New £8m Pitch Improvement Programme to improve over 2,000 football pitches over four years
The four-year Pitch Improvement Programme (PIP) will deliver improvements to more than 2,000 pitches and provide support services to grassroots clubs, volunteers and groundsmen.
The programme, which the FA describes as a "central pillar" of their new National Game Strategy, can be accessed by clubs and other organisations responsible for the maintenance of the pitches, including local authorities.
83% of football pitches in England are publicly owned and, with local authority budgets being increasingly squeezed in recent years, many clubs have seen pitch maintenance decline as councils are forced to prioritise essential services.
This winter has seen the worst disruption to the grassroots football programme in recent memory, with over 90% of clubs suffering postponed fixtures and many not playing a game for two or even three months.
Last autumn, the FA announced plans to create 3G football hubs across 30 English cities by 2020 - the first of which is scheduled to open in Sheffield this summer - but they also acknowledge that facilities need improving across the country, not just in major cities.
The new PIP is designed to help address that issue, with the FA's £8m four-year investment in addition to their £12m annual contribution to the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund, administered by the Football Foundation.
The PIP will provide a range of support services to grassroots clubs, 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, with discounted product and materials available from two industry partners officially appointed to the scheme.
Kelly Simmons, the FA's 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 rollout of the PIP follows extensive piloting which has already seen one million pounds 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.”
Clubs or league wanting to access the PIP are encouraged to contact their local county FA, whilst a new website - groundsmanship.co.uk - provides further details of how clubs can access help.