Why schools should open their doors to the community out of school hours

Letting your facilities is more than just about generating income - it's about opening up your school to the wider community, and playing a fundamental role in that community

Managing your school’s facilities and letting them out to local community clubs looking for quality, affordable space is a resourceful means of generating additional income. Here Paul Andrews, director of School Lettings Solutions, discusses why schools should be thinking about the wider benefits of opening their doors on evenings and weekends

I’d hazard a guess that everyone reading this will have experienced a lack of motivation at some point in life when it comes to taking part in sport, hobbies or community groups, despite knowing all the benefits that come with them.

You probably recognise some of the most common reasons for lack of participation, too. Our recent survey of British adults revealed that (of those who didn’t select ‘none of these’) many of us aren’t taking part in sport and community groups because they’re too expensive (20%), too far away (nine per cent) or we don’t know what’s available in the local area (16%).

This suggests that more of us would get involved in sports and community groups if they took place very locally to us. This view is reflected by Sport England which says that, while it’s a complex issue to address, the key to increasing participation in community sport is making it easy and convenient – location, facility type and timing are all particularly important.

Our recent survey of British adults revealed that many of us aren’t taking part in sport and community groups because they’re too expensive (20%), too far away (nine per cent) or we don’t know what’s available in the local area (16%)

There is one obvious solution. Schools, colleges and academies across the country have fantastic sports pitches, halls and theatres which, for the most part, are lying empty and unused on evenings, weekends and in school holidays. These places are in the heart of local communities and sometimes have better facilities than the nearest leisure centre.

Our experience suggests that only around a third are making themselves available to outside users – so why aren’t more of them opening their doors and becoming community hubs?

Two birds…

It’s completely understandable that school leaders are focused on their core academic purpose. On top of these academic pressures, they are faced with a juggling act of complex issues – increasingly squeezed budgets, exam results or concerns about young people’s mental health, for example.

While the extra income would, no doubt be welcome, schools that are doing this are also actively supporting grassroots sports and community groups which are crying out for affordable, accessible venues in which to host their activities

But, by letting out their facilities, schools actually have an opportunity to address all of these issues and more.

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

While the extra income would, no doubt be welcome, schools that are doing this are also actively supporting grassroots sports and community groups which are crying out for affordable, accessible venues in which to host their activities.

Community vibes

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

Schools, academies and colleges up and down the country have an opportunity to become a network of community hubs

In this way schools could also offer their students more extra-curricular opportunities which have positive benefits to health, wellbeing and academic attainment while also opening up opportunities to all generations. In our survey (amongst those who didn’t select ‘none of these’) more than a quarter (27%) of British adults with children in their household admitted that, while their children actively take part in such activities, they themselves do not. I’d argue that, if such activities took place in the same convenient local venue, busy parents could take the opportunity to pursue a sport or hobby too. And for those who 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?

Schools, academies and colleges up and down the country have an opportunity to become a network of community hubs. From my experience in the sector, the benefits really do outweigh any concerns, so I’d encourage school and academy leaders to consider taking this small step towards making a big difference.

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