March 19th 2021

The importance of facility partnerships for England Athletics

We’ve been working with England Athletics (EA) as its Official Lighting Partner for six months now. So, we’ve asked Ed Hunt, Facilities and Planning Manager at EA, to tell us more about the role partnerships play in the development of athletics in England.

Ed, what’s your role at England Athletics involve?

I support the UK’s stock of athletics facilities by providing guidance and support in terms of things like sustainability, maintenance, good practice. I advise on the design and build of new, innovative athletics and running facilities too.

I also manage TrackMark – UK Athletics’ facility accreditation scheme. Its aim is to make sure all facilities meet certain standards across key areas including safety, rulebook compliance, and accessibility. So, again, it involves giving advice and guidance to facility operators across the UK and pointing them in the direction of approved suppliers like Midstream.

What sorts of challenges are these facilities facing to reach these minimum standards?

Good question… To give some context, the vast majority of synthetic track and field facilities in the UK were built in the 1980s and early 90s. This means there’s a lot of facility stock out there that’s over 30-years old. Looking purely at the synthetic track surface of these aging facilities, they typically need to be resprayed every seven years and fully resurfaced every 25 years. In the UK we estimate that around 50% of track stock has not been resprayed or resurfaced for at least ten years. This is a big challenge, but one that we are starting to address with the TrackMark programme.

It’s not just about the track of course. We look at all the elements that make up the field of play for track and field athletics, and floodlighting is absolutely an essential part of that. Competitively we’re a summer sport, but we’re a participation sport all year round. To support the continued development of our sport we need 365 days a year floodlighting provision that meets minimum safety standards. However, akin to track surfaces, the floodlighting at many venues has reached, or past, its operating lifetime. Depending on what type of floodlighting it is, particularly old systems like Metal Halide floodlighting, it’s almost certainly not delivering the minimum standards needed across the whole track and infield.

Our ambition as a sport isn’t to build lots of new 400m tracks – in most areas of the UK we have good coverage already. Critically, it’s about bringing that 30-year old stock up to the right standards.

What role does EA play with, not only the athletics clubs but, the wider community too?

We’ve got a team of Club Support Managers who work very closely with our member clubs and the local communities. Their job is to support clubs and make sure members and visitors have a great experience when they visit the track. Volunteer clubs are the driving force of athletics and they do far more than just deliver track and field coaching programmes. They also reach out to the local community to offer opportunities for everyone – from school-based activity to Couch to 5k. The work that our member clubs do is incredible and forms the bedrock of our sport.

Lockdown has shown us there’s a real appetite out there amongst a lot of people to get involved with running and athletics. It’s an easy access sport – it’s outdoor, and at its most basic level all you need is a pair of trainers.

I remember presenting at a conference once and I asked the delegates what their personal barriers to participation in running were. Their answers were pretty universal. Safe, well-lit routes. I responded by saying that the vast majority of them lived within 20 minutes of their local running track – a safe, well-lit venue with a consistent, forgiving surface!

We’ve got to get people over the hurdle of thinking track and field facilities are purely domains of the elite. They’re not. They are there for everyone. That’s not just about how we market, brand, and sell them. It’s also about how they look and feel and how we present them. For example, do tracks always need to be multi-lane 400m ovals? Can we look at new, and different ways of attracting more people? As an example, my local club is a safe, well-lit place to run. It’s got a 400m standard track but also an 800m cinder track running around the perimeter. This is a great alternative for a traditional track and a facility that’s heavily used by those starting out on their athletic journey.

Looking at the facility partner programme itself, what was the premise for it, how is it working so far, and what are the benefits it brings?

Since TrackMark was introduced in 2018, we’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of track surface refurbishments, track repairs, and floodlighting repairs and upgrades. But, to take it to the next level, we felt it would be ideal to partner up with companies in each of these three key areas. We wanted and needed to find partners who shared our strategic view in terms of the importance of facilities and creating models of provision that are both inspiring and sustainable. Partners that could help us to educate, increase awareness, and unashamedly speed along our drive to achieve minimum standards across all venues. When you have a group of partners working in the same direction, you can pull ideas together and create ready-made solutions to support athletics facility operators and clubs.

It’s all about that shared vision and the synergy between us, and how as one we can move facilities forwards – old and new. Giving people easy access to that knowledge and information is vital in all walks of the business. These partnerships really help us connect with people. It’s helping venues feel safe in what they’re committing to. There’s a real feeling with them that ‘If England Athletics back this, it’s got to be okay.’. The way that our partners are working together, both to inform of opportunities and collectively provide solutions to problems has been brilliant.

