Premier sporting provision permeates one of Britain’s top independent schools under a ten year mission to give every pupil the chance to excel. Tom James caught up with the school’s Estates Bursar, Richard Tremellen, to discover a gamechanging transformation that is putting sport at a premium
Oundle School is one of Britain’s leading co-educational boarding and day schools. Nestled amongst the charming, historic Northamptonshire town, its buildings, which date from the 17th to 21st centuries, are scattered throughout the centre and, over that time, the level of integration with local people has imbued the school with its undeniably “unique and distinctive” character and its pupils with a strong sense of community.
In 1556, Sir William Laxton, Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, endowed a free grammar school in Oundle, where he had been educated at the original Guild School founded in 1506.
The Company, ranking second in The Great Twelve of senior livery companies, has been supporting the school ever since, under the terms of Laxton’s will.
Oundle has progressed through the generations, developing its educational and sports offering to rank today among Britain’s leading 100 schools.
In September, a new development united science, mathematics, design, technology and engineering to allow pupils to move seamlessly from theory to practice and from pure science to technology.
The third largest independent boarding and day school in England (860 full boarders and 250 day pupils at junior and senior levels) merits some of the broadest and best sporting provision and Oundle can claim just that, for both indoor and outdoor pursuits, across its sprawling 250-acre estate.
The sports centre houses two sports halls, five squash courts and four rugby fives courts, fitness suite and climbing wall, plus twelve netball courts, of which six currently double as tennis courts in the summer. They also have four separate hard tennis courts and are to build another eight next year, alongside a Tartan rubber athletics track.
A host of campus-based and satellite rugby and football natural turf pitches cater for junior and senior school traditional field sports, and rowing also features prominently - the school owns nearly a straight mile of River Nene frontage and boathouse at Tansor and runs another boathouses beside the North Bridge at Oundle - as does shooting, with both 25m small-bore and 500m full-bore ranges at two venues, marking a first among schools.
The 10-year sports masterplan to upgrade sporting provision across the board is in full swing, with new posts, appointments, structures and surfaces marking major milestones in that timeline.
Opening for the 2015 cricket season, the eyecatching first XI pavilion is certainly one of those, but there’s more bricks and mortar still to rise out of the ground, Estates Bursar Richard Tremellen reveals. “Outline planning consent has been given for a new sports centre due to open in 2019, with membership open to the local community year-round, on the site of the present Tartan athletics track, with detailed planning consent sought for its replacement,” he says.
“Athletics is a great activity to provide as it offers another opportunity for pupils who may not have a natural affinity for team sports to achieve during their time here.”
Sport seeps into Oundle’s every nook and cranny - four afternoons during the week and inter-school fixtures on Saturdays. But pupils are not force fed it. “Our aim is to nurture those with innate ability and our broad range of provision offers the chance for them to pursue almost whatever sport they fancy.”
On a wider front though, Richard stresses: “Exercise itself is an important part of pupil wellbeing, so just taking part has its place too.”
Under Danny Grewcock MBE, former Bath, England, British and Irish Lions lock and first in post for Oundle School’s new Director of Sport position, a powerful sports strategy is in place that is set to propel the school to the next level of participation and accomplishment, indoors and out.
Working with school rugby coaches John Olver, head of rugby, and Simon Hodgkinson, themselves ex-England internationals, Grewcock, who was appointed in March, was reported at the time by BBC Sport to comment: “I feel now is the right time to take on a new challenge.”
Then there’s cricket - seven (yes seven) squares (the first XI site runs sixteen strips) and new 20-lane advanced synthetic and natural turf practice facility, developed to meet the school’s requirements for elite performance and capacity, which mimics conditions out in the heat of competition. A veritable cricket hub.
The school runs no fewer than four full-size synthetic sportspitches; two new, a third rebuilt - no rubber crumb 3G systems as yet, although the oldest, sand-filled, surface, used for football, tennis and “a bit of hockey”, may become 4G, Richard adds. “This is the opportunity to evaluate need and we are currently researching fourth generation or sand-filled options.”
