Reconstruction of community sports pitches in Lewisham

Lewisham Council achieves results

(The Groundsman, November 2006)

In the heart of Lewisham in south London where sports facilities are very limited, the Council sports grounds at Elm Lane suffer dramatically from over use.  The grass surface was undulating and uneven with a gradient varying from 1:34 to 1:48.  With overlying heavy clay loam topsoil two of the three football pitches were unplayable through most of the winter due to waterlogged conditions.   After an initial feasibility study was completed in 2002 to secure funding from Sport England, the decision was made to regrade the surface after cut to fill earthworks and install primary and secondary drainage measures.  The aim was to create a more durable sports facility in an endeavour to cope with the heavy demand from the local school and the nearby community.

In June 2003 after inviting tenders, M J Abbott Ltd were awarded the contract.

  • There was a 1.5m cut to create a diagonal slope of 1:70 to accommodate two football pitches in an east-west orientation and one rugby pitch north to south.
  • Two disused hard surfaced tennis courts were removed.
  • An attenuation storage trench incorporating the tennis court material together with 150mm stone was installed over a length of 70m with a capacity of 560m² to cope with peak storm flow and subsequent discharge to a shallow aquifer 3m below the surface.
  • After the installation of lateral drains, excavated slit drains were injected in 50mm bands with a vibrating tine prototype developed by Abbotts.  This installation was carried out prior to seeding.
  • After final preparation the pitch was seeded in mid September 2003.
  • In the following May 20mm wide sand bands at 260mm spacing were cut into the grassed surface to restore contact through the contaminated surface with the sand slit drains.
  • The pitches were subsequently dressed with a medium sand at the rate of130 tons per hectare.

With the grass cover established in early October, the pitches were mowed four times before the first frosts in November.  The use of the pitches in the summer of 2004 was excessive and by March 2005 the two football pitches were almost bare down the middle areas.  At this stage, under the guidance of Graham Allen, Playing Fields Manager with the Lewisham Education Department, the previous system of maintenance was revised.  Departing from the cheapest route with the lowest tender, the contract was awarded to a capable local contracting company Ground Master Services under the personal management of Geoff Kemble.  The company is small but are experienced and well equipped to ensure the timely undertaking of all the treatments needed including weed control and sand dressing.  Council management, after persistence from Graham Allen, had been persuaded to accept that in order to get the best use of the pitches, the level of maintenance had to be appropriate and no cost-effective return would be possible with the cheaper ill-equipped and under-staffed contractors of the past.

Now approaching the third winter of use, the success of the pitches must be attributed to Graham Allen and Geoff Kemble’s efforts and the tighter control of the council budget.  In brief the actual annual maintenance cost for the 1.8h sports ground containing two football pitches, one rugby pitch, a fenced training area and surrounds are compiled as follows:

  • The mowing regime planned to avoid the accumulation of cuttings means that 25 to 30 mowing treatments are carried out on all grassed areas.
  • Two fertiliser treatments are carried out – one in the summer and one in the autumn.
  • Weed spraying is undertaken once in the year.
  • Sand dressing is applied at the rate of 110 tons per hectare once a year.
  • During the autumn and winter the pitches are slitted and spiked six times.
  • A provisional treatment for earthworm control is allowed for once a year.
  • Scarifying and overseeding is undertaken at the rate of 24grams per square meter at the end of the football season.
  • Repair of the denuded areas within the goalposts is undertaken once a year and includes sand application during wet months..
  • Decompaction with the vertidrain or the earthquake is planned once every three years.
  • General housekeeping includes collecting litter, tree maintenance and line marking twice a week.  This includes marking out an athletic track and training area in addition to the three pitches.
  • Raking and collecting leaves in the autumn.
  • At least two sprays with glyphosate around fence lines and adjoining hard surfaces.
  • Moss control on hard surfaces.
  • A treatment of chain harrowing, drag-matting or rolling is undertaken about six times in the year or when needed.
  • Cutting back hedge, shrub and tree growth is undertaken once a year within the boundary fence.

With the total annual maintenance cost of around £22000 this incorporates a cost of about £7000 per pitch.  All the maintenance outside the area of the pitches is included together with £2000 allowed for the annual sand dressing.  This total cost must be seen in the light that the pitches and adjoining areas provide a firm playing surface throughout the year although they are pretty denuded at the end of April. The grounds are used daily for 3 to 5 hours by the local Forest Hill Secondary School for physical education and for 2 to 3 interschool football matches and one rugby match in the week.  The pitches are also used on Sunday by local football clubs with each football pitch supporting 4 matches and the rugby pitch one.  The pitches are not used by adults and the age of children is between 11 and 18.  The total number of hours of usage is estimated at 10 to 14 per week during the school terms.  It is generally expected that on an area of 1.8 ha installed with slit drains, the three pitches used for juniors under the age of 15 should be able to tolerate a total of about 9 hours per week without too severe damage to the grass turf.

In summarising, it has become clearly evident that success in maintaining sports pitches depends entirely on the presence of an interested person controlling the management according a predetermined budget.  In addition, the value of developing a personal relationship with a well equipped contractor has proved vital.  In the words of Graham Allen ‘‘While class teachers are provided with well-equipped and maintained classrooms, the PE teacher should likewise have at his disposal an outdoor facility that is well cared for and is a credit to the school – particularly as other schools are constantly visiting for matches.’’

Gordon Jaaback