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Ground Control

A new Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme has been launched as part of a strategy to improve standards in the natural turf sector. We speak to Jason Booth, who's leading the scheme, about the challenges faced by the industry.

Published in Sports Management 2014 issue 1
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Jason Booth
Jason Booth

The new Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GNTIP) is a joint initiative between the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG), the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), The Football Association (FA), The Football Foundation and Sport England. It has been designed to raise the standards of sports surfaces by providing grassroots and volunteer groundsmen with guidance and advice to increase the understanding of sports turf management practices for football, cricket and rugby.

The programme, which co-ordinates industry, funding providers and NGBs, aims to provide a strong infrastructure of support to the public and voluntary sectors during a time of financial austerity, while also providing links to Sport England’s Protecting Playing Fields award recipients – via the provision of post-contract support, advice and guidance.

The programme is headed up by Jason Booth, who will have a team of eight regional pitch advisors covering the English regions. They will liaise with the national governing bodies and will report directly to Booth and to the IOG’s regional advisory panel.

The programme builds on the work of the IOG’s network of regional advisors established five years ago with a grant from the ECB, whose number – with the additional funding now available – will be expanded to eight full-time regional pitch advisors across England. Booth’s role will be to lead and manage the advisors, and he will be a key conduit between the sports bodies and the IOG, leading the programme’s strategy and its local delivery.

Much needed help
Booth is the head groundsman at Leeds Rugby and has also undertaken consultancy work for the likes of RFL, the FA and the IOG. “I love a challenge and GNTIP certainly offers that in terms of upgrading grassroots pitches throughout the country and up-skilling the people responsible for their care and maintenance,” Booth said. “The sector is simply lacking suitable and sufficient groundscare knowledge and understanding, and by aiming to boost the level of much-needed awareness the new programme will, in turn, allow me and the regional pitch advisors to demonstrate not only the practical benefits – in terms of improved playability – of high-class yet cost-effective sports turf management but also our passion for the groundscare industry and the desire to up-skill the people within it.”

“The framework for the programme’s success has already been laid down – the blueprint was devised and has been successfully applied in recent years by the IOG/ECB regional advisor network and, more recently, also by the RFL Pitch Improvement Programme.

Booth adds that the first task he faces is to broadcast the message and the resultant benefits to a wide audience in order to reach sports grounds, club and volunteers who persevere with limited and outdated equipment.

“Another major target area are local authority sites that have been negotiated locally with local community groups and clubs as asset transfers,” Booth continues. “Following the transfers any problem of maintenance is left in the hands of volunteers - and this is an area where the art of groundscare has often been ‘lost in translation’.”

Booth is convinced that one strategic aspect of the programme will depend on backing for the project from high-profile groundstaff together with the elite sports clubs and stadia. “Their support will be crucial,” he argues. “With the support of famous venues and their recognised head groundsmen, the programme’s concept will be easier to ‘sell’ into the grassroots sector. I will be using my full network of friends and contacts to encourage full involvement in this respect.”

Working the network
Another major aspect of Booth’s role will be to communicate the programme’s benefits ‘downwards’ via meetings with the respective sports county networks within each region, engaging clubs and leagues across each sport.

“The message will cascade down into grassroots clubs far quicker if we meet these groups,” says Booth, “than it would if we’d try sending a regional pitch advisor to visit every sports pitch in the country. That said, the regional pitch advisors will be available to make site visits and draw up recommendations for improvements to playing surface(s) as well as suggesting appropriate education/training routes to the many club volunteers and those involved in groundsmanship locally.”

Booth is convinced that the project will be successful, mainly due to it being run by a team of passionate groundscare experts. The team will be able to offer independent advice that many grassroots clubs are simply unaware of – advice which could drastically improve the playing performance of natural turf surfaces.

“It’s a process that the whole turf care industry should champion, Booth says. “This includes suppliers and manufacturers. Never before have we as an industry had such an opportunity to make significant improvements throughout sports and right down to grassroots level.”

The aims of the Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme

- Enable players to access the best possible facilities in their local community
- Reduce the likelihood of cancelled matches and training, thus helping economic viability
- Maximise potential opportunities for growth locally
- Build sustainable relationships at a local, regional and national level across sport.

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