Meet the members, Ben Swidenbank

Ben’s passion for sports turf has seen him take his career into some of the most renowned UK sporting venues, including Wimbledon, Wembley Stadium, Arsenal Football Club, and the Oval Cricket Ground. He currently teaches as an Adult Skills Tutor in Pesticide application and Horticultural machinery at Myerscough College, Liverpool Campus. 

wembley, stadium, ben,
Ben divoting the pitch at Wembley Stadium

How did you first hear about International Greenkeepers For Hire?

I was trying to recruit groundspeople for the summer of 2020 when I was working at The Oval. I was trying to connect with as many industry contacts as I could and came across IGFH online. Daryl and Brad were like-minded people to myself. We want to help people in the industry and show people what a great industry it is. What it has grown into since then is an amazing achievement by them both. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in turf?

I loved sport growing up. I was never going to make it as a professional, but I still wanted to do something in sport. I was also interested in farming as a child. So becoming a groundsman seemed a good fit, with it being involved with sport, while working outdoors and with machinery.

How did you end up working in education?

I had worked as a groundsman within different sports and had some amazing experiences. So I decided I would like to encourage others to join our industry and enjoy similar experiences to what I have.

Is there a big difference between working in education and ‘on the tools’?

My level of fitness is certainly a lot worse off! As a groundsman in non-managerial positions, your day starts and ends at work. For any teacher, there are always different things on your mind—have I got everything I need for the day? What emails do I need to reply to? What support will my learners need? What courses do I have coming up? When can I do prep? The list goes on.

Ben marking out Center Court at Wimbledon

You’ve worked at some major venues. How did you find working at places like Arsenal, Wimbledon, Wembley, and The Kia Oval?

I’ve lived a privileged life! The places I’ve worked have always had the resources to maintain surfaces to a very high level. Having the resources is half the battle. At such workplaces, you’re fortunate to see the latest developments, in the field, in action. You also get to meet so many different people within the industry and gain contacts that can help you with your next steps. Obviously, these venues are seen by worldwide audiences, so the pressure is there, but the satisfaction comes with that too. And a little bonus is you get to see, and sometimes interact with, some of the best sportspeople in the world.

Ben on office duties
Ben mowing at Kia Oval

Are there any unique situations that you’ve encountered while working at Myerscough, and did they pose any challenges to your job?

As a teacher, every day is different, especially with short courses—you never know what that day’s group is going to be like. And like in a groundskeeping role, the weather can have an adverse effect on how a day and course is going to go.

If you could switch roles with any other member of a grounds/greenkeeping team for a day, whose job would you want to try and why?

Morecambe (FC) Head Groundsman. I might need longer than a day though! It’s a job that has come up recently and everyone is saying, “You should go for it!” It would be good to trial it to see what the pressures are, the challenges of working with a restricted budget (and team), and with a surface that’s a good construction but not top-level. 

Ben line marking at Wimbledon - London 2012 Olympics

How do you see the future of greenkeeping evolving, especially in the context of international collaboration and exchange?

Greenkeeping is always evolving due to people always striving for better ways of doing things. Unfortunately, respect for the industry and pay doesn’t evolve as quickly. The opportunities are there for working abroad and have been for a long time. People just need to put themselves out there and be fully committed to the idea of working somewhere else. I come across people who think, “Yeah, that sounds fun,” but then aren’t 100% committed when there are challenges with moving, poor pay, etc. Just take the plunge; sacrifices may have to be made but you will be better for the experience. 

Who has had the biggest impact on you in your current job role and why?

In my job now it would be those around me. In teaching, you have to always be adapting and learning how to get the best out of students. I have the knowledge for the courses but it’s how you can get that knowledge into people’s brains and get it to stick there.

What inspiring words would you say to young greenkeepers?

You’ve got to be prepared to work hard. When discussing seasonal staff with fellow groundspeople, we opt for work ethic over qualifications every time. People with the right mindset, willing to learn, willing to work hard and get stuck in are the ones who are most respected at the end of a season. The hours may be long and unsociable and the pay may not be great but the experiences are brilliant. Why wouldn’t someone want to do a season at Wimbledon, St Andrews, Lords, The Oval? The opportunities are there every year, you’ve just got to commit 100% to the experience.

What keeps you in the industry?

It’s my industry, it’s what I do, it’s what I love. It has given me some of the greatest experiences of my life. I want to keep on doing it and get others to live it too.

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