitch, eight hard tennis courts, three artificial tennis courts and various landscaped areas, including a pond.
Does the facility suffer from any regular natural occurrences and how do you cope with these?
We have very high winds at the Stoughton Road site due to being surrounded by fields and being quite high up. Touch wood, in recent years, we have had very little snow and not much frost; we have been very lucky.
The wind has its pros and cons. The positive side is that we have very little disease on our turf as it is so open, whilst being 'gusty' also means the pitches dry out very quickly after rainfall, which is a godsend.
A couple of cons are the cricket sight screens, which are a nightmare when it's windy. We have to anchor them down a lot and take the PVC slats out after every cricket match. And we also have to make regular checks on the posts (rugby, football, American football,) just to make sure they are safe and the wind hasn't taken its toll ... and, when we are working in the middle of the field, it can be absolutely freezing!
Our hard tennis courts have an issue with air flow and shade; it's the perfect breeding ground for moss, an issue we have to be on top of constantly as the area can become very slippery.
What are your maintenance regimes?
Every Monday morning we have a half an hour sit down and go through the work that needs doing for the week ahead. A typical week will consist of getting the two sites mown - our winter games pitches at 25mm, and the outfields, in the summer, at 17mm. The artificial pitches are prepped, natural pitches are aerated, using either a Sisis Megaslit or Multislit, and brushed after any games with a Sisis Litamina. We will then mark out. We concentrate on preparing the pitches that will be in use for the Wednesday fixtures first, then sort out the rest after - everything is weather dependent, of course.
I have a written monthly plan on the board for bigger jobs, e.g. verti-cutting pitches with the Dennis mowers, verti-draining, feeding, spraying, external tournaments and any projects that will need doing. We have hundreds of trees around our sites so, in autumn, we spend a huge amount of time clearing leaves; a thankless job!
We spend half an hour at the end of every day cleaning, greasing and prepping machines ready for the next day; this is very important, as we have minimal equipment and we can't afford to lose any to bad maintenance.
I will generally do any fertilising myself, with help from Thomas. We do it all with an Everris Accupro 2000 so, as you can imagine, there's a lot of walking. We are currently using Everris Sierrablen Plus which has four to five month longevity. Of all the fertilisers we have used over the years, this has given us, by far, the best results.
With Chris and Tom keeping on top of the winter pitches and astro maintenance schedule, and Thomas keeping the amenity areas looking good, it means I can crack on with my beloved cricket squares. It also frees up time to keep on top of the dreaded paper work; purchase orders, risk assessments, coshh reports etc. Over the year, our workload is very routine, but we always know the importance of efficient working to hit our targets.
Do you have specific tasks for specific staff or is it an 'all hands to the pump' approach?
The senior groundsmen will generally look after the pitches at each of their sites, whilst my part time groundsman will normally do amenity areas, grass verges, banks, flowers bed, litter picks etc., and I will normally be sorting out all the cricket prep. But that is in a perfect world.
We do all work on everything, especially over holiday periods or when the weather misbehaves. I like my staff to have a massive input into what needs doing. Okay, I might have the final say, but they are highly qualified groundsmen; they know when and what needs doing.
Where does presentation rank?
Presentation is top of our list; we love the wow factor as people come through the gates. A lot of higher management are unaware of what it takes to produce top quality pitches, so our presentation has to be our first port of call. We make sure the stripes are always in the pitches, goals are set up, flower beds are always tidy and everywhere is litter free. Then we get down to the nitty gritty maintenance regime after this.
What end of season renovations do you undertake?
The first job we do ourselves is to give our winter pitches a scarify and a heavy seed. We normally have eight pitches sand dressed and verti-drained every year on our winter games areas, which is tendered out to a contractor to undertake. On our cricket squares, I borrow equipment from Leicestershire County Cricket Club which gives us the opportunity to give them a real deep scarify before the seed and loam goes down.
Are renovations affected by budgets or outside pressure?
Massively! Our financial year runs from August to August and, as you can imagine, the first thing that gets chopped from the budget is the spring renovations. If the budget was April to April, it would work better for the ground staff, but I don't think the university will change it just for us!
