Open-access content Thursday 21st March 2013
Nearly 40 years since the original idea was first mooted, the Football Association's National Football Centre, St George's Park in Burton-on-Trent, opened last year. The FM challenge is to support the nation's ultimate aim of winning a World Cup, while accommodating a range of commercial activities
25 March 2013
Roy Hodgson's boys may attract the lion's share of the attention, but all told, there are no fewer than 24 England football teams.
And now, for the first time, there's a single facility at which they can all train, together if need be, for their future success.
St George's Park (SGP) is, first and foremost, an elite coaching centre with a built-in sport science and medical facility. The FA hopes this latter unit will become FIFA 'F-mark' accredited, a certification given to premier sports medical facilities around the world, of which there are currently none in England.
Built on the principle of sporting excellence, its very existence may convince football fans that, at last, the building blocks are in place to help England win a major tournament, after what currently stands as 47 'years of hurt' since its sole World Cup win in July 1966.
For Sean Roberts, the facilities manager at SGP, the site offers some challenges that are still evolving, through this first full year of operation.
Roberts started in post last April, three months ahead of the site opening. His background is
as head of operations for Gloucester Rugby Club, where he worked for 14 years before being headhunted to take on the SGP role. He has found that operations management is at the core of his job at SGP, too. "At Gloucester, I was involved in marketing, sales and finance, as well as FM," says Roberts. "We got involved in everything. At a football club, the connection between operations and facilities is a bit more symbiotic than, say, your typical office environment."
Roberts joined with the title of facilities manager, running every FM strand from catering and security through to maintenance. However, the role is increasingly operational, involving hourly interaction with the site's various tenants. This, says Roberts, has already necessitated an expansion in the size of his FM team.
FM is provided at SGP through a total FM deal with OCS. The contractor provides cleaning, catering, security, incident management, housekeeping and M&E on an initial three-year deal.
Separately, Roberts runs an operational team that delivers the 'events' (any training session or use of the facility is treated as an event). "Any team that comes on to the park is 'having an event'," says Roberts. "We ensure anything that's been promised is delivered to that client."
The decision to go with a total FM deal was as a result of the flexibility the FA realised it would need for the facility, the like of which is unprecedented in England. "From a technical perspective, there's no equivalent to St George's Park anywhere else in the world," says Roberts. "We didn't have an off-the-shelf bible we could look at. How do you run 12 pitches, nine changing rooms and all these other facilities? There was no precedent, but we knew that the one thing we couldn't get wrong was the FM."
Roberts says the priority was to ensure the park was kept clean, well-maintained and fully compliant. "The idea was to have a flexible, open contract that we could work together on and develop," he adds.
"And it's been a massive learning curve. We took some industry-standard figures based on square footage and likely numbers of people, and adapted them as best we could. But hours allocated from one service line have already been moved to another as we work out what activity requires what amount of time."
Of the many FM variables, cleaning is the one that has seen the most change. Originally, there was little allocation at weekends for cleaning and that had to change overnight after day one. Roberts and his team have had to adapt to the amount of usage of the changing rooms and the turnaround required.
"It's a case of how quickly we can turn around the pitches, feeding the figures back to the commercial teams, which can then book those pitches to clients in order to maximise revenue," he says. "Having the flexible TFM contract has meant we can adapt, so we've increased what was in the contract by 20 per cent purely in that one area."
It was important to the FA that the FM deal at SGP made the most of local suppliers wherever possible. Accordingly, the M&E sub-contractor reporting into OCS is GSH, based in Stoke, which, in turn, engages local providers for specialist maintenance jobs.
This use of local sub-contractors fits with the FA's ethos, says Roberts. "We said we wanted to have strong links with the local community and football has always been a community-based sport. This is a huge development for the local area and, although we're tucked away in the countryside, we're still very much a local business."
A 'meet the buyer' event was held at which local companies were invited to tender for elements of the contract managed by OCS, from window cleaning through to catering and herb garden providers. "We said, 'you come to us and tell us what you can provide'."
All of the contractors involved are based within a 35-mile radius of the site. "It's a huge success story, because it's all new business for them," says Roberts.
