Opening school facilities to the community
Use our School is a free resource that supports schools to open their facilities to the community.
Opening your school’s facilities at evenings and weekends can benefit your community's local sports clubs, and it can also benefit your school directly in a number of ways by:
- Raising your school’s profile and presence in the community
- Contributing towards becoming, or staying, an outstanding school
- Providing a vital new income stream
- Delivering physical and mental health benefits.
In this section of the website we’ll provide a detailed overview of the ways you can open up your facilities and the help that’s available.
Finding what's right for you
To understand what type of community use operation is best for your school, you need to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
Developing a plan for community use will help staff, students, governors, parents and community partners understand and support your community programme.
These are some of the things your plan should include:
- The school mission and ethos towards community use and sport, including any target audiences
- Your approach – either as an individual school or working in partnership with others
- The range and quality of sports facilities you can and wish to offer and the available capacity of these
- The level of partnerships you have/are willing to develop
- The level of demand for both existing and potential community use
- The resources you want to allocate towards community use.
It's important to have a shared understanding of where you want to get to, and a means of measuring how successful you’ve been in achieving this.
Our measuring success performance tool is a resource that you can adapt for your own needs.
There's not one success model that fits all schools. What's important is that your approach resonates with your vision.
Understanding your market
As with any business, it’s important to understand your market in relation to the facilities your school can offer.
Partners and local organisations will be able to advise you on measuring current activity and consulting with your community. A simple audit of facilities in your local area can be a valuable exercise as it will ensure you avoid duplication and create the conditions to develop a sustainable and viable community offer.
Investing some time up front to consult with your community and partners will also help you create an appealing offer which is sustainable, reaches the audiences you wish to target and encourages regular, repeat users of your facilities.
Who can help?
There are a range of organisations that can offer you help, share their expertise and save you time and effort.
There are 43 Active Partnerships covering England. They are networks of local agencies promoting sport and physical activity who deliver our programmes.Read more
They can help you in a number of ways including:
- Using planning tools and their own local surveys to help you understand the likely demand for your facilities and activities
- Brokering links with accredited community clubs, national governing bodies of sport, health networks and agencies
- Linking you up with a local qualified workforce of coaches, volunteers and instructors
- Advising you on funding programmes and how to apply.
Your local authority
Your local authority has a range of departments and officers that can provide specialist advice.
These can include the sports development, leisure, community, health and wellbeing teams and children’s services asset management.
If you’re undertaking a facility development, then it will be important to consult your local planning authority early in your project planning phase.
Your local authority can help you in a number of ways including:
- Providing local plans and strategies for sport provision in your area, to help you understand how your school can fit into the local infrastructure
- Advising on how to open up in a way which is complimentary to existing provision
- Guiding you on fulfilling planning consents, formalising agreements with clubs or third-party providers etc.
Sports clubs, community groups and other schools
National governing bodies will have regional officers who have a plan for how they want their sport to grow at a regional and local level.Read more
They may have accredited clubs who are looking for a school to partner them, or maybe looking for schools interested in establishing a new club.
There may already be a local club in your area that is looking for a new ‘home’. They can advise on the sort of facilities and services they are looking for and in return any support and help they can offer a school – for example, help delivering the curriculum, training teachers etc.
Other schools that have, or are in the process of, delivering community use at their schools will often be willing to share advice on operational models, pricing policies and management. Knowing this can save you time and effort when implementing processes back at your school and help you to avoid any pitfalls.
Some of the ways in which schools might help:
- Schools who have looked into or partnered up with a third-party provider or not-for-profit trust will be able to share their learning and advice
- PFI schools can share expertise of working within their contractual terms
- Sharing best practice through a network, for example Liverpool City Council have established a Business Managers forum for community use
- Working collectively with other schools to explore procuring services jointly to save money, such as marketing or booking software for your community programme.
Public and private operators, facility management companies and community use operators
There may be companies/trusts already operating in your area that can provide management advice and opportunities for partnering with you if you're considering a third-party management model.
Independent consultants and advisors
There are specialist consultants who have the expertise to advise on business planning, operational models and funding opportunities.Read more
We'll be able to provide you with a consultant list that we've worked with or know of, but this will not be exhaustive.
There are a variety of models for operating a community use on a school site.
It’s important that you choose an approach which can deliver your vision and business plan and isn’t detrimental to your core business of teaching and learning.
Broadly, most models can be split into ones that involve direct management by the school and those which involve third-party management.
Direct management by the school
The direct management approach means your school and governing body or trust would be responsible for:
- Administering and supervising all activities within your facilities and grounds
- Employing your own staff to manage community use
- Collecting income and covering expenditure.
You’ll need to consider how the management of community use fits into your own governance structure.
Adopting one of the third-party models will mean governors and trustees continue to be responsible overall, but the management and administration is outsourced to a third party.
