I always find it satisfying to meet up with dedicated, driven people who are prepared to go the extra mile to help other people.
As we all know most grassroots sports clubs only survive on the merits of key club members who are prepared to give something back. Generally, these tend to be past-players who want to stay involved with the club and take up a role in its running - or more importantly, taking on the role of volunteer turf professional.
I meet many of these volunteers on my travels and always find them obliging and dedicated to their clubs. In Shropshire where I live, there are several who have given years of loyalty to their clubs. One particular person is Adrian Shelley, groundsman at Shifnal Cricket Club, who has given the club thirty eight years’ service. Adrian is also the county’s cricket pitch advisor and gets involved in helping advise many other club volunteers.
It was in that role he mentored two key members of St George’s Bowls Club. Mike Humphries and Paul Beer, both again players, to take up the role of grounds volunteers for their club.
L-R: Mike Humphries and Paul Beer, Shropshire Vertidrain & Turf Services Ltd directors
However, as the years progressed Mike was keen to set up a contracting business to offer local clubs another local supplier for end of season and specialist maintenance services. As a ex-engineer, he was acutely aware of the machinery requirements of the job. And with the support of Paul Beer an ex-Aerospace and Defence engineer they began their dream of setting up a grounds contracting business.
Started as a hobby by Mike Humphries, a keen crown green bowler and ex-cricketer he, in 2016, initially invested in a VertiDrain, tractor and a scarifier and began offering his services to local bowling clubs. Over time, his reputation grew and guided by Adrian Shelley they now have a thriving business. Paul and Mike have now a full book of orders and this year alone have renovated 26 cricket squares, numerous bowling clubs greens and have also retained a number of regular maintenance contracts with local parks, football and rugby clubs.
On a recent visit to their depot, I caught up with both Mike and Paul to see their set-up and the plethora of machinery they have heavily invested in to become more efficient and effective.
They now own a whole range of turf renovation equipment that enables them to offer a range of services to local clubs. One such club is Prees Sports club, near Whitchurch, where they have helped the club’s groundsman, Duncan Austin, to improve the quality and performance of their sports facilities, including three football pitches, a cricket square and two bowling greens.
Prees Cricket and Recreation Ground
We called in to see Duncan and I was impressed with his dedication and commitment to the club. Having worked as a peat farmer at Wixall Mosses for thirty odd years, he is no stranger to the art and hard work associated with being a turf professional.
The club have enlisted Mike and Paul to carry out the end of season works for both the bowling greens and football pitches and this year competed the first renovation of their cricket square with the aim to get cricket back up and running at the club.
L-R: Paul Beer, Duncan Austin and Mike Humphries
With over 700 members, the club seems to be thriving and a well-supported by the Prees community. This regular investment in end of season works and the fact they have a full-time paid groundsman bold well for the future of this club.
From humble beginnings, Shropshire Vertidrain & Turf Services Ltd has now grown into a thriving local business under the leadership of Mike and Paul and are now looking to take on additional staff to cope with the ever-increasing work load.
Mike said, “Shropshire Vertidrain was founded on the idea that greens could be greener, grass could be thicker and that we as people should use and treat these green spaces with love and respect.
Routine pitch maintenance
“Countless times have we seen fields and courses neglected or mismanaged discouraging people from enjoying the space. We do what we do, not only because we love the outdoors, but we want others to enjoy them as much as we do”.
Having spent the day with Paul and Mike it was refreshing to hear at first hand their amazing journey setting up and establishing their company and their exciting plans for the future.
It soon became apparent however, that both Mike and Paul are concerned that many grassroots sports clubs are finding it difficult to recruit volunteers to undertake regular maintenance or indeed, have the relevant machinery in the shed to undertake the work required to ensure playing surfaces are fit for purpose.
So, by setting up Shropshire Vertidrain and Turf Services Ltd, they see it has a vital service for community sports clubs. They also say they are worried for the future of many bowls clubs, knowing only too well that in recent years memberships have dwindled so much, that many clubs have fewer than 50 members. Often paying a very low club membership, this in turn reduces the income these clubs can generate. Also many of the clubs’ active grounds volunteers are now getting older and retiring from the role of volunteer groundsman.
These situations are becoming a real problem for a lot of clubs. Quite often to save money, clubs can reduce the level of maintenance they carry out on their greens. This will initiate a decline in the performance of the green, often due to increased thatch levels.
This is one of the reasons why Mike set up Shropshire Vertidrain & Turf Services Ltd to ensure clubs have a reliable end of season maintenance renovation service to help control and manage thatch levels.