However, while SGP may be local to Burton, it's still a good six miles, or 15 minutes, from the town by car. The site's remote location and the lack of a major bus route has caused a few problems for the FA's green travel plan for SGP and the FA is currently working on solutions with the local council. Currently, operatives are driven to the site in minibuses supplied by the FA's sponsor, Vauxhall.
Pay to play
Ultimately, the goal is for SGP to become a self-funding venture. The business plan has the site open 365 days a year. "We had to overcome the fact that we've got a commercial team and that it's tasked with generating revenue from the facilities," says Roberts.
Local Football League sides including Burton Albion and Notts County already pay to use SGP for their own training purposes. However, none of the England teams are charged - the FA sees SGP as their 'home'. And when an England team does come to call, it's their requirements that take priority. For Roberts, this creates potential for a conflict of interests between the ultimate aims of the facility to support the England teams, and the need to generate revenue.
"It's a balancing act," says Roberts. "Our commercial team is striving to find new revenue and, naturally, we're obliged to accommodate it."
"What we're delivering here is all about the high-level coaching which is our main focus, while at the same time considering whether we should be running exhibitions, for example. After
all, in geographical terms, we're in the middle of the country."
Alongside the SGP facilities and built at the same time is a modern Hilton Hotel. The Hilton's FM requirements are met by the hotel group's own national FM deal, but Roberts is in constant dialogue. "It's a huge part of our business," says Roberts. "Without the Hilton, we couldn't provide all of the coaching courses because they're residential, and the revenue from them helps fund the facility."
No two games the same
Roberts contrasts dealing with differing tenants and their ever-changing daily requirements with his previous job role.
"At Gloucester, we had a fixture list so we could plan around that. Bar the odd changing of the schedule for TV, it was predictable, and the rugby club was pretty much the only tenant."
Contrast that with SGP, says Roberts, where there are a multitude of different tenants all with their own agendas, all often requiring everything at the same time. "If you take performance, our sports science division invites guests to promote their own businesses. You've also got ordinary hotel guests coming in, you've got the League Managers Association (LMA), the Professional Football Association (PFA) and our own FA coaches up and down the country."
For this latter group, SGP is now their working home and they can visit at any time, any day, seven days a week.
But while it's too early for there to be any kind of 'set day' at SGP, Roberts and his team are starting to see usage trends emerge. Tenants are beginning to appreciate what the FM team can do for them. "FA Learning [The FA's coaching business] is beginning to understand that if they give us more notice when they want to bring 20 people over, we can then ask them where they want to meet, whether their guests want catering, how long they expect to be on site, all the way down to health and safety issues and the names of who is going to be in the facility.
Managing all of this is Roberts' "great team," of six people who report directly to him on the events side, and a venue services manager who runs the OCS contact. All the heads of department, from security through to head of housekeeping, report directly to me. They have adaily team meeting, a weekly operational meeting and a monthly meeting to focus on forthcoming events.
"We took our time recruiting," Roberts. continues "One of the big issues for me was that I needed to be working with people who had experience of working in sport, because sport is so reactive and rarely static. Everything is about on-demand access for events that can last five to six hours a day. Things can change overnight. A 2pm training slot can quickly become a 4pm slot; a change in the weather can affect things, too. And, of course, if you've got a late change of session, you're left with a staffing issue to resolve.
What has surprised Roberts about the job?
"We weren't expecting to see usage numbers as high as they have been so early on. We've been running at 75-80 per cent capacity from day one because we're such an 'open door' facility. The concept of SGP is to provide a home for all the England teams, a home for coaching, learning and development and the overall good of the sport."
As Roberts explains, there was a great deal of discussion about the centre before it opened. Now that it's here, the objective is to get teams to come and use it.
"In some ways that's great, but due to the number and variety of events, the FM team has faced a steep learning curve. Also, because we're multi-site and open to other sports, I've had to become an expert on things like indoor hockey. Having a rugby background has helped me a bit [the Rugby Football Union is a regular user of the site]. But accommodating all these other sports hasn't help the grounds team, of course; pitches have to be worked on in a different way and the times at which they become available for training change."
