The Groundsman

May 2012

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Page 36 of 47

the Groundsman May 2012 FEATURE 37 highlighting its quality of sports provision, which was in the upper quartile of the national statistics, and has since further improved to be ranked in the top ten. The college has taken giant steps since Gordon joined and offers part-time, full-time and adult education courses, on top of producing some notable professionals from its revered football academy. George Boyd, centre forward for Peterborough United FC, is one of a current crop of talent that has made the leap from the college's football academy to the professional game. It was George who returned in the summer to officially open the college's new facility, which has attracted plenty of positive feedback from students and the community alike. "The time had come for us to expand our sports facilities," explains Gordon. We'd been operating with minimal provision for long enough, yet we were still achieving great things, including a National Skills Academy in Sport and Active Leisure in 2011. We knew that with more space we could progress even further, and the installation of an artificial surface meant we could make better use of the colder, wetter months, when training on our natural pitches becomes difficult." Work on the new synthetic pitch was completed last May, under a £520,000 investment financed by the college which, after going out to tender, contracted turf carpet manufacturer and specialist contractor Support in Sport (SIS) to design and construct the full- size 3G facility using its MS PRO 60 surface, laid on to a dynamic stone sub- base. The build also included earthworks, drainage, floodlight system and additional pathway construction. The community aspect of the build was a strong driver, Gordon stresses, as it recognised the benefit that a playing area of this quality would offer both the college and local people. Prior to this build, the college had only a smaller seven-a-side sand-dressed pitch to offer for community use, and the revenue generated offered limited long-term prospects for the college. But since completion of the 3G facility, the college has worked closely with agencies across the county to push the community focus and kick-start income. "We're working with the likes of the Hertfordshire FA to strengthen links between youth football clubs and the college," says Gordon. "We've also seen huge take-up of use throughout the week, from police and golf club teams to youth groups." Setting a correct pricing structure was also important, he adds. "It has to be student and commercially driven but at a cost acceptable to the community, and the success of our model is already being reflected in the levels of popularity we're witnessing." The college currently does not hire out the 3G pitch after 8pm due, he says, to the sensitive nature of the location, within a residential setting, which has brought its fair share of challenges, he admits - most of all the fear of noise and light pollution by some who live locally. Such concerns though have been largely laid to rest, Gordon believes, thanks to the experience of SIS in constructing playing facilities in urban locations. "The company was able to tailor the project to fit our specific needs. The new floodlights, for example, are remarkable. The low level of light spillage is excellent and SIS ensured that light coverage was confined to just the pitch. Effectively it's like a sheet of light, with none wasted. This is what you expect from a build of this quality and it certainly adds to the appeal of the pitch and helps reduce some of the worries of local residents." Noise was another critical factor to address. To help reduce the sound of play and balls hitting the exterior fencing, SIS installed a bespoke acoustic fence on top of a surrounding bund, which acts as a sound excluder, minimising decibel levels off the pitch. Concerned to continue to provide standards to students and the community that were available "on day one" of the new pitch, Gordon specified a tractor and drag net from SIS to enable his sports technician to conduct a weekly maintenance programme that keeps the surface in prime condition. "I also invested in a snow plough attachment so that teams can still play during wintry weather," he adds. "If we fail to maintain the surface, it could become tired and the attention of both college students and the local community could waiver." Which, indeed, is why he is now scoping out a job description for a new groundsman to tend the college's natural and synthetics surfaces. "I hope to have the post filled by this September, in time for the new academic year," he says. The college has high hopes for the new facility, not least as a sustainable revenue stream at a time when education budgets are stretched, but also as a platform for further investment in sport and, in the mould of Gordon himself, to help instil the entrepreneurial spirit in a new crop of students. "In the short term, students have the opportunity to enjoy the pitch and take a lot from being able to train and play on it," he explains. "Long term though, we hope that some can take their qualifications, in coaching for example, and develop careers and businesses of their own, and possibly use our pitch as a base for them." Gordon feels confident that the college will recognise the broader benefits of the 3G pitch and will opt to invest further to enhance the college's already rich sporting pedigree. Updating the 1970s sports hall is planned to be next on his hit list and he is already deep in negotiations with Sport England over funding its future. Gordon Barr : "The time had come for us to expand"

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