Kingston University invests in Baroness

University honours for Baroness

In a career in grounds management spanning some 46 years, Mike Hitt has learned some useful lessons. Beyond all else, he knows the value of managing the resources available to you and of sharing the skills you learn along the way with the next generation.

Grounds Manager at Kingston University’s Tolworth Court sports facility in Surrey for the past 15 years, Mike has learned through experience how much can be achieved by a small team of three (with a new apprentice hopefully joining the team later in the year) in looking after 57 acres of multi-sports facilities (including 18 pitches). University, Colleges and Schools Groundsman of the Year in 2012, Mike gained his early lessons in the art of groundsmanship from his father at the age of six, and has since applied the art at several large corporate sports complexes. He thoroughly enjoys sharing his knowledge in turn with those who work with him, not least little skills like his Dad’s ‘wobble board’ technique for identifying and fixing low spots on a bowling green. 

Managing available resources has been key to getting the best from the grass cutting machinery at Tolworth, which progressed from gang mowers to second-hand self-propelled mowers before reaching today’s Baroness pairing sourced new from Lister Wilder’s London Area Sales Manager Tim Vines. 

A key element of Kingston University’s multi-site campuses, Tolworth has excellent outdoor facilities for a variety of sports, including football, rugby, netball, cricket, American football and lacrosse. 

There is also a floodlit hardcourt area that can be used for tennis, netball and five-a-side football matches. At its heart is a new sports pavilion designed to use various green technologies with café / bar and viewing terrace.

It is facilities at that level that make it popular not just with students but as a hire choice for sports clubs over a wide surrounding area – from small and very local to the Kingstonian and Woking football clubs. Hosting them is a responsibility that Mike and his team take seriously, and he makes a point of being on hand to meet and greet as well as to ensure that the facilities are ready.

Having the grass areas ready constitutes a big job at any time of year but especially so during the growing season when cutting is needed three times a week. While training  takes place right through the week (including evenings under floodlights), matches on the prime pitches are focused on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. 

Says Mike: “When I first came here, we cut the whole lot with a single set of gang mowers but I wanted a more professional cut so we brought in a quality second-hand self-driven set of mowers and then a further used machine after that. They meant that we could do the whole lot to a much higher quality.

“When they ultimately became unreliable through age, I got agreement to buy a new machine and looked at several, including a Baroness LM285 from Lister Wilder. I wanted to pick the one that was right for us as a team because we are the ones who have to work with it, and I was given the freedom to do that. The Baroness was the pick of them, not just for the quality of the cut but because it was by far the easiest to do the basic maintenance and adjustments.”

While still retaining the older mowers for support, the LM285 with its 2.8 metre cutting width took the lead role on the finer pitches. When the opportunity came to buy a further new mower, Mike had no trouble in choosing Baroness again, this time an LM3210 with a wider 3.2 metre cutting width. “It delivers the same quality as the LM285 and the same simplicity that I think is so important,” he says.

Accessibility is a big factor in the design of all Baroness machines. In the case of the LM3210, it is down to rear gull wing opening to ensure easy access and room for maintenance. All the cutting cylinders can be positioned outwards to be worked on. The cutting width and the high power output means that it can work quickly on the university’s wide open spaces.

“I get real pride when I stand back and look at how well our pitches come up,” says Mike. “There is a real sense of achievement from doing what we do with a small team.”