This model usually works in the following way:
- Your school and other stakeholders would undertake a formal procurement exercise to tender and appoint an organisation to manage your facilities for a pre-determined contract period
- The management organisation then operates the facilities in accordance with your specification
- The management organisation may include an annual maintenance fee which is based on the operational subsidy position (previously agreed) and incorporates a level of profit
- The management organisation is liable for any financial loss but could also benefit from any profit or an agreed profit share arrangement.
Legal and governance
Schools need to identify someone to take responsibility for community use at an operational level.
However, it's vital that every school’s governing body or trust fully understand the risks and responsibilities relating to community use. This includes checking that the correct procedures, contracts, agreements and policies are in place to ensure community use is delivered safely and effectively.
It’s often worthwhile to identify a 'community use champion' who holds a senior leadership position within the organisation. Their role is to consider how community use supports and enhances your school's core business.
Providing community access to your school does pose some risks, but if planned for and managed, these risks on balance can far be outweighed by opportunities.Read more
Having a risk management plan is an important part of successfully running and maintaining access to your school’s facilities. It’s advisable to carry out your risk management plan as early as possible with a range of different people and partners who have the knowledge of your school, community and facilities. This would include consulting your insurance provider at this early stage.
Some of the benefits of thinking about risk early and planning for it are:
- More effective/transparent decisions
- Effective delivery of what you do
- High standards of accountability
- Compliance with the law and regulations
- Effective use and allocation of resources
- Creativity and innovation in management.
Policies and formal agreements
A lettings policy sets out expectations of your service and requirements of your community users. It's a very valuable document to keep everyone safe and to avoid disputes.Read more
A lettings policy will usually include:
- Whether there are any users who get priority usage
- The designated status of anyone who is running the facility
- Conditions of hire
- Administration of lettings (booking process, memberships, etc.)
- Pricing eg scale of charges, discounts, VAT, minimum charges and deposits
- Cancellation protocol
- Payment methods
- Security procedures
- Health and safety, safeguarding and insurance requirements
- Accessibility and equity policy - accessibility is affected not just by physical layouts, barriers and difficulties, but also by people’s perception of your facilities and this is based on factors like price, opening hours, activities on offer and whether they're restricted by gender, race and culture.
Sometimes schools include this information within their booking forms or a tenancy agreement. Whatever terminology you use, it doesn’t matter as long as you cover the key terms and conditions.
Key User Club Agreement / Service Level Agreement (SLA)
If you're developing a long term, mutually beneficial relationship with a national governing body or club, it'll be valuable to formalise this partnership arrangement in an agreement.Read more
The type of information that a Key User Agreement/SLA might include:
- Priority use – times when the club can gain access and to what facilities (including club/coaching rooms, storage of equipment, changing rooms etc.)
- Length of the partnership - a long term agreement (such as three years) will provide a club with more stability. You could always suggest reviewing the arrangement after 12 months.
- Booking fees - a club will value an affordable rate which will enable them to sustain and grow. In return for any discount in your pricing policy you can agree what services they'll provide in return to the school.
- Services and support that the club will provide you with, and vice versa. For example, the club may be able to provide professional development for your PE staff and support them in delivering the PE curriculum. In return, you may decide to offer the club free marketing to promote their club sessions on your website, and taster session for students to encourage pathways into the club’s junior clubs.
- Any terms and conditions which will need to be adhered to as set out in your lettings policy, such as child protection and insurance requirements etc.
Community Use Agreement
A Community Use Agreement (CUA) is a detailed document which is generally used when you have an arrangement with different parties regarding the delivery, management and/or funding of community use.Read more
It'll set out how you intend to operate, including hours of availability, management arrangements, pricing policy etc.
- If you're directly managing community use and you're an academy or independent school, then you'll be classed as the 'landlord' in any formal contract.
- Maintained schools will need to work with their local authority when making changes to community use as they're considered the ‘landlord’.
- PFI schools will generally have signed the lease of their buildings over to the PFI partner for a period of around 25 years, so this should be reflected in any formal agreement.
Creating a CUA is good practice and helps all partners understand your priorities, targets and circumstances.
Sport England is a statutory consultee on all planning applications for development affecting playing field land and there may be instances where we'll require a CUA to be submitted, approved and implemented in order to overcome its potential objection to a planning application.
Typically, a CUA will include:
- Definitions and interpretations of terms, such as: casual use; community use period; marginal costs; peak use period; priority groups; school core time; aims, objectives and targets; and key performance indicators
- Commencement and duration of the contract
- Option to extend
- Transition and handover on expiry/termination
- Local authority obligations
- Obligations of governors and contractors
- Liability and termination.
There may be accompanying schedules which may comprise of:
- Leisure operations
- List of property/facilities
- A business plan
- A sports development plan.
