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Aspatria RUFC Chairman named Volunteer Groundsman of the Year

23 December 2013

  • John Heyworth dedicates his award to club volunteers and committee
  • Training and playing pitches transformed thanks to RFU investment
John Heyworth receives the IOG Vitax Supaturf Volunteer Sports Groundsman of the Year award

Photo: RFU Archive

Cumbria is celebrating the success of Aspatria Chairman John Heyworth after he was named IOG Vitax Supaturf Volunteer Sports Groundsman of the Year at the Institute of Groundsmanship Awards. Aspatria RUFC also finished runner-up in the Grassroots Sports Ground of the Year 2013 category.

The awards, held at the Ricoh Arena, were established five years ago to recognise the best in the industry and to provide a platform on which to promote the valuable work performed by groundsmen and women around the country. 

John Heyworth took over as Chairman of Aspatria in 2001. Up until this point the maintenance of facilities had been semi-contracted out and pitches were often so wet they became unusable in winter. John decided to take over pitch maintenance duties himself and joined the IOG, enrolling in courses to acquire the necessary technical knowledge to complement his scientific background.

Courtesy of an £83,000 loan from the RFF (Rugby Football Foundation), the club was able to invest in a tractor, maintenance equipment and drainage systems. A subsequent £40,000 grant from the RFU enabled further investment in sports drainage equipment which transformed the second team's training pitches, while the first team pitch also benefited from drainage work funded by smaller grants. 

By applying lessons learnt through the IOG and following advice from RFU Head Groundsman Keith Kent, Heyworth has seen a steady improvement in Aspatria’s pitches and the first team surface is now recognised as one of the best in Cumbria.

Heyworth said: “I am honoured to have won this IOG award which was achieved thanks to our team of volunteers at the club and the support and encouragement of the club committee.

“I would like to thank everyone involved, including the RFU and RFF for their series of grants and loans, totalling in excess of £150k, which enabled us to invest in Aspatria’s pitches and maintenance equipment.

“The RFU sourced soil reliever has made a significant contribution and without this investment we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the improvements we have.”

RFU Head Groundsman Keith Kent, the man who identified the need for drainage equipment and a robust soil reliever to combat issues with waterlogged pitches in the community game, was full of admiration for Heyworth:

“This is an outstanding achievement and the prestigious title is richly deserved by John. I hope this award shows our clubs how much can be achieved through grit, determination and a lot of aeration. The RFU and the whole of Cumbria can be very proud of John’s fine accolade.”

In his role as chairman of Cumbria RFU Ltd. CB, Heyworth has also helped rugby clubs in his county by running the hire of the aerator unit at a considerably cheaper rate than commercial operators.

Ted Mitchell, RFU Club Facilities Technical Manager, added: “This award is recognition of the incredible work John has done not only at his own club Aspatria but in support of other local clubs through his involvement in the RFU Pitch Improvement Partnership.”