6 February 2023

Forward-thinking school invests in future with new machinery fleet

A prestigious college with a history of producing elite sporting athletes has marked its 100th anniversary with a significant investment in its groundscare.

Lord Wandsworth College in Hampshire has completely renewed its machinery in order to maintain a huge area of sports pitches, running tracks and amenity grounds.

A GPS precision sprayer has been added to the fleet, and combustion engines have given way to electric wherever possible in line with the college’s sustainability ambitions.  

Founded in 1912, Lord Wandsworth left a generous bequest in his will to educate the children of agricultural workers and children who had lost one or both parents.

“The outdoors is still at the heart of the school, although the emphasis on farming has been replaced by sport, with notable former pupils including rugby stars such as world cup winner Jonny Wilkinson and British & Irish Lion Ugo Monye,” Alistair Cotton, Grounds and Gardens Manager, says.

Other notable alumni include Squadron leader George Johnson – the last remaining member of the 1943 Dambusters raid – HelloFresh founder Patrick Drake, and Claudia Gwinnutt, who created the beauty brand Circla. 

Out of the total 1,200 acres on the site, the team is responsible for 150 acres which includes 14 winter pitches ranging from full size rugby and football to touch rugby and seven-aside football pitches.

“There is also a full-size and half-size astroturf pitch and in the summer there are six grass cricket squares, two artificial cricket grounds and a grass 400m running track,” says Alistair.

“It would be enough to keep 13 people busy – at the moment, we only have a team of five.”

With staff recruitment an issue, a common problem at present in the industry, ensuring that the kit is up to speed and efficient is particularly important.

The grounds team upgraded its fleet of John Deere kit this year, to better service the sports fields, some of which have increased in size, and to contribute to the college’s overall aim to reduce carbon emissions.

“The school was passionate about cutting carbon emissions even before the current issues with power prices,” he says. “Opting for electric TE Gators was just one element of that – they’re also about to install solar panels on all the roofs to try and offset the utility bills.”

So far, the team have been pleased with the performance.

“They last a day and we’ve had no issues with battery life,” he says. “Compared to the combustion Gators we had before, they are not as fast, but if you’d never had one of the older models, you’d wouldn’t know – they do the job just as well.”

A significant investment in solar panels across the college’s buildings will see the Gators charged by on-site renewable energy in the near future, but the team continues to run a diesel TH 6×4 Gator.

This new collection of kit marks the school’s third deal with John Deere through their local dealer, Hunt Forest, in Blashford.

“Each deal has grown year on year to the point we’re at now,” Alistair says. “We’ve been with John Deere for 15 years – they’re always very competitive on price and the reliability of the machines is as good as any.”

The team’s schedule is dictated by the school timetable. “We know when all the fixtures are and we know we have to be off the pitches by around 3pm because that’s when they’ll all be out playing,” Alistair says. “In the school holidays, when the pupils aren’t here, we do things like irrigation – we do it ourselves, no contractors are involved.

“We try to do as much ourselves as possible and keep contractors to a minimum – we’re lucky that the school has the financial resource to provide the extent of the machinery we require. There aren’t many schools that would.”

Lord Wandsworth College is one of the only independent schools in the country to operate a John Deere Progator GPS sprayer. It’s an investment which Alistair says is hard to justify on the chemical saving alone, but one that takes into account the overall improvement in performance and the ability to evolve other practices using the technology.

“Not only does it improve the spraying, but it also makes everything else better too – the process is better because of it,” he explains.

“We’ve put the infrastructure in for GPS on the three series tractor as well so we can use it for fertilising and other things.”

The 7700A fairway mowers are used to cut the cricket outfield in the summer and the winter pitches throughout the winter. The 9009A cuts in-between the pitches and the athletics area in the summer.

The deal also included two 4066R tractors, an 8900A triple mower and the Gators have trailers on the back to transport mowers and markers around.

The team has also taken delivery of a 3046R compact tractor alongside the five electric TE Gators.

“The team has been really pleased with the new kit – with John Deere, it doesn’t matter what machine you’re in, it’s all the same excellent quality and ease of operation.” Alistair says.