Wakefield Grammar School Foundation is one of the country's leading families of independent day schools. The Foundation comprises Wakefield Girls' High School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, both with Junior and Senior Schools, which offer single-sex education from 4-18 years. In addition, Mulberry House Nursery educates boys and girls from 3-4 years.
Both schools have made a rich contribution to the lives of many boys and girls from West and South Yorkshire.
QEGS is distinct from most other schools in Yorkshire in that it was founded by Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I in 1591 at the request of leading citizens in Wakefield, some of whom formed the first governing body. In 1854, QEGS moved to its present site in Northgate, Wakefield, into premises formerly occupied by the West Riding Proprietary School.
Changing opinions were prevalent during the nineteenth century and a movement for the social and educational emancipation of women gathered pace. The QEGS Governors agreed to pursue this and, in 1878, WGHS opened with fifty-nine pupils located in Wentworth House, its current location.
It is into this 400 year old environment that Bill Settle entered in March 2014 as Grounds Manager. "Fortunately, I was considered a good enough turf professional to be appointed to the position," he states, somewhat humbly.
He quotes his father as being the driving force behind his career in turfcare. "He was just a normal guy who taught himself as much, what we would now call soil science, as possible. Looking back, with hindsight, shows me that his 'instincts' for how soils smelled, felt and even tasted, and what treatments turf would need, were uncanny when compared to the rigours and depth of today's testing."
"He used to take me with him to the local bowling greens to watch him do his best with them. I was mowing greens from the age of seven! I then took over caring for the local cricket club square, under his eye, at the age of thirteen. After university, a lull in employment gave me the opportunity to work full time at Elland Cricket, Athletic and Bowling Club, between Halifax and Huddersfield, which hosted county fixtures in all sports. A former teacher then convinced me to return as Head Groundsman at my old school, Batley Grammar, where I stayed for thirty-two years, before moving the nine miles to Wakefield."
"I have a special honours degree in Natural Environmental Science with a Diploma in Landscape Architecture, which gives me a great understanding of how different soils and their constituent parts 'work'; it's a far cry from my father's methods."
The playing surfaces at Wakefield are split over five sites ranging from 1.8 hectares to 4.8 hectares, hosting three cricket squares, two grass hockey pitches, two football pitches, eight rugby pitches, nine tennis courts and surrounds (three acrylic and six non-slip macadam), a full size floodlit, sand based AstroTurf pitch used for football, hockey and tennis, plus over twenty garden plots, including a 5000m2 main lawn, smaller lawns, formal planting and shrubberies.
The main sportsfields were developed from rich arable farmland in the early 1900s and the profile is best described as a rich, deep, friable, medium clay loam over most of the sites.
Bill has a team of four to help him maintain the extensive grounds. "Assistant Grounds Manager, Martin Holroyd, started as a Youth Enterprise Scheme trainee and has now been here almost twenty years," confirms Bill. "School Gardener, Philip Cresswell, has been with the school for thirty-five years, whilst Assistant Groundsman, David Dale, has been with us for nine years following twenty-one years at Mullion Golf Club in Cornwall and eleven years at Howley Hall Golf Club near Leeds. Sixty year old Harold Morritt, with fifteen years service as Grounds Assistant, completes my team. With the staff having been here so long, everyone knows their own routine and they simply get on with the job, making the whole job of managing the site much easier"
"If budgets permit, occasional contracting help to undertake large jobs with time constraints, such as topdressing and seeding of winter sports pitches, is brought in. Also, specialist contract cleaning of the infill to the astroturf pitch complements our own in-house, regular maintenance."
The Foundation is very proactive in providing any necessary training, and updates to current legislation and training for any new machinery/procedures is always considered and implemented where necessary.
The school employs a health and safety officer and the grounds facilities are on his regular checklist. There are also three onsite first aiders and an emergency 'working alone' telephone system in operation for evening and weekend work.
Bill tells us that he is answerable to the schools' Contracts Manager; "who gives me managerial control over the team and grounds maintenance."
"At this juncture, I should point out that, having joined as Grounds Manager at Easter, I have been fortunate to follow a number of highly talented and innovative turf experts who have left me with a well established series of pitches and a garage full of modern machinery. In addition, I have been welcomed and more than ably assisted by a knowledgeable and hardworking team, with Martin's understanding of the site characteristics proving invaluable. Furthermore, my line managers have been more than supportive in allowing me to develop my own regime within the budget allowed, giving me a good deal of flexibility on how it is utilised. This, along with the support and understanding of the PE staff from all our schools, has made my transition from a smaller venue (in all respects) so much easier."
Where maintenance is concerned, Bill explains that, year round, they try to cut all turf areas at least twice a week; "the main playing areas are cut with a Toro triple, and off pitch areas with a large finishing rotary mower. The three cricket outfields are kept at 20mm, the cricket squares at 15mm, hockey pitches at 20mm and winter rugby pitches at 30-35mm depending upon ground conditions."
"I begin preparations of wickets after early season consolidation, rolling from around two weeks prior to use, with no strict guidelines used other than a 'feel' for rolling and height and frequency of cut as the game approaches, again dependent upon ground and weather conditions."
Asked if the staff have specific tasks or if it is an 'all hands to the pump' approach, Bill says that it's a bit of both. "Philip, the full time gardener, is largely independent in maintaining a large number of lawns and plots in and around the main school buildings, where his thirty-plus years experience has honed his regime. Harold almost exclusively maintains all the difficult perimeter areas around the grounds, including shrubberies, hedges, fence and kerb lines and areas inaccessible to ride on mowers. Myself, Martin and David then take on the rest - mowing, rolling, marking out, aeration and all other day to day maintenance needs around the grounds, along with any small in-house projects and machinery maintenance that we are able to undertake."
