Situated nine miles east of Bath along the M4 corridor, Chippenham is Wiltshire's second largest town behind Swindon. It is a dynamic market town with a population of over 45,000. Serving the town's sporting requirements is Stanley Park, completed just over eleven years ago to provide a host of sporting and leisure opportunities to a vibrant community.
Owned and run by Chippenham Town Council, the fifty acre site (of which ten acres currently remain undeveloped) accommodates seventeen first class natural turf football pitches that provide five full size pitches and various youth and junior pitches, plus a full size 3G artificial pitch and three mini 3G pitches. Additionally, there are excellent changing rooms for teams and officials.
Over one hundred teams utilise the facility, including the community, schools, Bath University, lacrosse and all ages of football - from three up to walking football for the over fifties. Swindon Town Football Club and Bath Rugby Academy are also regular users. The site also caters for table tennis, functions, Ultimate Frisbee, has a BMX track and can host meetings and conferences in its sixty-seat meeting room.
Stanley Park was one of the first sports grounds in the UK to be built specifically for grassroots football and, such has been its success, that former Chelsea player, Florent Malouda, visited the site when he was planning to create something similar in France. Other well known figures who have visited the site on fact-finding missions include Sky Sport's Jeff Stelling, Olympic Bronze medal snowboarder Jenny Jones, former British Lion Danny Grewcock and South African rugby star Thinus Delport.
Entering the site, one is immediately struck by how well it is presented visually, a fact borne out by two recent industry awards for Best Public Facility of the Year and Grassroots Sports Ground of the Year, both of which are flagged up at the entrance.
It is early March and the pitches still have the majority of grass coverage and look in very good shape. A Sisis Quadraplay is being put through its paces.
Facility Manager, Pete Hussey is in charge of a team of four; Assistant Manager Nigel Harvey, Assistant Groundsman Nick Johnstone, Caretaker/Groundsman Peter Claridge and Sports Development Officer Paul (no relation to Nigel) Harvey.
Both Nigel and Pete are well respected within our industry and have a wealth of experience. Nigel came third in the FA Groundsman of the Year award last year and Pete was a speaker at the last two industry conferences.
Pete has been at Stanley Park for the best part of nine years. As a youngster, he had hoped to become a professional footballer and was a goalkeeper playing at a good level but, when that didn't materialise, he took a job in catering. But football was his love and, when the Stanley Park position came up, he couldn't turn it down.
Nigel has been at Stanley Park for eight years. He started his groundsmanship journey at a very young age by helping his father on local cricket wickets. After jobs in pest control and working for a water company, he joined up with Pete with the aim of making an already good ground great.
"The site is built on Oxford clay, so it doesn't drain too well," explains Pete. "Fortunately, there is primary pipe drainage at 3 metres spacings throughout the site, which allows the pitches to be moved around, season to season, to reduce wear areas. The only pitch that doesn't move is our 'prem pitch', which is fenced off and hosts the likes of Swindon Town's under 16s and 18s. Nigel also enlists the help of Steve Gingell to help him understand what is going on underneath the surface. We both believe that hard graft and experience is the key to getting great results, but only if you get the balance right."
The pitches are cut with a Jacobsen 305 triple at a height of 25mm in the spring and summer, which is raised to 30mm in the late autumn and through the winter, although Nigel will judge when to raise it based on growth and weather conditions. "My maintenance regimes are not set in stone," he confirms.
He marks out his pitches every week at a rate of 4:1 using a spray linemarker. Aeration is undertaken every four weeks using a Wiedenmann Terra Spike and scarifying takes place at the end of the season with a Sisis Quadraplay. The Quadraplay is also used for post-match tidy up and the brush is used to remove heavy dew to allow the air to get to the base of the plant.
Nigel controls the spraying of the 'prem pitch', with Complete Weed Control called in to spray the remainder of the site for weeds. Overseeding takes place at the end of the season, but sometimes, if budget allows, he may also overseed in October and November. A Vredo disc seeder is hired in for these tasks.
When asked which piece of machinery is his favourite, Nigel replies; "it depends what job I am doing at that time."