One sand-dressed pitch is dedicated to hockey, whilst two others, recently constructed by specialist sports and landscape contractor CLS Sports, have further boosted hockey and football capacity.
Echoing sentiment across turfcare, Richard notes: “There is always pressure on grass. Hockey is a safer sport when played on synthetic surfaces and our preference is to stage it purely on artificial pitches which, in turn, frees up grassed areas for football and rugby.”
With lines stitched into the surfaces, the synthetic areas need only a weekly brush and blow by the grounds team, but the school calls in a contractor for more extensive maintenance such as refreshing infill and fibres.
Oundle wanted to deliver elite-level first XI hockey provision on the footprint of an existing pitch and brought in pitch designers and advisers Notts Sport for the project, who contracted CLS Sports to install two sand-dressed international standard surfaces, also designed to stage tennis, the contractor originally having rebuilt one of the hockey pitches several years ago.
Grounds conditions dictated a fresh approach to drainage. All three pitches they installed include Posidrain and geo grid layer - a trenchless system fitted with drainage sections incorporating geotextile to allow bi-directional flow and avoid settlement within drain lines.
Under the latest sporting upgrades to the estate, the contractor also re-profiled one of Oundle’s rugby pitches, softening the incline to create a more robust surface.
“The challenge for us is to maintain facilities to a high standard,” Richard says, “not only because this reflects on our reputation in the town, but also because we can sustain our position in the top league of independent schools.”
Revenue generation is a key consideration for a school potentially lying ‘dormant’ for twenty weeks a year, Richard notes. “The pressure is growing to utilise our facilities throughout the year, but this impacts on costs and resources of course.”
“Engagement with the community is important and we let out grass pitches to local football, cricket and rugby clubs during the year to create a little added income for us and to further strengthen our links with the town.”
“Then, in mid-August, we stage England and Wales Cricket Board and London Schools inter-school three-week long festivals of cricket, which certainly creates an interesting dynamic for the groundcare team,” he adds.
“They are still busy renovating the cricket squares when it’s time to prepare for football and rugby as the autumn term starts.”
Although the summer concert has been shelved, a bustling Speech Day involves erecting a 100m marquee to hold 2,000 guests for prize-giving presentations, converting for the evening revelry, music and fireworks of the Leavers’ Ball in the grounds - all adding further workload in preparing for and dismantling the infrastructure for a highlight of the school year.
Even with a team of some twenty-two grounds and gardening professionals, the maintenance is increasingly round the clock and round the year as the take-up of the school’s provision mounts.
The machinery shed is suitably large to accommodate the extensive fleet. Only half of it is devoted to housing tractors and mowers however. “In the other half are welfare areas and workshop facilities,” says Richard.
“One of our groundsmen is a qualified mechanic, which is very handy. Historically, we had to send away machinery for maintenance, but we are striving to make the process more self-sustaining as downtime for specialist kit can cause problems.
“We mainly purchase equipment - preferring to capitalise items then depreciating them under a planned maintenance programme.”
As estates bursar, Richard must view the big picture on the costs of maintaining such a diverse spread of facility - both sport and non-sport.
Head groundsman Stuart Palmer and head gardener Mark Bird report to department head Nick Tebbs, who in turn reports to Richard.
The strategy for cricket is to create surfaces allowing an even more intensive fixtures calendar under what is an inclusive agenda. “We pride ourselves on our cricket,” states Richard. “The development of facilities is about presenting the opportunity for everyone to excel.” Extensive on-site medical, physiotherapy and sports analysis support helps treat and tune pupils in that bid.”
The clay underlying much of the estate makes water build-up and threatened fixtures an ever-present danger during bouts of heavy rainfall, Richard explains. Reason enough for the school to launch a programme of ameliorating outfields.
Improved drainage was laid under the first XI outfield two years ago. “We had suffered ponding on the pitch but, since the drainage was introduced, water dissipates almost instantly. The major benefit is that fewer fixtures are postponed.”
