Sports facilities at clubs, schools and parks remain off-limits to users as the UK-wide lockdown continues. There are, however, a number actions that venue operators should take, if at all possible, to ensure that their facilities are kept in good condition and will be ready for the safe return of players when the time comes. The government has confirmed that during the emergency situation, a certain level of work can be carried out on sports facilities by groundstaff and volunteers, as long as they adhere to social distancing measures and other health and safety considerations.
Closing down a site
Sports facilities will already have closed their doors, but in some cases this might have happened in haste and without proper planning. There are a number of actions should be taken when temporarily mothballing sites, such as:
- Emptying any bins on or around the playing surfaces
- Removing any sports equipment or sports furniture from the playing surfaces to prevent possible damage
- Storing equipment in designated areas, where they exist
- Turning off any services not required
- Isolating electrical supplies to floodlights, where possible
- Making sure drainage systems are unblocked
- Making safe irrigation systems (for this, it is wise to consult the installer to find out the correct procedure)
- Locking and securing all elements of the facility
- Putting up signs to discourage unauthorised users
If the lockdown lasts for a fairly short time, say less than three months, then the extent of the essential maintenance required on synthetic sports surfaces should, in most cases, be relatively low. Natural turf pitches are a different beast, however, and will still require regular maintenance – such as grass cutting and treatment programmes. The exact requirements for natural sports turf surfaces will also depend heavily on how the facility has been constructed. The Grounds Management Association (formerly the IOG) has produced some useful guidance on how to maintain natural sports turf during the lockdown, both for grass pitches and a number of other sports (see: www.thegma.org.uk/guidance-interim-works-your-sports-turf).
When synthetic sport surfaces aren’t being played on, some of the common issues – such as the gradual compaction of the infill materials within 3G turf systems – should not be an issue. Instead, the surfaces will only really be affected by climatic conditions and the surrounding environment. As a result, synthetic surfaces could potentially only need a minimum level of maintenance during lockdown. It is very important to note, however, that each facility is individual, with maintenance requirements being dictated by the local environment and the type, age and condition of the different playing surfaces.
The main objective of any maintenance work during the lockdown period should be to identify and fix any minor problems that could, if left unattended, develop into major ones. These include weed, moss or algae growth within and around the playing surface, which can all result in damage to the surface. Similarly, having bird droppings on a porous asphalt surface – commonly used for outdoor tennis courts, netball courts and MUGAs – might seem innocuous, but they should be removed as quickly as possible, as they can soon cause permanent damage to the surface.
Other issues to look out for include grass and weed growth (and ingress) from around the perimeter, as well as vandalism to the facility.
Preparing for reopening
The million-pound question is “when can we reopen?”. At the time of writing there are no obvious signs – in government messaging or otherwise – that the current lockdown measures are going to be eased anytime soon.
As well as undertaking the suggested maintenance procedures mentioned above, there are some additional measures that facility owners and operators can take, in preparation for reopening. One of these is to organise additional time for a more thorough maintenance regime ahead of reopening. As the lockdown is likely to have resulted in some of the planned, regular maintenance to have been missed, there might be a need for more extensive and detailed work to be carried out.
Many sports facilities engage specialist maintenance companies to carry out regular visits as part of an annual programme of work. If one or more visits have been missed during lockdown, then it may well be the case that a contractor’s first return visit will need to be extended in order to bring the facility back into optimum condition. Such a maintenance session might take up to twice as long as usual; for example, in the case of a full-size synthetic pitch, this could mean a typical half day maintenance programme taking a full day instead, though maintenance contractors will be able to provide specific advice on what is needed on a case-by-case basis.
It is certainly worth sports facility operators considering the use of a specialist maintenance provider to carry out these checks, as well as the initial maintenance that is needed before facilities reopen, as additional and more heavy-duty actions may be required, beyond the routine maintenance work usually undertaken. Even the relatively straightforward process of cleaning an asphalt playing surface with high pressure water hoses should be carried out by a an experienced contractor, not just to ensure it is done thoroughly and effectively, but to ensure that no damage is caused to the surface.
In any case, operators should certainly think ahead. Having a plan in place to prepare for the time when facilities can reopen will help to speed up the process of getting everything ready, and ensure that sports facilities will perform as they should and be safe for users.
Who can help?
The best starting point is always the specific maintenance guidelines that will have been provided by the contractor (and surface manufacturer) on the completion of any new sports or play facility.
There are also plenty of resources and more general information available on maintenance on the SAPCA website. These include the SAPCA Codes of Practice: there is one specifically on sports surface maintenance, but there are also dedicated sections on maintenance in the Codes of Practice for each type of sports facility, please click here.
The Find a Member section of the website can be used to search for SAPCA member companies that are specialists in each type of sports and play facility, including contractors that specialise in sports surface maintenance, please click here.
Should you have any questions about maintenance, please Contact SAPCA.