Recently, in my role of Volunteer Pitch Advisor (VPA) for the RFU, I attended one of several well-attended Honda Rugby Grounds Connected road shows that have been taking place.
This one was held at the impressive Stafford Rugby Football Club in Stafford. The aim of the day was to offer guidance and education on the latest practices and machinery available for the maintenance of natural grass sports pitches.
Honda Grounds Connected demo day, Stafford RFC
The day was a full programme of speakers and demonstrations with activities beginning via a presentation by Jim Buttar, head grounds manager at Twickenham who gave us a fascinating insight into his career to date and the work that goes on to maintain the hallowed turf at HQ.
He was keen to elaborate on the importance of monitoring the condition of the pitch and that the health of the grass plant was essential for the performance of the surface. He went into detail about some of the tools and technologies he uses to achieve his objectives of having a playable, well-presented pitch for match days.
Jim Buttar, HG Twickenham
Next up was Todd Harrison, one of the Midlands RFU Pitch advisors, who gave an important talk on the use of the new Pitch Power app that will be an essential tool for all the rugby clubs who may want to secure available sports funding to improve their pitches.
This new app enables the clubs themselves to submit the relevant information and condition of their clubs’ pitches so that the RFU have the data to help the clubs move forward with the right strategy = - helping improve the quality and performance of their pitches.
Pitch Power app
We heard that by 2025, the Football Foundation are planning to commit 40% of their investment, worth a projected £92 million over the next three years, into multi-sport projects that support both football and an additional sport, such as rugby, cricket, netball, and basketball.
Todd went through the process of how to fill in all the sections of the app. Once completed, the RFU will have a complete evaluation of the current condition of their affiliated clubs’ facilities.
The information provided by the club initiates the process that helps the RFU evaluate what initial help clubs may need, and then with the help of the regional pitch advisors, put forward the relevant plan and strategies to help improve facilities.
This might be in the form of securing funding to buy new machinery, loans for pitch improvements or drainage or perhaps some help towards essential renovation works.
The next guest speaker was Anna Nilsson, deputy head greenkeeper at The Belfy, who gave an insight to her career and the challenges of women entering and working in this industry. An enlightening talk that covered what she faced and how supportive The Belfry have been in helping her secure a valued position in a challenging working environment.
Another keynote speaker during the day was Kelly- Marie Clack, agronomy technical manger from Origin, who gave an inspiring talk on the biology of soil and plant relationships.
In between talks delegates could experience outdoor working demonstrations of a plethora of essential machinery and equipment to help maintain natural turf playing surfaces.
Ben Taylor talking seeders
On demo we had Campey Turf Care with Ben Taylor giving a talk on their compact tractors, Shockwave Aerator and Vredo Seeders. We also had demonstrations of a Weidenmann Terra Spike, followed by further demonstrations of a Trimax rotary finishing mower and a range of SISIS equipment including the Quadraplay and other outfield spikers.
Demo of SISIS machinery
Also attending was the RFU main sponsor, Honda, who had a range of pedestrian mowers and a ride-on machine on show. And I mustn't forget Gary from Mansfield Sand who was hand to talk about topdressings and sand products for top dressing pitches.
Gary from Mansfield Sands
All in all, an informative day was had by all. We enjoyed a great turn out with around 40 plus attendees and it was pleasing to catch up with so many turf professionals and club volunteers who go out of their way to ensure our rugby playing surfaces are fit for purpose - hopefully encouraging the next generation of sporting superstars!
I believe it is impossible to put a value on what these community sports clubs bring to the table. We now have a robust pitch evaluation system at our disposal and the back-up of the relevant sporting bodies, coupled with the new pitch advisory service provided via the new structure of the GMA.
All this should ensure clubs have the necessary opportunities to improve and maintain their pitches which, without doubt, are their most valued assets required to ensure the future prosperity of their beloved clubs.