Downlands Community School

Before 2006, Downlands Community School had very poor sports facilities mainly comprising of a first floor gymnasium, therefore community use was not a priority

However, this changed when a culmination of a number of grants enabled the school to develop a stand-alone Sports Centre. Funding for the £2m building came from The National Lottery Community Fund, West Sussex Council, the School and a substantial donation from the Harding family for which the school is incredibly grateful.

In addition, Downlands also secured a football foundation grant of £282,000 towards a new 3G full size floodlit pitch. These new sports facilities meant the school needed to decide how best it would operate a community programme.

After exploring a range of options and management models, the school and governors decided to appoint Freedom Leisure – a non-profit making leisure trust. One of the main factors for outsourcing the community management was to enable the school to continue to focus on their expertise in teaching and learning whilst allowing Freedom Leisure to bring their professional skills in leisure management to develop the Sports Centre.


Facilities include:

  • Sports Hall - 4 Badminton court sized
  • Fitness Suite
  • 2 dance studios
  • PE Classroom /Training Room
  • Community Changing Room
  • Community Café area (requiring minimal management with healthy vending and coffee machine)
  • All Weather Pitch – Full-size floodlit 3G

Management model

The Sports Centre Management Committee meet termly and report back to the School Governing Body on a regular basis, their role includes:

  • agreeing a pricing policy,
  • dealing with community related issues,
  • making decisions on new activities and future developments,
  • agreeing how any surplus should be invested - for example in new equipment,
  • pursuing funding opportunities such as Sportivate.

Membership of this committee includes:

  • Freedom Leisure – the Centre Manager and Area Manager,
  • Downlands School – the Deputy Head teacher, Head of PE, School Sports Co-ordinator and a Parent Governor
  • 2 User Representatives
  • The Parish Council – acting as the local community representative
  • West Sussex County Council.

“As a not-for-profit trust, Freedom Leisure are transparent about their finances”

Downlands Community School recently signed a new, long term contract with Freedom Leisure. As a not-for-profit organisation, Freedom Leisure provide the school with a monthly report of income and expenditure. The school pay an annual management fee to Freedom Leisure, and the school also cover the costs of any additional contract cleaning required and the costs of the Sports Centre utilities.

An attempt was made to apportion utility costs for community use but as school and community use overlap so much, this proved too problematic.

Freedom Leisure collect the income from community use and deduct their expenses which include staffing, training, IT, Insurances etc. The surplus made is then paid back to the school on an annual basis.

The surplus from community use currently covers the management fee, cleaning and utility costs and is also enabling the school to invest £20k per year in a sinking fund to replace the All Weather Pitch.

Making it work


The carefully planned building layout enables staff at the reception desk to supervise the community café area, sporting activity areas and CCTV. This means that at quiet times, the Sports Centre can be managed by one person if necessary, ensuring efficient staffing costs.

There are designated community and student changing and this is important as during and after the school day the fitness suite is used by both students and members of the public. The school male and female changing facilities are also buffered, allowing for more flexibility particularly during tournaments. PE staff now share one office at the Sports Centre which has developed a more cohesive team.

The decision to include a PE Classroom/training room within the Sports Centre was also an important addition as it provides a specialist classroom for the PE department and clubs with easy access to a valuable coaching and training facility.

As a stand-alone building, Freedom Leisure can open and secure the facility independently from the rest of the school site providing them with greater flexibility. Storage was also considered and there is a large school store, a Freedom Leisure store and a joint store for shared equipment such as badminton nets.


Freedom Leisure provide a team of expert staff to run the facility including a full-time Centre Manager (who works three days per week on administration and two days per week on operational duties). The Centre Manager is supported by two full-time Duty Manager positions working flexibly and a small team of Recreational Assistants whose role it is to set up equipment etc. but are also able to cover reception if necessary.

The team also includes five Fitness Instructors who are specially trained to offer a programme for young adults and three self- employed Personal Trainers.

The on-site team are supported by an Area Manager, and a support office which offer additional support across the 37 sites that Freedom Leisure manage. This centralised expertise includes HR, IT, Marketing, fitness, health and safety as well as Business Management.

Freedom Leisure have a designated website for the Sports Centre and also established a high profile Facebook page with 300 members.

All Freedom Leisure staff are DBS checked and participate in an Educare programme for safeguarding vulnerable adults and child protection. Downlands Community School also risk assess the use of the Sports Centre using the school’s Child Protection Officer.


Downlands School prides itself on being a high performing, inclusive, community school and is committed to excellence in all it does. The school feel they have made an outstanding decision in contracting Freedom Leisure to deliver a successful management model that is open 364 days of the year, allowing them to focus on teaching and learning and running an outstanding school.

Students respect the Sports Centre; a large number engage with the community programme and there have been no issues with regards to graffiti or vandalism.

The Freedom Leisure Centre Manager works with the PE staff to identify students who are considering a career in the Leisure Industry and provide them with work and training opportunities. For example, a Student who is a School Sports Leader has recently obtained a job as Freedom Leisure Recreational Assistant until she starts University and is undertaking a Level 2 Gym Instructor Course as part of the role.


Freedom Leisure have recently developed outdoor Boot Camps making the most of the extensive school grounds and are planning on utilising the external facilities more in summer. They are also revisiting the planning permissions with a view to opening the centre earlier if possible, to keep up with demand.

The Sports Centre Management Committee are also exploring funding for an extension to the centre to offer a purpose-built dance studio with sprung floor (the current studio has a concrete floor and is not suitable for high impact activities).


  • When the Sports Centre first opened, some residents found it difficult to adapt to the extra community use. However, the school have worked hard to be a good neighbour and a community representative sits on the management committee to feed back any issues. There are also customer comments cards and online comments forms to enable feedback to be gained on a regular basis.
  • An ongoing challenge is the sometimes conflicting needs of the school and community programme. It has helped that there is a physical school leadership presence within the Sports Centre which means that issues can be dealt with immediately, without having to wait for a meeting. The high quality staff recruited by Freedom Leisure means that the school have a very positive relationship with the Trust.


  • Income from community use has enabled the school to set up a sinking fund for the All Weather Pitch and invest in new equipment, providing greater financial security.
  • The model enables Downlands Community School to be at the heart of their community, without impacting on the success of the school.
  • Freedom Leisure work with the school to provide training and work opportunities for Students.
  • With over 60 Students and Staff regularly using the fitness suite there are also important health benefits.

Top Tips

  • If you are involved in a capital project – get the design right for both curriculum and community use and consider the staffing implications of your design.
  • Explore a range of management models – a not-for-profit model is a perfect partner for a school.
  • Ensure your management partner has a flexible approach and that you understand each other’s requirements. Look closely at the ethos and values of the organisation and make sure they are compatible to yours.
  • Have a school leadership presence in the community areas.
  • Offer coffee! – a community café is a great way to encourage parents and the wider community to engage and take ownership of your facility.

Contact details

Mark Wignall

Deputy Head teacher Downlands Community School


Contact details for Freedom Leisure

Neil Roberts

Area Manager Freedom Leisure



School Profile

Type: Secondary Community Gender: Mixed
Age Range: 11-16 Size: 1000
Location: A semi-rural location, situated on the fringe of the South Downs National Park in Hassocks, West Sussex Management Model: Managed by a third party, not-for-profit Leisure Trust
No. of Community Users: 4,200 per month and over 50,000 annually

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