The site the school moved to was previously occupied by a community swimming pool.
The core values of the school are modelled on the Olympic and Paralympic values, so it is of no surprise that the curriculum has been designed with a strong emphasis on physical activity, health and wellbeing.
Curriculum and community needs have been successfully factored into the design and operation of the school. The school currently has 350 students and is set to grow by up to 120 on an annual basis until all year groups are open. The school's maximum capacity is 840.
The school has community lettings in the following areas:
- 2-court sports hall
- Multi-purpose hall (also the school dining area)
- MUGA (multi-use games area)
- 2 x tennis courts
- Playing fields – max 7-a-side football.
Types of community users
It has been so important for the school to position itself at the heart of the community, to replace the loss of a well-used swimming pool with another community asset that is welcoming and accessible.
The school has taken time to really understand the market it serves. It has used this insight to develop its vision and community offer to provide the doorstep opportunities that are demanded locally.
The facilities currently receive 250 community users per week.
The catchment has a high South Asian population, with a greater than average proportion of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and a sizeable Black, African/Caribbean community, alongside growing pockets of ‘other’ White communities.
Research has also shown the area to have high levels of social disadvantage, health inequalities and low levels of participation in physical activity.
The school facilities are available to a wide range of community groups, providing opportunities for pupils and the wider community during the day, evenings and at the weekend.
The programme currently includes:
- Women-only fitness sessions. Four mornings per week during the day plus one in the evening and one at the weekend. Attendances vary between 40 and 60 per session
- Scouts one evening per week
- Adult Weight Management programme one evening per week
- Saturday morning family activity
Along with regular weekly bookings, the school has its facilities in use by the community during the school holidays.
The provision is keenly championed by the governing body, whose members ensure the school remains committed to serving all of the community.
Day-to-day community use bookings are dealt with by the office manager employed at the school who oversees the programme and bookings. The school’s site agent takes on responsibility for all access on the site.
The school takes pride in knowing who their users are. Hirers of their facilities are required to have an induction meeting with the office manager. This provides the opportunity for the school to perform the necessary checks, such as proof of insurance, and satisfy health and safety requirements. In the longer term, the school aims to appoint a dedicated post to manage the facilities.
A benefit of the school hiring their facilities to known responsible users is that they have been able to introduce a swipe card entry system for regular users. The site agent programs the cards which allow groups to access and close facilities 15 minutes either side of their booking. This enables the school to reduce the cost of having staff on site throughout all bookings.
Making it work
The design and flow throughout the building works around a zoning layout with access-controlled doors. Access into the school was altered at the design stage to include a separate community entrance, which lends itself very well to operating dual use access. This separate community entrance benefits from a sizeable foyer that allows groups to meet in an inside space without causing any blocks along the school corridors.
Importantly, the sports hall is at the very front of the building, so both visible and accessible for the community.
Through the closure of Wardown Swimming and Leisure Centre, Luton Borough Council put a proportion of funds into the build.
The configuration of the school in terms of appropriate community access is supported by recently undertaken insight work. Sport England and Luton Borough Council commissioned Sporting Equals to undertake research in Biscot, Dallow and Saints wards to further understand the participation challenges associated with BAME communities in terms of perceptions, motivations, influences and the role of sport in wider lifestyle trends.
The research specifically found that facilities deemed as ‘safe spaces’ were particularly important for BAME communities whereby sport and activity can be provided in a culturally sensitive way.
Upon completion of the research report, a working group of local providers, officers and residents have come together to create a group named the ‘Community Activity Network’. This group meets regularly at River Bank Primary School to take forward the research recommendations.
Whenever school facilities are used by community groups, there will always be a need to consider storage requirements. The challenge of storing community equipment on a school site is not only allocating space for this, but also managing or restricting access to it.
Currently, the school manages this by apportioning a part of the sports hall store for community equipment. It is anticipated that an outside storage area will be required as both school and community requirements grow.
Wear and tear or damage will inevitably happen with increased use of facilities. However, it is important for a school not to lose sight of the bigger benefits to be had through offering a community programme. For example, the school has created space in its programme to welcome a new scout group looking for a local base, and this has directly provided a new opportunity for students beyond the school day.
The school ensures that a proportion of the income generated through their programme is allocated to maintenance and repairs. They have also sold the benefits to the whole school, particularly PE staff to ensure they remain on board and supportive. This has helped to avoid tensions which may otherwise arise between external groups and teaching staff using the same facilities.
- Attainment looks to be improving, and the school intend to monitor this over time
- Welcoming parents to the school through the community programme has helped school improvement generally. There is a distinct community feel
- Delivering a community programme is one way to help a new school to establish a catchment area. It provides the opportunity to increase presence in a community
- Community provision can provide an additional positive angle recorded during an Ofsted visit.
- Talk to local providers to see what offer they can bring in to the school
- Look at economies – commercial activities can support community ones
- Don’t be too quick to start your community use programme and get your school into arrangements with groups before you have a robust business plan devised. Take some time to think and plan what will work best to achieve your school’s vision for community use
- Ensure that access arrangements and access control systems are robust, with a strong emphasis on the importance of safeguarding
- Encourage 2-3 hour slots to cut down on changeovers, and encourage groups to take responsibility for these
- Consider timing your first booking to start when the site agent is just finishing shift. This removes overtime costs.