Making tracks

PUBLISHED: 12:43 22 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:50 04 May 2010

SITTING PRETTY: Our man Jones tries a ride-on lawn mower for size, watched by Mike Flack.

SITTING PRETTY: Our man Jones tries a ride-on lawn mower for size, watched by Mike Flack.

As he prepares to head off for new challenges in London, our popular Journeyman Jones sees a dream come true ... on a ride-on lawnmower I AM truly fulfilled. The source of this satisfaction is not a sports car, the female equivalent of an Aston Martin, or

As he prepares to head off for new challenges in London, our popular Journeyman Jones sees a dream come true ... on a ride-on lawnmower

I AM truly fulfilled. The source of this satisfaction is not a sports car, the female equivalent of an Aston Martin, or a country estate in Sussex.

I've had a go on a ride-on lawnmower.

I haven't felt this good since I touched one of Andrew Flintoff's old bats some months ago. I feel better than good. I'm wrapped in a cocoon of ecstasy so dense that nothing can penetrate it.

Once again, this column has helped me tick off another thing on my "to do" list. And it's all thanks to the chaps at Groomfields.

Groomfields is a grounds-maintenance service which is a grounds trading unit for Cambridgeshire County Council. This means that, although it has links to the county council, it has to compete for all its work with the private sector.

Odd, you may think, but there is history behind this reasoning. In 1988, the government of the time felt that services in certain areas - grounds-maintenance and waste were two - could be better delivered if they were opened up to companies in the private sector, a process known as Compulsory Competitive Tendering.

Since then, Groomfields has had to battle other companies - not literally, you understand - for its business.

The good news is that it's doing rather well. Groomfields currently looks after more than 300 locations across the county. The work is ostensibly schools, but Groomfields also takes care of parish councils, civic buildings, libraries and recreation grounds, among other things.

Occasionally, Groomfields loses a contract - that's the nature of the business they're in. But, more often than not, the organisation concerned comes back. Burrough Green School recently returned to the fold after a two-year absence. Another school in Sawston has just re-joined.

What is it about them which makes them so popular? "We don't aim to make a profit," says Robin Carter, Groomfields' head of service, "we aim to break even." Yet, the reasons for choosing them are not purely fiscal. Their health and safety record is exemplary and they are very customer-focused.

Robin cites an example. "Last week, we got a call from somebody in Swavesey who needed a pitch marked out by 2pm. It was noon when we got the call and we were 25 miles away in Brington.

"We got there and got the job done in an hour-and-a-half. A private contractor couldn't do that - they'd say 'Oh, that's going to cost you x-amount of money'."

Like every business, Groomfields has had to change with the times. They used to have a staff of 117 - now the workforce on the ground is only 22. Testament to their hard work, you might say.

"Twenty-two dedicated heroes now do the work of 117," points out Robin. "We are an open organisation who are committed horticulturists wanting to provide the best service to customers that we really value."

You might think this is a spiel but everyone at Groomfields is this passionate about what they do. This becomes apparent when I visit Weatheralls School, in Soham, with two members of the team, Mike Flack and Roger Ashman.

Let the ride-on lawnmower fun commence. After a quick crash-course (never was a cliché so literal) I'm off. Down the school's running-track like some motorised whippet, I career along with all the attention to detail of the carefree person: namely, none.

Mike and Roger enjoy themselves. They work 7am-4.30pm four days a week plus Friday mornings in summer, and do four eight-hour days in winter.

Bear in mind, the weather might have been fantastic recently, but these guys are out in all climates, so if you see them on a chill November morning, give them a wave.

I cut the grass around and on the running track, and even have an abortive go at marking out the white lines.

But I give this up after about 30 seconds because one lane is two-thirds the size of the rest. Apologies in advance to any of you who spot this during the school's summer fete on Saturday.

Who wouldn't want a job with unfettered access to a ride-on lawnmower, anyway? I might swap my car for one.

After all, after the stick it took last week for being H-reg, tractor maker John Deere can't do any worse . . .

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