The FA has launched an £8 million commitment to improve natural turf (grass) football pitches across the country.
Over four years, The FA will implement the Pitch Improvement Programme (PIP) which will deliver improvements to more than 2,000 pitches – a central pillar of the organisation’s 2015-19 Strategy for Participation and Development.
PIP will provide a range of support services to grassroots clubs, club volunteers and groundsmen including on-site evaluations with practical advice and recommendations. It will also include a range of measures to help develop the skills and knowledge of the volunteers and groundsmen including seminars and workshops. In partnership with Sport England and other governing bodies, The FA has also developed a dedicated website – www.groundsmanship.co.uk, where details of how clubs can access help can be found.
To support the programme The FA has appointed two industry partners, Redexim Charterhouse and Rigby Taylor who will assist in the roll out by supplying FA affiliated grassroots clubs with discounted product and materials and also support the training workshops.
One of the great challenges that many clubs in grassroots football face is that currently in England, 83% of pitches are publicly owned and, as austerity measures kick in, local authority budgets are increasingly being squeezed. Funds for pitch maintenance are often at risk as councils are forced to prioritise essential services.
In addition to the commitment to improve grass pitches, The FA has also pledged to spend £36 million on facility improvements and new developments directly through the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund managed by the Football Foundation.
Further large scale funding has also been dedicated to building a series of football hubs across 25 key cities – a pilot scheme is currently being constructed in Sheffield ahead of the next grassroots football season – with discussions in progress with the Government and Premier League for similar contributions for the wider roll-out.
Kelly Simmons, FA Director for Participation and Development said: “Last winter we asked people from across grassroots football what they felt would make playing football better. Nearly 30,000 people gave us their view, yet among the vast majority the answer was remarkably similar – supporting clubs to improve their pitches.”
“We have committed to investing a total of £260 million in addressing the problem of poor quality facilities and improving grassroots coaching by 2019. In addition to the Pitch Improvement Programme, we are now a heartbeat away from the start of our ground breaking football hubs project with the pilot initiative set to go live in Sheffield this summer.”
The official roll out of the PIP follows extensive piloting which has already seen £1 million invested and over 800 visits to grassroots football pitches by trained experts.
Mark Pover, The FA’s National Facilities Manager said: “PIP has already proven to be a tremendous resource for many grassroots clubs and in addition, through the introduction of new technologies, The FA is able to develop local investment strategies and continue talking directly with clubs about the state of the facilities they use, providing dedicated programmes to help with improvements.
“The development of playing pitch strategies also gives us an early warning of pitch conditions and pitches under threat of development, strengthening our hand when it comes to challenging pitch closures and maintenance programmes.”