Eaton Bank

Eaton Bank Academy has traditionally offered community sport on an informal basis

The current facilities are well used by local clubs but the school are not able to accommodate the demand that exists.

The 2012 Olympics, provided a catalyst for the school in terms of their aspirations for community sport. As part of the celebrations, the school hosted their own Olympics and involved students in the whole process of the games including sports photography, journalism and PR. The event engaged a number of clubs and partners and increased the school's profile within the community. As a result, community use at the school reached capacity, and they felt that their facilities were limiting the sporting opportunities available. Eaton Bank also recognised that they were under-represented at regional sports competitions, and felt they had a responsibility to encourage students to get involved in sport outside of school to maintain a healthy lifestyle. At a community level, the local Leisure Centre was (and remains) in poor condition and many people were travelling outside of Congleton to access their sports facilities.

We see ourselves as an incubator for local clubs

As a result, a vision for community sport was developed by a small but driven team: a member of staff in the PE department, the School Strategic Business Manager, Ann Brightwell (nee Packer) and Robby Brightwell (who both won medals at the 1964 Summer Olympics and now live in Congleton).

Two key sports clubs were brought on board as partners. Vale Junior Football Club already had an agreement with the school to use their sports hall and grass pitches. The grass pitches at the school were suffering more wear and tear from the increased use and therefore the club had aspirations to play and train on an all weather surface. Congleton Cycling Club were also involved in formulating the vision, which includes a closed road circuit cycle track.

Over the last 18 months the school have developed a vision and business case for an ambitious Community Sports Hub requiring significant capital investment.


Current Facilities

Sports Hall – 4 Badminton court-sized (will remain)
Gymnasium (with wall bars, low ceiling and glazing to one wall)
Dance Studio (will remain)
Changing Rooms (4 sets)
Tennis Courts
Grass Pitches

Proposed Facilities

An additional new sports complex to include:
Ground floor
Community Reception Area
Sports Hall – 4 Badminton court-sized with a climbing wall
4 Community Changing Suites accommodating a total of 100 people
Separate changing for officials/coaches
Club/Conference room
Large Stores x3
First floor
Student Entrance (sports hall will be built into a bank so first floor can be accessed externally)
Student Changing Rooms
Dance Studio (240 msq)
Fitness Suite (accommodating 40 machines)
Mezzanine with sports hall viewing
Full size AWP (60mm) for football, divisible into 3x7-a-side pitches, with viewing area
Full Size AWP (20mm) with a 6 lane athletics track marked around the edge
MUGA – non slip tarmacadam surface marked out for 5 aside, basketball and netball
Closed road circuit cycle track

Consultation process

Cheshire East's Leisure and Sport Officer has been very supportive of the project and provided their time and expertise free of charge. The school feel they have developed a good relationship with the council even though they are no longer a local authority maintained school. The Leisure Centre in Congleton is also in need of investment, but the local authority do not view the Eaton Bank project as a threat to their own funding requirements and the Head of East Cheshire Council has provided the school with a letter of support for the proposed scheme.

In January 2013 the school held a launch event which was well attended by local clubs, businesses and schools. From this event a Community Steering Group was formed who meet bi-monthly. Group members include the CSP (Sport Cheshire), Congleton Education Community Partnership (representing schools), partner Sports Clubs (inc Congleton Lawn Tennis Association, Congleton Cycling Club and Vale Junior Football Club), Local Councillors, and Ann and Robbie Brightwell. The school is represented on the group by the Chair of Governors, Headteacher and Strategic Business Manager.

Over the last year, the school have been proactive in building relationships with key partners including local clubs, potential funding bodies and Cheshire East Councillors. They provide regular updates on the scheme's progress to parents and have a high profile in the local press. The school are currently organising a 'Freshers Fair' which will match their students with opportunities provided by local clubs.

A formal consultation process is also underway with staff, local primary schools and local residents regarding the sale of a piece of land which will fund the school's investment in the project. Surveys have been completed and the school are in the pre-application process regarding a planning application for the disposal of land for residential housing.
The school are keen to consult with all members of the community regarding the sports complex, and have engaged older members of their community through the University of the Third Age and their local Age UK Centre.

Sport Cheshire and an independent Sports Consultant have provided the school with valuable data through tools such as Sport England's 'Active People' which have indicated the local demographics, latent demand and what sport activities the community are most likely to take up. This has helped the school plan the type of facilities and activities the community sports complex will host.

Type of community users

Eaton Bank Academy's aim is for the new facilities to accommodate a wider range of sports and clubs that have historically shown an interest in the facilities, but have been 'squeezed out' due to lack of space. These include Netball and Basketball, and there will also be long term agreements established with the two partner clubs (Congleton Cycling Club and Vale Junior Football Club). It is envisaged that individuals will access the fitness suite, and external instructors will deliver regular classes such as Zumba, and Martial Arts.

"We are about inclusivity and participation"

The school aim to increase the participation of parents and intend for a wide range of the local demographic to be represented through an Age UK Walking Group, Public Health programmes and Intergenerational projects. It is envisaged that it will be part of the Sports Centre Staff's role to seek out revenue funding for projects aimed at hard to reach groups.

Management model

It is proposed that a Community Interest Company will be set up to manage the community sports facilities. The company would be a trading arm of and solely owned by the Academy Trust.