Our overall goal is to create a network of local, accessible, sustainable, and inspiring facilities for every person in England. Wherever you live, you’ve always got a local place to go to. Not an ‘Olympic’ stadium necessarily – but somewhere to run, jump, and throw all year round. Lighting is integral to that.

Sustainability has to underpin every facility model. So, just jumping back to my role, some of what I do is making sure we have the right facilities in the right places, and for many areas a 400m track is not appropriate and/or sustainable. However, a synthetic, floodlit running loop around a playing field may provide a perfect solution for some local clubs and communities. Our ambition in the UK is that everyone is within a reasonable distance of some form of athletics facility. For that, as I’ve said, we need good lighting.

Can you tell us more about how important a role has lighting got in delivering that?

It’s got a hugely important role. One of the first questions I ask when working with a client on a new facility project is ‘Have you thought of your lighting?’. Firstly because it’s vital, and secondly because of the importance of gaining upfront planning consent.

The right floodlighting is absolutely essential. Sport England recognises this. We recognise this. If there’s no adequate lighting at, or planned for, a venue how can it function during the dark, winter months? How can you possibly continue and have a sustainable programme of athletics development if you only use it in the summer months? People want that safe, lit place throughout the year – including the winter. If there’s no lighting plan for a facility development, then it’s pretty much a nonstarter for us and Sport England too.

Aside from the whole sustainability requirement, good floodlighting also enhances the whole experience. Who doesn’t like sports under lighting – either as a competitor or spectator. I used to be an 800m runner and there was nothing like racing under lights at the end of an evening. It was always a special feeling.

We recently worked with you to produce your Athletics Lighting Guide. How important is the educational aspect to yourself and the venues?

Very important. There’s a mystique to lighting. Not enough people know a lot about it. They probably think that as long as the lights come on when they flick the switch everything must be working okay. But it’s important everyone knows about the minimum standards of things like uniformity and lux levels across a whole track and field.

The British Standards’ guidance and documents aren’t the easiest to read and understand. So, what we needed was to make things as simple as possible for operators and clubs. A single, straightforward guide that explained everything in a concise fashion that would help them understand the importance of good lighting in terms of safety and user experience. Something that would let them make their own, quick audit of their facilities easily. Our guide does exactly that. It was only brought out a couple of weeks ago and I’ve already had a lot of positive feedback from both venue operators and clubs. Even World Athletics asked me for a copy!

For me, this clearly shows that there’s an appetite for educational support like this. Anything we can do with you to educate and improve awareness of lighting has got to be a good thing. It’ll help to make sure that when venues are looking to build or improve their facilities, appropriate lighting is placed front and centre of the project because the venue will truly understand its importance.

How has COVID affected England Athletics, the sport, and clubs?

Ask me again in six months. Seriously though, there was a lot of concern when the pandemic started and lockdown #1 began last March. I guess like many other sports we wondered what both the short-term and medium-term impact would be.

Fortunately, akin to other sports like golf and tennis, we were deemed a ‘safer’ sport and were released relatively early from lockdown early last summer. This meant we were able to put on 300 competitions last year, unlike a lot of other sports. Club-managed venues were absolutely at the forefront of this success. Although small in number, only 10% of athletics facilities are club managed, they were trailblazing in terms of getting the doors open and getting athletes running, jumping, and throwing again as soon as we came out of lockdown. I’m sure it’ll be the same again this summer as we hopefully approach something that resembles normality.

The challenge then, and now, is that the majority of track and field facilities are either local authority, leisure trust, educational, or commercially managed – with larger indoor facilities such as swimming pools and gyms. Throw in the fact that many leisure/sports venue staff remain on the Government’s furlough scheme and this creates a real air of uncertainty about when all athletics track venues will reopen.

We’ve done alright though compared to other sports like swimming who’ve been totally locked down for over a year. As a sport, we’ve tried really hard to engage with our members and those interested in running and athletics and throughout lockdown. For example, we’ve used the power of the digital age to run webinars and create content that encourages people to stay fit and active and enjoy the benefits of our great sport. I’m sure that when the summer finally comes that we will hit the ground running. There’s a real desire at clubs to get on with things again. To get training, events, and competitions going – even if it’s just at a local level to start with.