Another former England sporting luminary is heading up the cricket programme. Batsman John Crawley, who played for Hampshire and Lancashire and for his country in thirty-seven tests, works closely with the turfcare team to deliver the right pitches for the fixtures in hand and had a key input when discussing the planned expanded and improved provision.
He proclaims the practice installation as nothing less than ‘one of the best facilities [of their kind] in the world’. “We have slower spin nets at one end, the middle lanes are medium pace and, at the other end, they’re quick,” he states, “so we can manoeuvre kids about. It’s great. We have a big link with the Northamptonshire Premier League club and their cricketers always look forward to using them.”
Crawley’s claim is well founded. The concept, design and delivery of this matchless provision is a beacon of excellence on a scale rarely, if ever, witnessed in the first-class game, let alone within education.
Complementing the contemporary-designed pavilion, shortlisted for an architectural award last year, and the upgraded playing surfaces, the practice nets present another “statement of our intent” about Oundle’s sporting prowess, Richard believes.
In a move that parallels training facilities at the top end of the game, the practice strips have been constructed to mirror the differing playing conditions that will prevail on the match pitches.
The ten synthetic strips, completed in early December by CLS Sports, feature different shockpads to create varying wicket speeds. Three are fitted with power to allow bowling machines to operate on them.
The project hit problems, however, when severe storms lifted and rippled the whole surface. It took just a day and half for the installation team to rectify the damage, with the design being adjusted to incorporate timber ballstop edging boards to prevent history repeating itself.
The ten natural strips are constructed very much on the lines of the first XI square itself, loam-based and, as Richard confirms, “managed in the way the match wickets are - rolled and cut well before the season begins, with John [Crawley] liaising with the grounds team on pitch profile.”
If the cricket developments are indeed a statement of intent, they are a powerful one for sure. “The feeling was that we were failing to provide the number or variety of sports facility, bearing in mind the number of pupils here. We are taking sport a little bit further, allowing us to help players develop to their potential. However, it’s more about kudos than trophies.”
Richard’s remit extends to environmental management and strategy - issues that rank high in the school’s priorities, he says. “Many hundreds of trees populate the estate, including an arboretum numbering some interesting species, and we have environmental policies in place, including sustainability of our buildings, which include systems such as air source heat pumps, solar panels to improve energy efficiency.”
“We encourage biodiversity across the site, managing wild and garden areas and creating soft landscaping schemes that encourage fauna and flora. Beside the science building, finished in 2007, lies a large pond, planted up with aquatic species, which is a haven for birds - and a wood on the estate, managed for conservation and diversity, has been turned into a World War Two memorial commemorating former pupils who fell during the conflict.”
All images © Ivan Quetglas
Strong commitment to community
Community Action and involvement ranks highly in Oundle School culture.
The first XV rugby pitch host activities for more than 200 disabled guests under its Community Action programme, headed by Liz Dillarstone. “The day is a great chance for us to open up our facilities for those with physical and learning disabilities,” she explains. “It’s turning out to be really popular, with plenty of activities available to try out.”
William’s world of opportunity
In another heart-warming story of community outreach, head of grounds and gardens, Nick Tebbs, invited teenager William Roberts to join his team for voluntary work.
An Oundle School housemaster’s son, William, 17, has Down Syndrome. He attends Stamford College and, since January, has joined the grounds and gardens team on his non-college days.
“He has had to expand on the skills he learnt for his BTEC Land Based Studies Level 1 at Moulton College,” says proud mum Joh, “including learning how to check and use a lawnmower and strimmer and all the safety gear.”
What’s in the shed?
