Grounds Management Association Secures £3.9M Investment To Help Boost Grassroots Sport
The Grounds Management Association (GMA) has announced a £3.9M investment from the Premier League, The FA, and Government’s Football Foundation with Sport England to deliver the association’s third phase of the pitch improvement programme for grassroots sports.
Formerly known as the Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GaNTIP), the newly named Pitch Advisory Service (PAS) is part of the GMA’s ongoing commitment to help improve natural turf provision across football, cricket, rugby union and rugby league at grassroots level in joint collaboration with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Rugby Football League (RFL).
After a year of disruption to sport, the GMA’s Pitch Advisory Service will continue to focus on raising the standards of pitches to increase playability, maximise player experience and decrease the number of cancellations due to declining pitch quality.
The programme provides an enhanced network of GMA turf care specialists available to people and organisations maintaining natural turf pitches within local communities, with the funding boost growing the number of GMA advisers available to them by almost 30 per cent.
The Pitch Advisory Service also offers access to dedicated, sport-specific key account managers at the GMA – a team of grounds management specialists bringing years of grassroots and professional knowledge to the programme. Key account managers work collaboratively with each National Governing Body of Sport (NGB), as well as Sport England, to deliver national objectives to sustain high levels of sport and physical activity, now and in future years. During 2019-20, the regional pitch advisors visited more than 4,500 pitches, with the programme improving grounds maintenance practices at 91% of the sites visited.
With lockdown placing sport and physical activity on hold, maintaining playing surfaces remained a vital task for volunteers across the country. New digital applications like the Football Foundation’s PitchPower helped clubs facilitate pitch inspections during restrictive periods, which were each reviewed digitally by the GMA’s regional pitch advisors removing the need for a face-to-face site visits. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, PitchPower allowed the PAS to carry out three times as many pitch assessments as before it was launched and it will remain an important tool now restrictions ease.
During this time, the GMA also supported the ECB in getting recreational cricket played by providing COVID-specific grounds management advice and working with the ECB Facilities Team to engage with local authorities to maximise the number of facilities available in a challenging 2020 season. New online webinars and training courses helped volunteers expand their learning and network with regional pitch advisers.
In addition, the Football Foundation Groundskeeping Community app, managed with support from the GMA, saw a 43% rise in users during lockdown and now has 2,670 engaged members, with numbers continuing to grow.
Innovative and collaborative practices, like online services and applications, will be at the centre of the Pitch Advisory Service, with the GMA providing high-quality recommendations and advice to best support clubs of all shapes and sizes, as well as local authorities, both online and offline.
Through its partnerships, the GMA also aims to increase the number of volunteers, improve skills and knowledge through its training, and provide leading guidance and information for those involved in, or connected to, grounds maintenance at clubs. The programme will also look at ways to encourage women, as well individuals from diverse backgrounds and walks of life to get involved, with the aim to build a strong future workforce.
Next year, the GMA aims to launch an industry-leading Pitch Grading Framework that will provide a benchmark for pitch standards, alongside a simple, affordable education pathway for all grounds staff and volunteers to gain the right level of understanding for each type of pitch.
Jason Booth, COO at the GMA, said:
“We’re grateful for the investment in our Pitch Advisory Service that supports local communities and players. Since 2014, our partnerships with the NGBs and Sport England have grown stronger with each phase of delivery. Now, six years later, we’re seeing huge progress through enhanced education and training of volunteer and professional grounds managers. We want to see millions more enjoying the benefits of playing surfaces – whether it’s to develop sporting talent or just for fun.”
“Through our research, we will continue to highlight the challenges within the turf care sector, but we’re now focussed on developing the future workforce with the aim to recruit, retain and reward volunteers for their commitment. The GMA is here to support volunteers with credible information, advice and guidance – connecting it with an extensive network of grounds people from all walks of life.”
“We hope that this programme signals a change in fortune, particularly at a time when restrictions ease and a sense of normality begins.”
Robert Sullivan, CEO, Football Foundation, said:
“Over the past six years, the Pitch Advisory Service has done a wonderful job supporting community football clubs to maintain and improve their grass pitches. During the COVID-19 pandemic the network came into its own; quickly adapting to work with new digital tools, developed by the Foundation, to ensure pitch quality didn’t suffer as a result of the restrictions.
This new funding means that the PAS can continue to do its essential work providing the football community with the information, training and skills needed to raise the standards of football pitches for the millions of community footballers in England.”
Charles Johnston, Executive Director of Property, Sport England said:
“We are delighted to be working with partners to deliver the Pitch Advisory Service. This collaboration will provide an exciting and transformational service to improve grass pitch quality and develop a more diverse and experienced workforce of groundspeople.
“Pitch quality is important for both player experience and development, so it’s exciting to consider the positive change the multi-sport service can make in tackling inequalities through targeted pitch improvements. As set out in Sport England’s new 10-year strategy, ‘Uniting the Movement’, tackling inequalities within sport and physical activity is at the heart of what we intend to do over the next decade, and services such as this are powerful vehicles to achieve this.”
Bruce Cruse, Director of Facilities and Infrastructure at the ECB commented:
“The ECB is delighted to join the GMA, Sport England and our colleagues from across pitch sports in the challenge to provide outstanding support to grounds management and grass roots sport. Providing great experiences for participants is the foundation of life-long love of sport and in cricket so much relies on access to quality pitches and supporting of the people who make that happen.
“As the ECB is committed through it’s ‘Inspiring Generations’ strategy to connect communities and improve lives this new partnership forms a vital step in the delivery of the plan at the grassroots level and will do so much for the long-term sustainability of our sport.”
For more information on the Pitch Advisory Service, please visit: https://thegma.org.uk/pitch-advisory-service