In terms of capital improvement work, you’d reasonably anticipate there being a downturn in work. But surprisingly, and really positively, this has not been the case. Indeed during the past 12-18 months, there’s been a significant uptick in capital improvement works. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many venues have used these lockdown periods to take stock of their facilities and plan much-needed improvement work.

What’s the next big milestone the athletics community looking forwards to?

The Tokyo Olympics is one obviously, fingers crossed, and what it’ll do for the profile of athletics. Personally, I genuinely think though that the most exciting milestone for the majority of people will be that first club night. After over a year of not training or socialising with fellow club members, and coaches it’ll mean the world for so many people – athletes, coaches, and parents. It will for me, and I can’t wait.

Tell us a bit about your personal athletics history.

I’ve been a keen runner since school. I started out in 800m and 1,500 and have gradually worked my way up to a marathon runner. In the 2000s I completed ten marathons, including London, Amsterdam, Dublin, and New York.

My marathon days are probably behind me now though. But never say never. If my son gets interested in running a marathon, then maybe just maybe I’ll run around with him. Although I’m sure it will be highly unlikely I can keep up with him. He’s six now and faster than me!

Ed Hunt - England Athletics

Ed Hunt, Facilities and Planning Manager at England Athletics

Midstream Lighting Official Lighting partners of England Athletics

Feb 15th, 2021

The Midstream Lighting & England Athletics Floodlighting Guide

Absolutely essential reading for athletics club’s facilities managers

As England Athletics’ Official Lighting Partner we’ve created a new, comprehensive Athletics Floodlighting Guide. It’s aimed at athletic clubs and their facilities managers and will help them understand more about the seemingly complex and daunting world of lighting.

We’ve asked James Brunt, our Director of Sports, to tell us more about the guide – why we’ve created it, what it’ll give club facility managers, and the importance of best-in-class LED lighting for athletics clubs. Here’s what he has to say.

Why we’ve created this guide

As pioneers of LED lighting from when we launched over 10 years ago, we’ve made it our mission to design and deliver world-beating LED lighting solutions.

That’s not all though.

As industry leaders, we see it as our responsibility to help educate different markets, such as sports, on what LED lighting can do for them.

That’s exactly what we’ve done with this guide for England Athletics. It also ties in perfectly with their strategic initiative to develop and improve facilities at clubs and venues across the country.

England Athletics Lighting Guide Midstream Lighting
What it’ll give athletics’ club facilities managers

Let me start by telling you what it won’t give them – a lot of impenetrable, scientific ‘mumbo-jumbo’. We’ve kept it all as clear and easy to understand as possible. Even when we’ve had to use an industry term, like Uniformity, we’ve explained what it’s all about.

What does it give then?

Basically, it’s been developed to give club facilities managers an introduction to track and field athletics floodlighting standards and how these standards relate to them.

  • They’ll learn what standards they need to achieve to be compliant with athletics governing bodies’ regulations. With different rules applying to different levels and types of athletics, it’s vital they know which apply to them. It also shows them how they can future proof their lighting for and changes that may happen, like moving up a league.
  • It gives details of the basic equipment needed to analyse, and have a better understanding, of their current floodlighting. Apart from an LED light meter, which only costs around £100 or so, the only other equipment they need is a tape measure, marker objects, a bit of board, and a pen. It really is that basic. It’s how it’s used that counts.
  • It features a step-by-step guide to allow them to easily self-assess their lighting levels around all their grounds. This isn’t as difficult as it may appear. But if they use the wrong equipment, take readings at the wrong time of day, or in the wrong places, all their work will be for nothing. So, the guide also highlights all the common mistakes they need to avoid.
  • Plus, it lets them know what they have to do to improve their lighting. If it’s needed.
Why best-in-class LED lighting is so important for athletics clubs

There are many advantages of improved lighting around athletics. The key benefits can be summarised as:

