The footballing achievements of England’s Lionesses and the men’s one day cricket team may have inspired another generation of players this year's summer and with sports participation - by all ages and abilities – being encouraged on a national scale, the demand for safe, natural turf pitches is set to increase. However, recent independent research by the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) has identified concerning facts that will impact on the opportunities to play sport on well-maintained natural turf pitches.
Research findings highlight the fact that the number of young people embarking on a career in groundsmanship is in decline – and with over 40% of the workforce over the age 50, this is a worrying trend. The report also shows that investment is urgently needed in adequate training and education to ensure groundscare professionals and volunteers are able to maintain safe, quality standard pitches to allow for increased demand for sports participation now and in the future.
As a result of these findings, the IOG has launched the Grounds4Sport campaign that calls on Government, sports bodies and industry to work together to bring about change, and to invest in natural turf pitches and the people who maintain them.
Grounds4Sport is targeted to give natural turf sports provision the re-boot it needs. The campaign will work to create:
- Better pitches
- More investment
- More and better trained and qualified groundspeople
- Raise the status of the profession.
According to the findings of the IOG’s industry-wide survey ‘Groundsmanship – Sports Vital Profession’, the UK sports turf groundscare sector employs more than 26,000 people, is supported by at least 37,000 volunteers and is worth more than a staggering £1 billion a year to the economy. But the research also highlights areas of concern that, if not addressed, are a ticking time bomb for the industry.
“Local authority austerity and budget cuts have had, and continue to have, a damaging effect on grassroots grass pitches,” says the IOG’s chief executive Geoff Webb. “The steady deterioration in the quality and the overplay of many pitches is impacting on the playing programmes of some sports,” he adds.
The research findings show that two of every five grounds professionals are over 50 years old and 20% of those could retire within five years. With less than one in five groundscare staff below the age of 30 and our discovery that some employers are choosing not to recruit new, replacement staff when an existing member leaves or retires, we have a crisis looming,” says Geoff.
He continues: “The time bomb issue doesn’t just apply to professionals. Our research identified that over two thirds of community grounds volunteers are over 60 and almost all are over 50. We applaud the commitment of these volunteers, and we are grateful of the support of our partners The Football Association, the Football Foundation and the England & Wales Cricket Board, but volunteers need more help, support and training.”
These are just some of the revelations from the IOG’s research which also reveals that the turf industry (in England and Wales alone) plays a significant role in the economy with:
 A direct staffing paybill (including on-costs) of around £588 million plus the volunteers’ in-kind paybill of more than £120 million;
 An operating budget (including grassroots and local government contractors) of around £478 million;
 A capital expenditure of around £600 million over the past five years; and
 Supports almost 5,000 businesses which employ at least 37,000 people.
Conducted by Myriad Consulting and Doran Consultancy, the comprehensive survey involved desktop research (including Sport England’s Active Places database and information from sports’ national governing bodies), in addition to an online survey and one-to-one interviews across sports played on grass/artificial surfaces, as well as horse racing.
It involved grounds staff/greenkeepers (professionals and volunteers) at all levels, from grassroots through to elite stadia. Responses were also attained from the education sector including colleges and local authorities.
Geoff Webb again: “The research highlights a number of issues which the sector – and the IOG - are already addressing. For example, some respondents (particularly those from the volunteer sector) raised concerns over the availability, accessibility and cost of training. The IOG has recently published its Prospectus which details all the cost-effective options, including on-site and ‘distance’ learning routes.
“And the budgetary restrictions that are affecting the maintenance – and therefore the quality and carrying capacity [matches played on] of grassroots pitches – are being addressed not only by The Football Association’s initiatives that include Parklife and the Pitch Improvement Programme, but also by work by the national governing bodies and local authorities to transfer the responsibility of more pitches to clubs and volunteers. Indeed, in some instances, councils are offering to give rent relief where clubs take on maintenance responsibilities.
“Of course, the IOG-led Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GaNTIP) is also actively delivering pitch assessments and training for volunteers (and professionals ) at all levels, while the IOG’s National Framework for Natural Turf pitch grading programme will prove an indispensable educational tool for grounds staff from grassroots sites to elite sporting venues.
“The report also highlights how recruitment, especially of young people, is a critical issue and it must be said that while the Young IOG initiative is increasingly spreading the word among schoolchildren about careers in groundscare – especially through its Schools into Stadia programme - it is clear that everyone in the industry must also do more to ensure we have a ‘pipeline’ of competent grounds staff to meet demands at every level.”
Importantly, too, the research shows that almost a quarter of head grounds staff feel stressed or under pressure from inadequate budgets, increasing commercial pressures and an unmanageable workload.
Concluding, Geoff adds: “These are just some of the subjects raised by the survey – not forgetting the issues of diversity and pay discrepancy voiced by some respondents, as well as concerns over climate change and water management – that not only the IOG but the industry as a whole needs to address if we are to continue to produce grounds people and playing surfaces that are the envy of the world.”