For end of season renovations, Nigel cuts the pitches down to 25mm, then scarifies with the Quadraplay. The Terra Spike is then put across the whole site, at a various depths depending on soil conditions, overseeded with Johnsons Premier Pitch and, finally, sand dressed with 480 tonnes of medium/coarse Leyton Buzzard Sand, which is put down with a 4 tonne disc spreader and tractor, both of which are hired in from TH White.
Renovations do vary, and do depend on available budget, as these are still set by the council but, says Pete, "whatever cutbacks have to be made, the pitch maintenance budget is always the last to get cut as the playing surfaces are what bring in the most revenue."
After seeding, Nigel will put down Everris Pro Lite at a rate of 35gm across the site and 40gm on the 'prem pitch', once the leaf is at the 3-5 stage. Three weeks later he puts on Everris Pro Turf 20:0:07, again at the same rate. The 'prem pitch' will also have a top up of liquids to which is added iron, seaweed, Primo Maxx and nitrogen.
"Then, around November time, we put on an application of either Multi Green or Sierrablen and won't put anything else on the site until the next end of season renovation. Our renovations can take place anytime between mid-May and the beginning of August, so it does give a good window of time to get them in."
Even in the poorest of weather and some of the worst rain last year, Stanley Park managed to remain open as fixtures were moved onto the 3G FIFA 2 star rated pitch. "For every ten hours of use, it should have thirty minutes of maintenance," states Nigel. "But we don't do any maintenance in wet conditions as we find it compacts the rubber crumb; it is best to do when it is dry."
The carpet is brushed with a Sisis Flexicomb weekly and always in different directions. The rubber crumb is spring tined once a month and dragmatted to level out the infill. The 3G surface may be used for up to sixty-five hours in any one week, whereas each of the natural pitches are used for six hours of game time per week.
"3G has its place and has come a long way," Nigel states, "but I would much rather play and have games held on an immaculate natural turf pitch cut and striped at 25mm. Saying that though, the 3G does take a lot of wear off the natural pitches, especially where training is concerned."
Machinery is checked weekly. This consists of oil, water and fluid checks, tyres, belts and wear. The vehicles are sent away for service, as and when they have done the requisite hours, to either TH Whites or BS Mowers, depending on who holds the service contract on a particular vehicle.
There is a five-year replacement plan in place, but Pete confirms that, if a machine is still performing okay, they won't necessarily change it just because its time is up, but may, instead, look at other equipment to purchase.
When asked if there is one item of equipment that particularly helps to improve the surfaces, Nigel replies; "all of it; it depends what time of year it is being used. If we had a bottomless pit of money, then we would probably go out and purchase an Imants RotoKnife, a Koro, a 12m tractor mounted sprayer, a couple of Dennis or Allett mowers and a verticutter" Not much then!
With so much equipment, machinery and chemicals in the confines of a public park, health and safety is a prime concern. Fortunately, Nigel was previously a Health & Safety Officer with Southwest Water, so takes much of the responsibility. However, the Deputy CEO of Chippenham Town Council is also the Health & Safety Officer for the whole council and also advises from time to time.
All the staff are qualified first aiders and have to be compliant with current legislation, which is generically overseen by the council. Any specialist training required, such as spraying certificates, along with CRB checks, is organised by Pete.
The environment and being organic as possible are very important to Nigel. "We already have a beehive and aim to plant more wildflowers around the site. We are also working with Chalkhill Environmental to preserve the Great Crested Newts found on the site, and we use a reed bed (tertiary treatment) to filter their water."
"Where pests are concerned, we have hares and rabbits digging into weak areas of the pitches and goalmouths and also moles tunnelling. Ducks and deer sometimes stroll across the site and we have, on a few occasions, had to return next door's chickens and goats that have ventured onto the ground. Fortunately, my previous job as a pest controller means I am qualified to deal with all manner of pests internally, which does help keep costs down."
What's in the shed?
New Holland T4 tractor and front loader
Wiedenmann Terra Spike
Jacobsen 305 triple cylinder mower
John Deere X740 ride -on tractor
Sisis Flexicomb c/w brush and tines
Ride on trailer
Irrigation Long Reach x 2
Speedy Rain travelling sprinklers x 2
Spray Linemarkers x 2
Stihl Strimmers x 2
Stihl Hedge Trimmer
Honda pedestrian rotary mower