To The Future and Beyond !
By Laurence Gale MSc
For eighty years, the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) has been working to protect and conserve playing fields in the United Kingdom. It's been a constant battle, but they have had some big successes - and to celebrate their 80th birthday, they've set themselves a new and ambitious target.
The "Acre a Day" campaign aims to preserve a minimum of 365 acres of public green space a year by the year 2010. "It's a tough challenge, but we believe we can meet it." says NPFA Director Alison Moore-Gwyn.
The NPFA was granted a Royal Charter in 1933. Its purpose then, as it is now, was to ensure that everyone had access to quality recreation space close to where they live. Since those early days, the NPFA has campaigned ceaselessly for national funding for sport and recreation. It has also championed children's play and the improvement of safety on play facilities.
Its core work remains, as always, the protection and improvement of playing fields. The fields which came into its stewardship in 1925 remain protected for the communities they serve. This is the NPFA's distinctive contribution to play, sport and recreation.
At present, there is no statutory protection for our playing fields so the country's irreplaceable recreational heritage is constantly at risk. The NPFA believes they deserve better protection.
Play, sport and informal recreation environments are the focus of the NPFA's action, and its Council works to safeguard facilities for commun
But NPFA experts also work to ensure that the fields which are available for the public are maintained and looked after. One of them is Technical Manager Alan Penn, whose role is to advise and oversee construction and maintenance projects for both NPFA owned fields and outside parties such as schools and Councils.
"I spend a lot of time out on the road, visiting and advising a number of customers and clients," he says. "This often leads to the NPFA being employed to carry out specific inspections and surveys. Usually, the clients are looking to improve the condition of existing pitches, and we help them to draw up appropriate specifications, drawings, and plans of the necessary work.
Alan takes considerable skills and qualifications to his job - ten years' experience at the NPFA for a start, along with formal qualifications in turf grass management. He has recently passed his Master Degree in Sports Surface Technology at Cranfield University.
"The main problem I have to deal with is a lack of maintenance or understanding of what is needed to maintain natural grass pitches. Once people have the advice and the knowledge, they are generally very keen to take the right steps," he says.
But there are also new construction projects to be managed - such as a recent project to create a new school playing field in Jersey. Alan was called out to inspect and make recommendations to help the School maximize the playing space available and go for the most effective construction - while keeping within their budget.
"The school ended up with a new grass football pitch with both primary and secondary drainage schemes," he says. "The job was an interesting project, carried out during the summer by White Horse Contractors - all the materials had to be imported from the UK mainland because the quality and quantities of material were not available in Jersey."
Projects like the one in Jersey are vitally important for the health of the nation - the very fields that the next generation of sportsmen and women will come from. Protecting them, maintaining them, and promoting the use of natural turf pitches are vital steps for Britain in ensuring sporting success in the future.
Such recreational space is a vital part of every community - but an average of one playing field every day still comes under threat from building development. Once this land is built on, it's lost forever.
The 'Acre a Day' campaign is aiming to keep the house builders and developers at bay - but at the same time, the NPFA's teams of technical specialists like Alan are struggling to see that the fields we have are kept in the sort of condition which gives young sportsmen the bet possible chance. It's a worthwhile job - and it never ends.
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