We have a lot of external tournaments throughout the summer, so getting the renovations done quickly is key. We only have a small window between students finishing and summer external use starting.
How have changing weather patterns affected what you do?
The mild winters we have had the last few years have really changed everything. Grass growth has been the biggest change. Six years ago, mowing would slow right down after November but, with soil temperatures being higher, we are mowing continually, but this is also due, in part, to our fertilising programme as well. Last summer was the best we had for a fair few years with the cricket. 2012 was a terrible year and put a real strain on the groundstaff with the amount of rain we had. But you just have to take what is thrown at you; we always battle through in the end.
Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required?
Yes, we have an agronomist take samples once a year to make sure we are using fertilisers cost effectively. We get an in depth report on the pitches, e.g. organic matter, CEC. It gives me a good foundation for the year on how our maintenance regimes are going to shape up.
Artificial surfaces - what ongoing maintenance/refurbishment is carried out?
Once every three months, we have Technical Surfaces in to give the artificial surfaces a deep clean as we don't have the equipment to do this ourselves, but we maintain them by brushing and sweeping every other day.
Are you working on any special projects at the moment?
I am currently working with the Woodland Trust to establish some new wood areas on our Stoughton Road site. We are also looking into some areas that could do with some drainage for the future, so I am currently building a report on this issue.
There is talk of a new running track and a full sized 3G as well, so I'm researching into that as well. With a few site visits to other universities, it's very exciting times.
What projects have been undertaken in recent years?
The university has pumped a lot of money into sport, with the opening of a new £5 million gym, and also the purchase of another gym on the main campus. Three artificial tennis courts have been built and a brand new football pitch constructed, which will be ready for this summer. We have had an official American football pitch opened. We have also started to replace all goalposts and revamping our flower beds.
A lot of this work was done by contractors, but overseeing the new football pitch and the American football pitch was my responsibility, whilst the team erected the goalposts and revamped the flower beds. If we can do the work, we will.
Are you and your staff compliant with current legislation?
Completely! We have a lot of intense in-house training to keep us up to date with various legislations. The university is an accredited Investors in People and we all have personal development plans. On my staff appraisals, they/we will highlight what training is needed to further enhance the grounds team. At the end of the day, you are only as good as the people who surround you, so it's a win win situation.
All the grounds team are highly qualified first aiders. The university put us on a course as soon as we start, with refresher courses every year. I monitor the first aid boxes, but we are all capable of producing accident forms.
Are you considering employing or do you currently employ apprentices?
We have had apprentices in the past and we are very keen to take them on in the future. We don't currently have one on our books but, hopefully, this coming year will see that change again. We have found apprentices to be a perfect solution for our small team. I have always been a backer of the apprenticeship scheme as it was the way I learned the job. With our last apprentice, we had some problems and he messed us about a lot, so we stopped doing it for a few years.
How do you undertake pest and weed control?
We have a contractor come in to spray all relevant chemicals for us as we don't have the equipment for the size of our grounds. He does our annual weed and worm spray, but we do all our own spraying on our cricket squares.
We suffer from fairy rings in a few areas, which we control a lot better now than we used to by giving them a spike, applying a fungicide and then a wetting agent to really get the fungicide deep into the problem. They have improved, but are still slightly visible.
Are rabbits, badgers, foxes, geese, chafer grubs, worms etc. a problem?
We have a problem with rabbits; they dig up our drainage runs from time to time which can be very annoying. The fields next to us have bird scarers, so we never have a big issue with birds, just the odd pigeon when seeding. I have a man come in to get rid of the rabbits once a month and he's normally quite successful.
How important do you consider the local flora and fauna?
Very important. I am part of the biodiversity working group within the university. We have meetings quarterly to discuss biodiversity impacts across the whole university. We have everything on the agenda from bats to vegetable gardens to wildlife. If there's any way we can help the environment, we try.
We are trying to establish a wildflower area at the Manor Road site; we are into its first year now and it's looking quite good. Also, we have added bird and bat boxes to the Manor Road site recently.