It is envisaged that a full time Facility Manager will be employed along with three Facility Staff (two part time and one full time), any additional staff would be employed on a needs basis. The company would employ it's own cleaners and the utility bills would be separated from the main school running costs. The community café would be offered out as a franchise opportunity. The Sports Consultant working with the school has already carried out some financial modelling based upon a similar size facility which is in operation. This has helped the school ensure their proposed management and staffing model is affordable.

Making it work


The facility is being designed as a community sports hub and incorporates various features to encourage community use.
The design will encourage opportunities for event spectating as there will be plenty of space around the AWP for viewing. The café and dance studio will have views of the external pitches and the first floor mezzanine will provide a viewing platform into the sports hall. The café area incorporates a serving hatch, so parents can buy a hot drink will watching matches outside.

There is a separate entrance and designated changing rooms for community users (the student entrance and changing will be accessed from the first floor). The club/conference room will incorporate a noticeboard and lockable cabinet for each partner club, and will be a space they can hold meetings, deliver coaching and training. There will also be outdoor and indoor storage for club equipment.
The facilities will be designed to be affordable, comfortable and durable with high quality changing rooms.


The project is estimated to cost £7m (£5m for build, £1.1m for AWPs and £0.9m for car parking, drainage, cycle track and fencing). The school plan to allocate £2m to the project from the sale of land. They are looking for partnership funding from Sport England, the Education Funding Agency and NGBs (British Cycling and the Football Foundation). They are requesting in kind support from Cheshire East Council regarding planning fees etc.
It has been a difficult decision regarding the sale of land but the school recognise that they will need to allocate a substantial proportion of their own funds to the project if it is to become viable. They are aiming to work closely with the Cheshire East Council to try and bid for Sport England's strategic funds which are for local authorities (rather than schools) to access. By working with their local authority they are hoping to demonstrate a holistic approach to sporting investment in Congleton.


Eaton Bank's motto is 'Believe in Success' and since launching as an academy in 2012, with a new name, uniform and branding they have focused on aspirations. Throughout the school, there are large celebration boards which profile the achievements of students. Although Eaton Bank does not have specialist status in sport, they recognise the important role sport can play in nurturing discipline, self-belief and working as a team to achieve success. 

"Our focus is on aspiration and raising expectations"

Their focus will not be entirely on elite sport, they also aim to increase mass participation and contribute to a reduction in obesity levels and increase in life expectancy.

The school has a strong commitment to advocating healthy lifestyles and already incorporates healthy living topics into science, history, catering and PE lessons.

The school believe sports participation will continue to grow and predict in 10-20 years time it will be publicly funded to prevent a national health crisis. They aim to provide a 'home' for existing and new clubs where they can grow. This may mean a club then grow to their own site, and the school will then 'incubate' another sport.


The school are currently working on a Sports Development Plan which will look at how they will sustain current levels and grow their sporting offer over a long term period.
They are also looking at how they can make their new building as energy efficient as possible by incorporating rainwater harvesting and LED lighting. They are also exploring opportunities for natural lighting in their design.
"managing the expectations of partner clubs has been a challenge"

Key Challenges

  • Getting the project off the ground, particularly during the first six months, was a challenge. Not many people were interested in volunteering their time or helping to fundraise. Once a momentum had been established and a clear vision could be articulated then it became easier to draw people's interest.
  • The main challenge has been the amount of time that staff have had to dedicate to get the project to this stage. The Strategic Business Manager spends approximately one day per week on the project, whilst still having to maintain her other duties. The school have hosted a Business Management Intern for the last academic year which has provided some help.
  • Acquiring the necessary knowledge quickly has also been a challenge for the Strategic Business Manager who is from a finance background. This has involved learning about the sporting landscape, technical requirements of sport and the planning process.
  • Balancing the expectations of partner clubs has been difficult to manage. For example, Vale Junior Football Club had aspirations for two AWP with 60mm playing surfaces but the school decided upon one 60mm and one 20mm surface to offer a multisport external offer.


Students will have the opportunity to access a more diverse sporting offer including non traditional activities such as climbing and cycling. It is hoped that the high quality facilities will improve the self esteem of students as well as promoting healthier lifestyles amongst staff students and parents. Eaton Bank Academy will become an important community hub which should lead to stronger relationships with clubs and increase student participation.

Top Tips

  1. Engage your whole school governing body from the start - Eaton Bank Academy didn't communicate with their Governors early enough and although the Chair was actively involved, it took a lot longer for the rest of the Governors to understand and support the vision.
  2. Never under estimate the importance of nurturing one to one relationships with your partners. Eaton Bank Academy now recognise the need to regularly communicate with local Councillors, partners, clubs and funders, ringing them up for a chat and letting them know how much they are valued and appreciated.
  3. Work closely with your local authority Leisure Services / Leisure trust - they have a level of expertise which is invaluable.
  4. Involve Students - they are an important 'end user' and therefore should be listened to.
  5. Be optimistic about gaining support from high profile figures - if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so don’t be shy about contacting prominent local figures. Eaton Bank Academy have a letter of support for the scheme from the Leader of the Council and their Local MP.


Elizabeth Whitehurst
Strategic Business Manager. Eaton Bank Academy

School Profile

Type: Academy converter Gender: Mixed
Age Range: 11-18 Size: 1143
Community users: Currently 1000 per year (on average) Location: Market Town, Congleton, Cheshire East
Management Model: Proposing a Community Interest Company

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