In its first winter, SGP suddenly became the 'go-to' facility for football clubs unable to train on their own frozen and waterlogged pitches. Fortunately, in Alan Ferguson the FA employs one of the most renowned groundsmen in the country. Ferguson was able to keep half of the site's eleven outdoor pitches available throughout the winter.
"Alan's the best," says Roberts. "He was at Ipswich Town and Glasgow Rangers, and he now advises both UEFA and FIFA. When you look at the site in general, the different types of pitches we have and the differing needs of users, he needs to be able to map all of that out while taking into consideration the weather and other issues such as undersoil heating."
As the pitches with undersoil heating are the only outside pitches available in the winter, this meant a corresponding increase in the cost of running the heating, the budget for which has since been revised upwards significantly.
For England and St George
The primary purpose of St George's Park is, of course, to help England to win major tournaments, including the World Cup.
"Yeah, it would be nice to be part of that success story," muses Roberts. "At the end of
the day, we're all here for that same reason.
"To think that before SGP there was no home for English football, no single home for the disability sides, the elite side, the women's sides; to see them all training alongside each other for the very first time that was pretty special."
You can't help thinking that there are some pretty special challenges ahead for Roberts
and his team.
Procurement - FM and the FA
When procurement director Ian Fenwick joined the FA, his first task was to do the deals associated with running St George's Park. The FA's former chief financial officer Mark Donnelly wanted a procurement professional with facilities management experience to help get the centre fully up and running.
One of Fenwick's responsibilities at SGP was ensuring the site helped to bring opportunities to the local area. "It was all about creating a site that would benefit the local community. I worked at the Environment Agency and I've taken that sustainability angle on things wherever I've been."
It was decided that finding a total FM provider to run the site would be the most efficient approach. In order to ensure local suppliers didn't miss out, a 'meet the buyer'-type event was arranged with East Staffordshire Council to match-make the final four of the big suppliers in the running with smaller local businesses.
"Part of that came from the environmental commitment to local jobs, but there was also a desire to use local suppliers. The company we awarded it to, between 30 and 40 per cent of the contract value was going regionally," says Fenwick.
Having run the new Wembley Stadium for a number of years before SGP opened, much had been learned about the efficient running of large modern facilities. For example, Wembley has a strong environmental and building management system in place that enables operational staff to monitor each of the boxes and to identify any anomalies in the power usage. Learning how to run this venue has helped the business reduce the use of electricity by 28 per cent over four years and Fenwick says a seven-figure sum has been saved every year as a result of boosting sustainability and cutting energy waste. It's had such success, it was used as a sustainable procurement case study by the British Standards Institute.
"That mentality and focus on sustainability was naturally taken to St George's Park and one of the first things I was asked to do when I joined was to re-write and create the procurement policy and part of that was to embed sustainability."
(A full profile of Ian Fenwick appears in the March 2013 edition of FM World's sister publication, Supply Management, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply.)
Site statistics - facilities at St George's
- 11 external pitches, five with floodlighting and undersoil heating
- A third-generation indoor pitch - 120m x 80m building, accommodating a full-size 105m x 68m artificial football pitch equipped with a 200 person viewing gallery
- Running track - 60m sprint track with a specialist power plate that can track the speed, gait and running characteristics of athletes
- Indoor hall - 60m x 40m with sprung floor and capacity for 'Futsal', hockey and football pitches for the partially-sighted (appears on the front cover of this issue)
- Dedicated practice and training area for goalkeepers
- A 30m outdoor training and fitness hill positioned at a 20 degree angle for fitness and conditioning
- Four external pitch-side pavilions are available for briefings, training analysis and debriefings, some with changing and catering facilities
- A strength and conditioning gym (featuring state-of-the-art Technogym equipment)
- Sports medicine centre - a world-class sports and exercise medicine, human performance and research centre. It includes an anti-gravity treadmill and an altitude centre, which simulates a high-altitude environment allowing athletes, explorers and clients to train at different altitudes, temperatures and humidity to enhance athletic performance.