"As you might expect, presentation ranks extremely highly. The grounds are a high profile advertisement of the commitment the school makes to the provision and promotion of sport and the benefits it promotes. The whole team also take personal pride in the appearance of the playing areas to participants and visitors alike."
As for renovations, Bill explains that the cricket squares are "severely scarified and aerated" with tractor mounted machinery as soon as possible following the final matches, usually in August, before being overseeded and topdressed with GSB's Kettering loam. "A lighter scarification and overseed/topdress will also be likely in early September."
The twelve winter pitches will be subject to an overseeding with a low temperature germination ryegrass seed in early and late March. "As soon as weather permits, following the final games before Easter, 300 tonnes of enriched sand topdressing will be applied across areas with the worst wear, and particularly on pitches overlapping onto the cricket outfields. All pitches will then be overseeded with a premium rye grass mixture, this task being outsourced to a contractor if time and weather constraints restrict our in-house ability to complete the work during the short turnaround period."
"We usually have enough budget to get in all the materials we need and possibly outside assistance to achieve the work on schedule."
"Springtime renovations are not affected as much as winter pitch preparations and marking as soccer schools and summer camps use many of the playing areas over the summer. We also have to work around lettings to local teams for Sunday football and evening cricket, plus professionally supervised training academies for football and rugby run by local pro clubs. Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, the local pro Rugby League team, also use our grounds as a winter training base."
"Regular soil analyses are performed by Soil Harmony, from which a part biotic nutrition regime is produced and applied on a monthly basis during the growing season."
"On the artificial surfaces, we do most of the in-house maintenance of the sand based pitch and all tennis courts in-house. This involves power washing hard areas, regular brushing and topdressing of the astro pitch, all moss and fungal treatments and marking out. Deep cleansing rejuvenation of the sand infill in the astro pitch is contracted out four times per year."
"We also have a six-lane Redgra athletics track which needs regular in-house brushing, rolling, topdressing and marking."
As for additional projects. Bill explains that; "over the past summer, we installed a pipe drainage system to drain a problem area over and around a large buried overflow water tank. It's effectiveness waits to be seen!"
Bill goes on to outline that, because of cost, he likes to do everything possible in-house, although specialist machinery hired in can obviously be cost effective to complete a project.
Budget applications to school funds are in the pipeline to upgrade four Redgra run ups and two receiving sand pits for long and triple jumps to rubber crumb.
"The main priority by my predecessor was to bring the whole machinery fleet up to scratch, and I have inherited some very good equipment.
Almost all our current machinery is less than four years old, so future acquisitions will need to be negotiated with my line managers. I am considering purchasing a 5-gang, multi cutting unit to help us keep on top of mowing in busy times when grass is growing quickly."
"We ma ke our purchases based on wherever we can get the best price, but do take into account delivery, installation and backup service. Large machinery servicing is dealt with by the suppliers, whilst mowers and sharpening is carried out by a local mobile specialist offering a service responsive to our needs."
Where pests and diseases are concerned, Bill says that they do not suffer too much. "We have been very lucky in past years in that pests have not been a problem, and an annual full facility spray for turf weeds during August keeps that problem to a minimum. We find it more cost effective to spray everywhere with the tractor mounted sprayer than undertake labour intensive, small scale or spot spraying."
"That said, as we are an intensively maintained site in a generally urban residential area, we are aware of our place in the surrounding ecology and consider that when undertaking works such as spraying."
"We have very few naturalised areas, although all trees across all our sites have preservation orders on them."
"In addition, having a degree in Natural Environmental Science myself, I am aware of any issues that may arise and will hopefully be able to avert any problems before they make an impact. Over this, my first winter, I will monitor the possible capture of rainwater from the two large sports pavilion roofs for irrigation as we have no piped mains water to any of the three cricket squares."
If you'll excuse the pun, following his move after thirty-two years at Batley, Bill Settle appears to have 'settled' into his new role rather comfortably. It's amazing how life's changes can sometimes lead to, rather well maintained, pastures new!
What's in the shed?
John Deere 4720 tractor with 400CX Loader
John Deere 3520 tractor
Kubota Super B2110 HST tractor
Amazone Groundkeeper GHT-02
Toro Reelmaster 3100D mowing unit
Poweroll 15 motor roller
Blec tractor mounted multiseeder
Charterhouse 7516 1.6m Verti-Drain
Trimax Procut S3 210
Teamsprayer 600 litre tractor mounted boom sprayer
Laser spray marking machine
Pressure spray linemarkers x 3
Spa turf pressure boom sprayer
McConnel Swingtrim tractor mounted hedge cutting bar
Sisis 8ft MultiSlit
Hayter tractor mounted verticutter
Dennis G860 Mk2 mower with scarifier and sarel cassettes plus trailing seat
Lloyds Paladin 20" wicket mower
Dennis 20" Super 6 mowers with scarifier and sarrel cassettes x 2
Honda Pro rotary roller mowers x 4
Stihl multi tool long reach power units with strimmer, brush cutter and hedge cutting attachments x 3
Stihl SH86CE leaf blowers x 2
Karcher Commercial HD5 Eco steam pressure washer
... plus the usual array of hand held tools