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Making the most of facilities

Scott Warrington, Director of School Lettings Solutions, talks generating essential income, and helping the local community

Posted by Charley Rogers | May 24, 2017 | Facilities management

Scott Warrington set up School Lettings Solutions (SLS) with his business partner Paul Andrews five years ago. The organisation helps schools generate vital additional income by managing their facilities and letting them out to local community clubs looking for high-quality, affordable spaces. Here he discusses how schools can make the most of their facilities for the good of their pupils as well as the neighbourhoods they serve.

How schools can become community hubs and generate their own income 

School and academy leaders are currently faced with a juggling act of complex issues. Whether it’s from increasingly squeezed budgets, higher demand for school places, or growing concerns about young people’s mental health, schools are still expected to balance these issues while providing a high-quality education and a positive springboard into adolescence and adulthood.

Some schools have started taking a more proactive and efficient approach to responding to some of these challenges. For instance, to generate their own income, a few forward-thinking schools have begun letting out their facilities to the wider community. These are the institutions that have spotted the silver linings and are making the most of them for the benefit of their pupils, young people, and the whole community.

Minimum effort, maximum gain  

At SLS, we’ve estimated from experience that well over half of school facilities are currently shut evenings and weekends. These great facilities are effectively being wasted, and schools are missing out on an opportunity to create a new income stream. There have even been instances where schools have been running at a deficit and have turned this around by letting out their facilities to local groups and positioning themselves as an active part of the local community.

Working with a partner to fully manage facilities means schools don’t have to worry about administration, out of hours staffing, or managing the finances. They can concentrate on their core academic purpose, with the reassurance that their facilities are not lying dormant during evenings and weekends, and that they are proactively generating income, which can be invested back into the organisation for the benefit of its pupils. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Benefitting pupils and the wider community

But in such pressurised times, why should schools be thinking about renting their facilities? Just taking the example of sport and exercise, our research* found that amongst responders, more than a fifth (22%) of British adults with children in their household say they would take their children to sports and community groups if they took place at their school. And striking research from Sport England** showed that underachieving young people who take part in sport see a 29% increase in numeracy skills and a 12-16% rise in other transferable skills. Schools are perfectly placed to make a real difference to encouraging involvement in sport, both as part of the curriculum and outside school hours. One of the many success stories we’ve seen is one of our partner school’s sports pitches being used every weekend by hundreds of people aged seven and upwards playing for a local football team. Previously players had to travel several miles to grounds outside the area, while the school’s pitches were lying dormant out of school hours.

Schools have an opportunity to think even bigger, though. By opening their doors to wider communities, they can support not only their students, but also local people of all generations who can reap the benefits. The same Sport England study revealed that unemployed people who take part in sports are 11%** more likely than non-participants to have looked for a job in the last four weeks.

Much more than sport  

When thinking about how local people can benefit from school facilities, sport is just one part of this. But there are other types of groups that can make the most of these facilities, from choirs that support older people with health conditions such as dementia, to roller skating dance groups. Organisations like Arts Council England highlight that participation in arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and make communities feel safer and stronger. And thinking about young people in particular, students from low income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree than children in low income families who do not engage in arts activities at school; another compelling reason why schools should be thinking about the difference they can make outside school hours.

Food for thought

By opening their doors outside school hours, schools have a huge opportunity to not only get better financial security, but to make a tangible impact to their pupils and the wider community. 

Schools, colleges and academies are arguably perfectly placed to act as neighbourhood leisure facilities. There are thousands more schools than there are leisure centres in the UK, therefore hundreds of thousands more people could have the chance to take part in affordable, fun community and sports groups.

While it gives schools a chance to offer more opportunities to their students that have positive benefits to health, wellbeing and academic attainment, it also opens up opportunities for all. Amongst those respondents who didn’t select ‘none of these’ in our survey, over a quarter* (27%) of British adults with children in their household admitted that their children actively take part in activities such as sport, but they themselves do not. Perhaps if they took place in the same local venue, busy parents would get the chance to pursue a sport or hobby too. And if people don’t have the funds or mobility to access public transport to travel to the nearest leisure centre, imagine if they could socialise with other people in their community or learn a new skill at the school over the road?

From where I’m standing, the benefits really do outweigh any concerns, so I’d encourage all school and academy leaders to consider making this small step to making a big difference.

For more information, please visit: http://schoollettings.org 

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2012 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3rd - 6th March 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

**Figures from Sport England

https://www.sportengland.org/our-work/partnering-local-government/scenarios/how-does-sport-bring-communities-together/

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