  • Reduced energy costs. We’ve cut energy bills by up to 70% for some clients when switching their old metal halide floodlights for LED ones. In a world where the bottom line is being squeezed harder and harder this can only be a good thing.
  • Less maintenance. With the cost of bulbs, the equipment needed to fit them, staff time and costs, not to mention downtime, maintaining traditional metal halide athletics floodlighting systems isn’t cheap. Another ‘plus’ for a club’s bottom line when they switch to LED floodlighting. Also, just imagine what it’d do for a club’s reputation if its system were to go down mid-meeting. This won’t happen with an LED system.
  • Greatly extended opening hours. Clubs will be able to keep their facilities open for longer. This can lead to increased revenue and help attract new members too.
  • Improved safety and security. Failing to meet health and safety regulations can cost clubs a great deal if there’s an accident that could have been avoided. Security issues can cause a host of problems for clubs too – personal and financial.
  • Making sure a club’s lighting is compliant with national and international regulations. If a club’s facilities aren’t up to scratch, especially the lighting, it can cause them all sorts of issues. They could mean removal from a league… records not being allowed to count… the list goes on.
  • Reduce light pollution. Our athletics LED floodlights spill less light around surrounding areas. This is something a club’s neighbours will greatly appreciate.
  • Future-proofing a club’s lighting for years to come. Our LED floodlighting systems are versatile and easily adaptable. So if things change, for example, new regulations being introduced or a club being promoted to a new league, our LED lighting can quickly be upgraded without the need to ‘scrap’ everything and start all over.
  • Achieving the lighting levels needed to host a televised event. If a club is invited to hold an event that’s going to be broadcast, it needs the perfect lighting to do it. This need can be built into our lighting designs for the very start. Or we can easily install a temporary, portable upgrade to meet the levels required.

As you can see there are lots of compelling reasons why an athletics club should upgrade to Midstream’s world-beating LED lighting.

James Brunt, Director of Sports, Midstream Lighting.

James heads up our Sports Lighting Division. With 16 years’ industry experience, spanning the delivery of grassroots facilities all the way through to world-class sporting stadiums, James is a trusted advisor throughout the industry and recognised for his unrivalled expertise.

November 18th, 2020

Lighting the way for England Athletics

Midstream Lighting has been appointed as the Official Lighting Partner of England Athletics. So, we’ve asked Michael Short, Head of Marketing at Midstream, to tell us more about how this partnership started and what it means for both England Athletics and Midstream.

Midstream Lighting Official Lighting partners of England Athletics
Hi Michael. How did this partnership with England Athletics begin?

England Athletics was looking to build a group of partners to help them with their strategic vision of increasing standards and improving facilities across their 1,400 affiliated clubs. They didn’t have a lighting partner, so we approached them. And from the very first meeting, it was obvious there was a perfect fit between us.

Why was that?

We don’t enter into partnerships lightly. We believe for them to work both organisations need to have values and goals that really align. That was definitely the case between England Athletics and us. We both have integrity as an important value – it’s our first. And a culture of learning and development is very close to both our hearts.

What will Midstream be bringing to England Athletics?

One of the objectives of this partnership is to educate and support all the England Athletics’ facilities across the country – from the grassroots to the elite. So, we’ll be offering the entire England Athletics community a host of webinars, in-person training, and supportive guides so they can understand exactly what we as a team can achieve. That’s not all. They’ll also be able to take advantage of our lighting health checks, consultation services, advice on financial support and grants, plus lighting designs for their clubs – all for free.

Our core benefits, such as vastly cutting energy and maintenance costs, and future-proofing venues for years to come, will help them free up money to invest in athletes’ performance too.

Improved lighting will also mean clubs can get more people participating all year round at all times of the day, including at night. And it’s been shown time and time before that better-quality club facilities help improve performance.

What will this mean for Midstream in return?

Obviously there will be potential business opportunities that develop through this partnership. But it means much more than that for us as a whole. As well as working on major sporting projects, we’ve got a great deal of experience working at the grassroots level. A lot of the team here have experience playing at that level too. And for us, this partnership will allow us to work closely with an organisation that’s taking athletes from the grassroots right through to the Olympics. To be able to support these clubs and see the results of the work we’ve done coming through is going to be so exciting and highly rewarding.

Michael Short, Head of Marketing, Midstream Lighting.

Michael has over ten years’ experience in successfully helping businesses within the luxury, technology, digital, automotive, and finance markets to thrive and grow. Well versed in lead generation campaigns, re-branding, implementing technology and growing teams, Michael is an innovative and results-driven marketer – accustomed to running marketing divisions internationally. He’s no stranger to change and loves a challenge.

He now oversees the strategic direction, generation, implementation and distribution of all marketing and communications for Midstream Lighting. Providing the highest level of marketing quality, Mike leads from the front and is key in launching our bespoke products that are changing critical infrastructures all over the world.

Midstream Lighting