TYM T503 HST
New Holland T3550
New Holland T3520
New Holland T3010
New Holland T3020
Wessex 3½ tonne tractor trailers x 3
Marston DS 3.5 tonne tractor trailer
Marston CM 2.5 tonne tractor trailer
Ifor Williams GX106 x 2 - for cricket equipment and plant transport
Ifor Williams GD84 twin axle trailer with ramp and mesh sides
Ifor Williams P6e trailers x 2
Grass Cutting Equipment
Ransomes Commander 3520 ride-on cylinder mower (5 units)
Ransomes Parkway 3 ride-on cylinder mower (3 units) x 2
Ransomes TG3400 trailed gang mowers (5 Units )
Ransomes 214 tractor mounted cylinder mower (3 units.)
Wessex Proline 180 tractor mounter, rigid deck rotary roller mower
Hayter Harrier 56 Pro pedestrian rotary mowers x 3
John Deere JS63V pedestrian side shoot rotary mowers x 2
John Deere E35 Lawn Edger
Robin NB2001A brushcutter
Stihl FS 300 brushcutter
Leaf Clearing Equipment
Amazone GHL-T02 150 grass and leaf collection container
Buffalo Turbine Cyclone tractor mounted PTO driven debris blower
Billy Goat SV50HR pedestrian leaf vacuum.
Billy Goat DL130 H trailer mounted debris loaders
Stihl BR600 backpack blowers x 3
Stihl MMS 181 chainsaws x 2
Husqvarna 61 chainsaw
Husqvarna 365 chainsaw
Husqvarna 350 chainsaw
Greenmech Quadchip 160 woodchipper
Browns woodworker circular saw bench
KTM 10TLS tractor mounted log splitter
BCS 740 two wheel tractor
TR850D1.0 Shark flail mower for two wheel tractor
Hedge Cutting Equipment
Stihl HL 75 long reach hedgecutters x 2
Stihl HL 45 45cm hedgecutters x 2
Stihl HL 56C 60cm hedgecutter
Goldoni Base 20 Quad tractors x 2 for Astro pitches.
Sisis Twinplay tractor mounted implement frame with Flexicomb and brush
attachments x 2
Sweepfast Greensweep 2m wide lleaning
mats x 2
Little Wonder Pro Vac pedestrian leaf and debris vacuum
Grass Pitch Maintenance
Sisis Maxislit MX 160 tractor mounted deep slitting lawn aerator
Allett BJB42 tractor mounted scarifier
Sisis Twinplay tractor mounted implement frame with brush and roller attachments
Sisis Spiker slitter attachment for Twinplay
Opico 2m tractor mounted grass harrow
Twose BR1-250 2.5m ballast roller
Ev-n-Spred 2050P pedestrian seed
spreaders x 2
Sisis Variseeder tractor mounted seeder
Ground Working Equipment
TYM TX500 front end loaders x 2 for TYM tractors
Howard HR 10 Rotavator
Wessex tractor mounted Dutch harrow
Wessex tractor mounted 2.4m seedbed levelling harrow (lute)
Port Agric Comet tractor mounted rotavator
BCS 728 two wheel tractor
Cricket Pitch Equipment
Allett MK2 36” ride-on cylinder mowers x 2
Ransomes Mastiff MK2 36” ride-on cylinder mower
Protea 510 GOLF 20” pedestrian cylinder mowers x 3
Protea 630G 25” pedestrian cylinder mower
John Deere R54RKB pedestrian rotary mower
Protea 510 groomer/dethatcher
Sisis Rotorake 450 with brush reel
Stothert & Pitt 32RD 900kg cricket roller
Auto-Roller AR4 1220mm (4ft) cricket roller
BMS Perdestrian 600mm sarel spiker
Bowdry MKIII water removal machine
Allman Farmer 6m tractor mounted 200 litre sprayer
Allman 12m tractor towed sprayer
Turfguard Pro professional pedestrian sprayers x 2
Cooper Pegler CP3 Classic 20 litre knapsack sprayer
Chapin 62000 15 litre knapsack sprayer
Cooper Pegler CP15 Series 2000 15 litre knapsack sprayer x 3
Hard sports Surface Cleaners
Clarke PLS195 heavy duty petrol pressure washer
Mosmatic FL-CR520 21” rotary surface cleaners