St Helens

In 2009, St Helens Council undertook a review of the community use of school sites in the borough

This work identified that there was 162 hours of community use taking place across the then 12 high schools, meaning that approximately 70% of peak winter time community hours remained vacant.

Activity varied with some school sites operating above leisure centre occupancy, some with low level use and others with no community use. Consultations with local sports clubs also revealed a need for increased access to facilities in order for them to sustain and grow their activity.

Clubs struggle to speak to the right person in a school, we are able to provide a matchmaking service

Following on from this, in 2012 a report was presented to the Council’s Regeneration, Housing, Culture and Leisure Scrutiny Committee making recommendations for improving community access to school sports facilities. This coincided with the launch of Sport England’s new strategy which recognised the important role of schools in delivering community sport, and subsequently St Helens Council were approached by Sport England to deliver a demonstration project.

In 2013, St. Helens Council with the support of the Association of Secondary Heads, were successful in receiving funding from Sport England to deliver a three year project to both improve the community use of secondary school sports facilities and increase the number of Satellite Clubs hosted on school sites.

Satellite Clubs are community sports clubs on school sites that specifically target pupils from the school and aim to bridge the gap between school and community sport. The aim was to use Satellite Clubs both as a catalyst for new community use on school sites and also as a method for forming long term partnerships between schools and clubs.

The project had four key aims:

  1. To increase the use of school sports facilities by the community
  2. Provide a single point of contact for community groups to engage with schools regarding school lettings
  3. Establish formal links between specific clubs and schools to develop provision for young people aged 14-24 years
  4. Improve the capability of school sports facilities to accommodate community use.


During year one all project costs were grant funded by Sport England which included staffing costs, administration and marketing.

During Year two it was agreed that the partnership of the council and schools would make a contribution to the project (totalling £12,000) which was funded from their increased community use income.

The aim of the project was that by year three community use would be nearing capacity and schools would be in a position to meet their direct running costs, contribute collectively to the salary costs of the local authority post and still return a surplus to the school.

At the end of the first year review, the local authority identified that the project had already exceeded the year 3 target and most schools had improved their internal management to support the growth in community activity. As a result of this early success, St Helens Council are currently reviewing the priorities for Year 2 and 3 of the project and focussing resources on establishing and sustaining satellite clubs, rather than funding a specific post to support schools with the management of community use.

Type of community users

A wide range of additional sports clubs now use schools in St Helens including St Helens Basketball Club, Sutton Badminton Club, St Helens Rhythmic Gymnastics Club and Sutton Tornados Cheerleading Club.

St Cuthbert’s Catholic Community College has a strong community ethos, situated in a socially deprived area the governing body already delivered a range of community provision including a café and gym.  The project linked the school up with Watch This Space dance group, pump priming dance sessions with participants charged £1 per session. Watch This Space are now part of the fabric of the school delivering community and curriculum activities and expanding rapidly.

Management model

All schools manage community use in-house apart from one school which is considering partnering with a third party provider.

Three of the schools employ a designated member of staff to deal with bookings, set up equipment and open and close the facilities. The remaining use existing site management staff.

Making it work

St Helens Council appointed a Project Manager who had a good understanding of the key issues and priorities effecting schools as well as knowledge of the local sporting networks and key stakeholders. An early task was to carry out an audit of current facilities and community activity which enabled the council to identify a potential loss of income for vacant space at each secondary school site. This immediately caught the attention of the School Business Managers who were able to understand the financial opportunities presented.

The Project Manager reported to the local authority Sports Development Manager and took a strategic approach by identifying key facilities and clubs. She also met with all the Heads of PE and discussed their aspirations regarding types of sports and club activity they would like to link to.

“It is important for a school and club to work in true partnership”

A key feature of the project is the style in which it has been delivered – using a collaborative approach working behind the scenes with schools enabling them to improve their community and club offer. Due to the size of the borough and the strong club culture, which is well supported by the council, this approach worked well. St Helens Council’s main drivers are to deliver clubs aimed at women and young people and schools play a key role in making this happen.

The local authority sports development unit continue to play an important role matchmaking sports clubs with schools. Available space is promoted via several communication platforms including an e-newsletter, social media, websites and face to face meeting with clubs. Schools provide their community use schedules to the local authority and any gaps in provision are then advertised to their strong network of sports clubs. The Project Manager has also provided support regarding insurance and appropriate pricing, although the schools are reluctant to agree a borough wide pricing policy as the hire rates from school to school vary considerably due to location, quality and customer type.


  1. The project has raised the agenda of community use collectively with Head Teachers who agreed a collaborative approach
  2. Business Managers now regularly discuss community use as part of their network meetings
  3. Barriers to community use were dismantled through the project – for example, one school were previously advised incorrectly that any community group using their facility should have a £10m public liability insurance which was impractical.


Activity for year two will see a slightly different focus which aims to embed community use and provide a sustainable legacy of school and club partnerships. There will be more of a focus on establishing sustainable satellite clubs on school sites by cutting back on the length of subsidised facility hire and coaching fees.

The council will work with schools to improve and formalise the systems they are using to managing community use and providing support regarding marketing and promoting community use on the school websites. St. Helens will continue to advocate the benefits to schools of community use, particularly where there are changes made to key personnel in schools. The team are also looking at widening opportunities to for example, martial arts, dance and music groups. 


  1. A key challenge has been the Project Manager moving to a new post after the first 6 months, the local authority have had to review the delivery model to put in place a staffing resource with the correct skills and experience to deliver the revised project
  2. The next challenge is for schools to increase usage of their facilities over the summer months, this may require reviewing their hire rates or introducing seasonal rates
  3. Due to the early successes in year one of the projects, St. Helen’s Council needed to review and re-shape the focus of the project moving forward.


As a result of the increased focus on the promotion of community use of secondary school sites in St Helens, community use has risen from a total of 162 hours in 2009, to 323 hours in January 2015. During the first year the project has signposted eleven clubs to schools resulting in 25 weekly hours of use and an estimated additional annual income of £21,838. Seven new Satellite clubs have been developed on secondary school sites in the borough.

Top Tips

  1. Consider your pricing policy carefully and price sensitively for your market, look at differential charges for juniors, community groups and commercial organisations
  2. Use your school website as a key marketing tool and make sure customers can access your community offer within one click from your homepage
  3. Programme efficiently – for example do not leave gaps in your timetable between sessions, try to book out facilities in parallel on the same night and focus on opening a couple of nights per week initially. This will help to maximise your income and minimise your overheads.


Terry Bates
Sports Development Manager, St Helens Council

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