Transfer of Control Agreement
There are two situations when a transfer of control agreement may be required:Read more
1) If as part of a new community partnership you propose to transfer control of part of your school premises to a club, group or a management company, then you'll need to put in place a Transfer of Control Agreement.
This is to ensure the governors and trustees of the school are satisfied that the party concerned has acceptable policies and procedures in place and responsibilities are clearly outlined.
2) If you're changing the status of your school (for example to an academy), then you'll need to protect any existing community use agreements you may have within your Academy Transfer of Control Agreement.
It's important to note that you'll also be required to honour any conditions relating to a funding agreement (for example Lottery funding for a sports facility which has community participation conditions).
Whatever management model you choose, it's important to be fully aware of your potential income and likely expenditure.
Once your community programme is established with a sustainable business plan that includes an appropriate pricing policy, it’s possible to generate income over and above covering your costs, which can then be used to renew and develop your sports provision.
Potential costs and outgoings
Opening your facilities to community use can lead to an increase in costs in a number of areas:Read more
Staff costs: This includes salaries and wages, employer's superannuation and national insurance contributions, uniforms, training, recruitment.
Administration costs: This could include stationery and printing, website hosting, telephones, insurance etc.
Utility costs: Heating (including hot showers), lighting (including floodlights for all weather pitches), rates, water and sewerage could all increase if you open your school’s facilities to community use.
Repairs and maintenance: You’ll be responsible for short-term repairs and maintenance such as replacing light bulbs to long-term replacements such as an all-weather pitch surface.
You’ll also have to think about how opening your school’s facilities to the community could impact your catering and cleaning contracts.
It’s advisable to set aside some of your revenue to fund any future capital expense - this is known as a sinking fund.Read more
Typically, the fund will be used for any long-term maintenance and replacement/refurbishment costs such as:
- Replacement or refurbishing of sports flooring
- Cyclical redecoration
- Planned and preventative maintenance.
Community use will increase your footfall and usage and will therefore contribute towards an increase in your maintenance requirements, so it’s important to factor this additional expense into your budget.
You’ll also need to consider the VAT implications of community use.Read more
This will depend on the type of school you are, but it can be possible to avoid significant VAT costs.
To ensure you income is enough to offset all of your additional costs, you’ll need to think carefully about your pricing policy.Read more
A useful starting point will be to carry out a benchmarking exercise of other local provision and their rates of hire for similar facilities.
Many schools have two or three different levels of charges to their policy which are appropriate to the different sets of users, such as private companies or community groups.
It's possible you could be eligible for funding through our Small Grants fund.Read more
We invest in community sport through a number of funding programmes that schools are eligible to apply for.
To be successful, you'll need to demonstrate how your project can help deliver one or more of our strategic outcomes.
The cost of staffing, particularly site management cover, can be a major component of the cost of community use.
However, there are ways of ensuring that these costs can be kept to a minimum.
For instance, if you’re appointing part time or sessional staff, it may be cost effective to consider joint appointments with neighbouring schools, while some roles may be suitable for community volunteers or for students to carry out rather than deploy paid staff.
Your Active Partnership will also be able to link you up with a local qualified workforce of coaches, volunteers and instructors.
Teaching staff will need to understand and support that 'their’ space will be a joint use space. It’s important to consider how your management arrangements will resolve issues around this and how you’ll communicate with the relevant parties.
Bringing the school and community users together at the start of an arrangement, and gaining regular feedback, can often help to prevent issues.
Selecting appropriate marketing methods will enable you to be more effective in targeting your offers to your audiences
At a basic level, you should make it easy for community users to identify a contact email and telephone number to enable them to make an enquiry.
We’ve produced a free Sports Market Segmentation Tool that enables you to identify what 'segments' are dominant in your community, what sporting activities they favour and the best way to communicate with them to market your programmes.
Your Active Partnership will be able to help you with this tool.
Your school will have several responsibilities in relation to community use to ensure the safety of students, staff and community users
In most cases, it'll simply be about extending your current safety practices to cover community activity, although the exact nature of your responsibilities may depend on which operational model you’re using.
Health and safety should be a consideration in the early stages of planning for community use on your site.
It’s important you ensure your health and safety policy is up to date and made available to all groups, and key contacts.
Fire evacuation and other safety procedures should be included within the induction process for all new community groups and also practiced on a regular basis.
Risk assessments should be carried out by all groups using your facilities, however, if it's an event that you're organising (such as a competition) or a 'pay and play' activity, then it's the schools’ responsibility.
We recommend you introduce a quality assurance process when allowing groups to use your site to minimise any risks – the Child Protection in Sport Unit has developed a check and challenge tool to support you in this process.
The general public will see a school site as a safe environment, but schools should consider the implications if a child protection issue arose on their site outside of core hours.
The school governing body need to agree any policy and procedures as they could potentially been viewed as liable if the activity is seen to be organised by the school.