Our new gym has a green roof and harvests water to use for the toilets; the university are very forward thinking in trying to 'get green'.
What would you consider to be the state of our industry?
I would say it is going from strength to strength. When I first started work, people would just see you as a man who mows grass, but now I think they have started to appreciate what the industry does. With the addition of social media, I think that they see the lengths we have to go in order to achieve our goals across the industry.
Are we undervalued? Not as much as we use to be, but there is still a breakdown between the groundsman and the hierarchy. A lot of it boils down to knowledge of groundsmanship. Because someone has a nice back garden, it doesn't make them an expert on pitches. If you look out the window and the sun is out, it doesn't mean the ground isn't wet.
I don't think we are appreciated enough for what we produce with the financial restrictions and weather variables we have to contend with. A lot of places have minimum budgets and the work they are producing is unreal in retrospect. I don't think a lot of people see the stress that people in the industry are under to hit deadlines and the time they spend away from their families; a lot of groundsmen are married to the job!
We need to keep plugging away on social media; it's the way for everyone to see and be able to appreciate just what we do.
Do you and your staff attend industry shows, seminars, demo days, road shows?
Yes, and I do try and go to as many demo day as possible. It's very important as it can increase your knowledge. At times it feels like a carrot being dangled in front of a donkey's nose, but it does mean that, if there was an input of money, we would always know what equipment we want.
You seem to be very content in your work. Is that a fair comment?
The past year has been the hardest of my career so far. In April last year, I had a member of the ground staff leave to take up another job, and the university had a post freeze on at the time. It meant we couldn't replace him until mid-July. This was a very trying period. There were just two full time members - myself and Chris - and part-timer Thomas to look after fifty acres. Winter sports end of season renovations had to be done and the cricket pitches made ready for the start of the season, but we battled through. It meant a few areas got neglected for a few months but, by the time the students were back in October, and with Tom now on board, we were back to producing our best work.
I do believe there are some great times ahead for the university, especially with the appointment of a new President - Professor Paul Boyle - who is a keen sportsman.
The sports department now comes under the 'Student Experience' division under a new leader, Bob Athwal. I see a bright future in sport and, subsequently, for the sports grounds.
I love working at the University at Leicester; it's been a massive learning curve for me these last six years. Having the opportunity to run budgets, sit in on managers meetings and have a say on the sport has stood me in good stead for the future. In 2013, I was runner up in the School, College and University Groundsman of the Year.
Am I content? I reckon so.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 4520 compact tractor
John Deere 3520 compact tractor with auto connect deck and bucket
John Deere 7700 fairway mower
John Deere triples x 2
John Deere cx Gator
Wessex Flail Collector
Wessex Flail Mower
Dennis cassette mowers x 2
Honda rotary mowers x 2
Plus a pedestrian sprayer, knapsack sprayer, chainsaw, backpack blowers and transfer wheel linemarkers
Our tractors are on a five-year replacement deal. Other items we get new or second hand. Its been a couple of year since we had any new equipment due to the tight budgets. We desperately need a verti-drain and two new triples, but it's hard to get the funding for new machinery as my budget doesn't cover big ticket items. We are waiting on how the sports budget looks at the end of the financial year.
We use a few dealers, such as P S Marsden and Henton & Chattell, or even direct with companies such as Sisis.
I have always been a big fan of the John Deere range. I know it can be a little more expensive, but you do get what you pay for and their equipment has always been very reliable. But that does not mean I won't buy other machines. I will demo and try anything. Before we spend, we are always 100% certain that we are making the right choice as you don't know when the next lot of money is coming in!
We hire a few machinery items, such as verti-drains and seeders. I'm fortunate that I can borrow bits from other sports clubs such as Leicestershire CCC, Leicester City and the Tigers.
P S Marsden carry out our annual servicing and they do a brilliant job; we always have great service from them. We also try to repair our own equipment through the season to try and keep repair costs to a minimum.
My wish list includes, most importantly, a verti-drain, then a second Gator, a new disc seeder, a flatbed van to transport equipment between sites and a mounted sprayer.