A Wiltshire rugby club, which took a huge step four years ago to keep its five pitches and training areas playable, has received a massive boost from one of the top names in English rugby.
In 2015, Royal Wootton Bassett RFC applied for a Rugby Football Foundation (RFF) grant and sought funds from a Sport England grant for grounds maintenance equipment. With funds in place, and after receiving expert advice from Keith Kent, Twickenham's Head Groundsman, through the RFU's 'Groundsman Connected' scheme, they chose a Wiedenmann Terra Spike XF6 refurbished through Wiedenmann UK's own workshops.
The South West 1 club runs three regular senior teams, six 13-U18 junior teams and six age groups from Under 6-12 years.
Fast forward four years. Keith Kent, on his return, celebrated the efforts of the dedicated volunteer grounds team. Assessing the club's Ballards Ash facility as part of a review programme, he reserved highest praise for those who give up their time for free.
In a written report circulated to club members, he said: "It is a few years since I last visited the club, along with Dave Stubley (RFU Funding and Facilities Manager). I returned with Jon Bendle (RFU, Area Facilities Manager) and was absolutely delighted with what I found. What a transformation. What a club house. What a team of great volunteers that represent this great club."
Special praise was also extended to contractor, Bretton King, who is employed by the club to implement major improvements.
Giving specific advice for improving each of the club's pitches, Keith Kent summarised the combined efforts of contractor and volunteers by commenting: "The renovation works are all in hand with sand, aeration, seed and feed all being done to the highest standard. If we get a half decent summer, pitches will bounce back and be at their best. Please keep up the maintenance work on your pitches in-house.
The chain harrows are a great piece of kit and your very own Wiedenmann XF6 has made such a difference to your pitches. Congratulations on buying this machine. I have one at Twickenham and wouldn't part with it for the world. A Wiedenmann Terra Spike is just what I would wish for every club in the country. It is an awesome piece of kit and one that you must use as often as you can. It is the difference between having good pitches and not. Remember, only to go on when the weather and the conditions allow."
Realistically, volunteers try to aerate a full pitch every week in rotation. Applauding Royal Wootton Basset's future proofing, the top tier Head Groundsman said: "Your equipment shed is just awesome! I am so jealous of you. I showed the pictures to my staff and they were laughing that you had more room than we have. Well done to the club. They had the foresight to build for the future and that included the groundsman, his team and his equipment."
Excerpts from the report
1st team pitch
This pitch looks really well - despite the drains dropping due to last year's drought, which no-one could have foreseen. The driest and hottest summer for over forty years and it has taken its toll on pitches all over the country.
An invasion of rabbits is not helping your cause at all. Bretton has said that he is going to hand topdress these drain runs this spring. That is fantastic. That is how to do it properly and he is not going to be short on effort in an attempt to get those drains right.
The renovation works are all in hand with sand, aeration, seed and feed all being done to the highest standard. If we get a half decent summer, this pitch will bounce back and be back to its best.
2nd team pitch with floodlights
This pitch is in need of a lot of work this close season. It is the workhorse of the club with training and games taking place on it every week of the season. It is very bare of grass and the rabbits have had a party digging out your drain runs on this pitch. This pitch needs everything done to it the same as the 1st team pitch. Bretton is going to hand dress the drains on this pitch as well. Do not skimp on anything on this pitch. It needs a lot of TLC.
3rd team pitch
A really good well grassed pitch. There is so much grass cover that it is only down for a fertiliser and in-house aeration. Knowing what we know, the 1st team have agreed to train on this pitch so let's make it look the business from day one of training. Give it an extra feed. Green it up and make it look like a stadium pitch. Cut it and put a really good pattern on it. Make it stand out when people look from the clubhouse. Make them want to train on it! They will ignore pitch 2, if pitch 3 is looking like Twickenham!
4th team pitch
Once again, a really well grassed pitch. Only needs fertiliser, aeration and regular mowing to keep this pitch looking its best. Put a nice pattern on this pitch in the close season and make people want to train on this pitch. If we can afford it, give this pitch an extra feed in an attempt to protect pitch 2.