Turf improvement programme sees grassroots clubs get expert support in £1.3m project

Volunteer groundsmen and women are to get professional support in a new £1.3 million pound programme aimed at improving grassroots sports facilities in England.

Sport England CEO Jennie Price at last year's IOG Awards
Sport England CEO Jennie Price at last year's IOG Awards

The new Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme, funded by Sport England, the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG), the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), The Football Association and the Rugby Football League, is designed to raise the standards of sports surfaces as well as the understanding of sports turf management practices.

The news comes as Sport England announced its withdrawal of £1.6 million to the Football Association – the biggest loser in a £2.8m cut in funding to 11 national governing bodies (NGBs) who have seen the numbers of people involved in their sports fall.

Sport England chief executive Jennie Price said: "I want these decisions to send a clear message to those NGBs who need to change. This year, we are removing up to 10 per cent of their future investment, and we will be working with them to improve their plans. I want to reassure people who play those sports that they won’t lose out – we will still fund them, but through other bodies, such as local authorities or charities."

Running for three years initially, the new money will pay for eight regional pitch advisors headed by national manager Jason Booth, formerly head groundsman at Leeds Rugby, who will provide support services, training and education to grassroots clubs and sites, from this month.

The programme is based on the established IOG/ECB-funded regional advisor network but the number of advisors will increase.

The network will advise on turf care, technical issues and reinstatement after flooding. It is hoped that better local pitches will increase engagement and cut the number of cancelled activities due to weather.

IOG chief executive Geoff Webb said: "The IOG’s regional advisor network has over the years helped to vastly improve the standards of many sports surfaces, especially at grassroots and volunteer level where funding is often very limited.

Now, with additional support from more national governing bodies of sports, we will be able to continue this important work at a much higher number of venues from the north to the south of the country.
He added: "This agreement builds on our established partnership with the ECB and reinforces how the IOG continues to forge strong links with sports’ national governing bodies to further improve playing surfaces at clubs of every size."

Sport England property director Charles Johnston said that good quality grass pitches were important in encouraging people to use them.

"We recognise the real value and importance of the volunteer groundsmen in maintaining and delivering quality pitches every week and are very pleased to support this new network of regional pitch advisors who will provide the necessary support and guidance the voluntary groundsmen deserve."

Tessa Hayhurst, national funding operations manager at the ECB, Carol Doran, national facilities manager at the Rugby Football League, Kelly Simmons, director of National Game and Women's Football at The Football Association all said that good quality pitches were crucial to getting people out playing sport.

The eight new advisors are:

  1. London – Andy Clarke
  2. South east – Ian Norman
  3. North west – Ian Mather-Brewster
  4. North east & Yorkshire – Ian Powell
  5. West Midlands – Kevin Duffill
  6. East – Daniel White
  7. South west – Rob Donnelly
  8. East Midlands – Tom Rowley

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