Ian Mather Brewster, an experienced cricket groundsman, is 12 months into his joint role as IOG Regional Advisor for the north of England and ECB Pitch Consultant.Siobhan Harper found out how things are progressing.
“Although my job title is IOG Regional Advisor and ECB Pitch Consultant (jointly funded by the IOG and ECB), the role so far hasn’t been a 50/50 split; it’s more a case of achieving an ongoing balance of focusing efforts on the areas that require attention,” says Ian. “I started by concentrating on the cricket side, working with the Cricket Groundsman’s Associations (CGAs).That said, there is such a cross over between the two roles that, in the long term, I’m sure it will work out even. I have two bosses - Bruce Cruse from the ECB and Ian Lacy at the IOG – and that is a useful reminder that I have different roles to fulfil!”
Ian has been working on a development plan for the CGAs, so his first six months were spent gathering information on individual associations, of which there are six, to ensure any decisions and changes made were based on facts.
“What I saw were independent groups, with little structure, all being run differently.Initially, they were set up by Cricket Development Officers and this has given groundsmanship an equal footing in the overall cricket strategy.Their purpose is to train and educate.I am now putting the finishing touches to the plan and ensuring it marries up with the ECB’s facilities strategy.”
In the future it is planned that the CGAs will incorporate other sports, primarily football and rugby, to benefit the many sites that are now multi-sport.The purpose of the existing associations is to improve grass roots cricket so there is an obvious benefit in incorporating other sports to raise standards across the board.
On the IOG side, Ian is tasked with developing the uptake of and the opportunities for training in the area.Having a ‘man on the ground’ has allowed IOG courses to be taken to areas where they hadn’t previously been run.“Training courses in the north east of the country weren’t running particularly well in terms of both the IOG and the ECB, but by linking the north east with the north west progress is being made. We ran a course in Durham, in conjunction with the cricket board, which was the first of its type there in three years, and we attracted 28 delegates which wasa great result.We have had similar successes in other areas.”
Sometimes the difficulty has been knowing where to start, he says. “I am working to develop the region in line with the 10 themes of the IOG’s Challenging Perceptions Strategy, and that is a big task.In some areas individual strategies are required - for example, when looking at local authorities.We want LAs on board as they are major employers of grounds professionals, but it seems training is currently low on their list of priorities. I would say that working well with LAs is definitely one of my longer term goals.”
Ian has also been putting in the foundations to re-establish a vibrant regional and branch network to support local members, working with IOG regional directors. “I attend branch and regional meetings so members know where to come when they have problems or require support. I have only received positive feedback about the role and members feel they now have local support compared to feeling isolated.I’ve found that working with the likes of the West Yorkshire branch, which is constructively critical, is a very useful sounding board when making development plans.Other geographical areas which are currently defunct are now being built into plans for the new IOG regional structure when the north east and north west will become one region early next year.”
A major concern for Ian is the fact that groundsmanship is an ageing profession, so he has been working proactively with schools and clubs to deliver NPC to students, and liaising with youngsters who are classed by the Government as NEETs (neither in education, employment or training).“These are the people who will leave school with nothing, so we are offering them an alternative through the Level 1 Horticultural Skills certificate.Practically they have been excellent, but academically poor, so far, so there is still work to be done.It’s an area I want to develop and I’m actively working with the Specialist Schools network to showcase the success achieved with the delivery of the NPC to students in Aston on Mersey.”
There’s a big job ahead but Ian is confident in the progress made and he is looking forward to real results in the years to come. He recognises that the objectives set are not achievable overnight, but with ongoing efforts he is confident that the profile of groundsmanship and the IOG in the north of England will be very different to what it has been.