In November 2012, Cambridgeshire Cricket Board was approached by representatives of Sport England to run a pilot scheme for improving the playing surfaces of grass roots football, rugby and cricket outfields - Mel Pooley reports.
The idea was Sport England would provide a bank of machinery to be used for this purpose. A similar scheme was to be set up in Leicestershire.
The ECB, in conjunction with the local cricket boards, were chosen to administer the scheme because of the experience they had gained with setting up the cricket trailer machinery to help grassroots cricket clubs improve their cricket squares.
The equipment consists of a Blec Multi-seeder, a Charterhouse 7136 Verti-Drain, a Dakota topdresser, an Imants Shockwave, a mounted fertiliser spreader, a spring tine mounted grass rake, mounted turf brush and a rubber dragmat.
It was decided to run the Cambridgeshire project using myself as the co-ordinator and organiser of how the project could best serve the grassroots clubs within Cambridgeshire, which also includes Huntingdonshire, as the groundsmen's association is all one. The association has changed from a cricket groundsmens association to one which encompasses all sports.
It was decided to look at operating the project on a non-profit making system to give as much benefit to grassroots clubs as possible. A system of charges for the different work to be carried out was devised to cover running costs, maintenance and repairs. A secure workshop/storage facility was provided free of charge for the project, but there still remained one problem, no power unit to operate the machinery with.
An approach was made to Sport England and a John Deere 3720 compact tractor with a loader was purchased for the project. In the meantime, the only other problem was how the machinery could be transported to the grounds to carry out the work. I decided that I would purchase a suitable trailer and this could be written off within the running costs. A suitable towing vehicle was already available.
When everything was in place to start working, it was mid May 2013 and so it was immediately into overseeding football pitches and carrying out decompaction/aerating with the Verti-Drain. There were only five clubs who had work done at this time, but two of them were combined cricket and football, so it served both sports for improving the ground.
In the autumn, more clubs became involved with the scheme and, at this time of the year, the work was mainly aeration/decompaction. Clubs that had work in the spring requested more work in the autumn and winter to help improve drainage of winter sports pitches.
In the spring of 2014, there was an uptake of services by 18 clubs and most had multiple pitches. The work carried out during this period was aeration/decompaction, overseeding, topdressing and fertilising.
The higher uptake was, in part, due to clubs seeing how other club grounds had improved and gave a better playing experience. It was also due to the availability of professional advice from the groundsmen's association from Allan Moore, Rob Bradshaw and myself. This service is usually offered free of charge.
Most clubs now have autumn winter work carried out on a regular basis - mainly fertilising, aeration/decompaction with the Verti-Drain and the Shockwave when conditions are suitable. The work is spread from clubs to parish councils and to all types of sports.
The spring of 2015 has seen many more clubs and councils requiring work, as well as the ones that are now having the work carried out regularly. It has now become necessary to purchase another compact tractor to help keep up with demand, so another John Deere 3520 has been purchased by me on the same basis as the trailer.
To date, I have carried out all of the work myself, but now I have an additional experienced driver to cope with the extra demand, and with more clubs and parish councils who require the services of the machinery project.
The machinery project does not provide the materials for the work, such as topdressing, fertiliser and seed; this has to be provided by the club or parish council. To help with this, the groundsmen's association has negotiated bulk buying prices for each club or parish council to access from an amenity supplier.
What this means is individual clubs or parish councils can purchase the quantity they require, at heavily discounted prices, if they are having work done by the machinery project. These prices are constantly reviewed by the association to ensure the right quality and suitability of materials is available for purchase at the lowest price possible.
This avoids the problem of bulk buying by the association and having to store or take delivery to one place and then the individual clubs collecting it from the delivery point.
The next part of the expansion programme is to get a drill seeder to give more flexibility for overseeding on winter sports pitches. Whilst the Blec Multi-seeder 2 is a fine piece of equipment, it is not the best machine in certain conditions and situations. Therefore, it has been decided to apply for a drill seeder from Sport England to enhance the machinery project and to improve the service that can be given to clubs and parish councils.
Feedback from customers of the machinery project has been very positive and they are happy with the improvements to the playing surfaces. They also have voiced their appreciation of having access to good sound professional advice available to them through the groundsmen's association.
Author: Mel Pooley MSc.