The local authority leisure department had previously operated a community provision at the predecessor school, but this arrangement ended in 2009.
The Academy’s governing body were keen to establish a community hub, and in June 2013 recruited a full time Leisure and Community Manager to develop their community programme.
‘The Zone’ Leisure and Community Centre at North Birmingham Academy opened for business in September 2013 and is already operating at a profit. The facility is open every evening and weekend for 50 weeks of the year and during term time the sports hall community bookings are nearly operating at full capacity (97.5%).
- Sports Hall – 4 Badminton Court sized
- Large Dance Studio – accommodating 30 people
- Small Dance Studio – accommodating 15 people
- Fitness Suite – with 22 stations plus free weights
- Theatre – seating up to 250
- Various classrooms – used for cooking, IT, Conferences and meetings etc.
- 3 grass football pitches
- Changing accommodation
- There is also a Costa Coffee franchise which is opened by request for large scale events.
Type of community users
A range of organised groups and clubs use The Zone, including an Adult Indian Bollywood Dance group, junior and adult Karate clubs and a Regional Basketball league. Aston Villa Community Kicks programme run free activities for young people between 12 and 19 years of age on Friday evenings. Weightwatchers, a choir and a church group also use the indoor facilities on a regular basis and Wheels Motorcycle training run courses from the site. The Fitness Suite offers gym membership and there is a resident Aerobics Instructor delivering a range of classes. The Academy have also developed good relationships with various National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and have become a hub for NGB coaching courses (in Netball Basketball etc).
North Birmingham Academy employ a small, dedicated team to deliver their community programme. The team are led by the Leisure and Community Manager who deals with booking enquiries, manages the business on a day to day level and also implements the development plan. The Leisure and Community Manager is employed full time by the school working from 2pm – 10pm to ensure he is on site during community activity and a Leisure Assistant covers additional shifts. They are supported by four casual Leisure Assistants (these positions are filled by sixth form students attending the Academy) who carry out gym inductions, clean up and check the community spaces and set up equipment. The school finance department raise community invoices on a monthly basis.
Making it work
The PE department has been designed with community use in mind. All the sports facilities are situated in their own ‘wing’ of the school with a designated community entrance and an intercom which enables the Leisure and Community Team to control access to the building. The facilities are also zoned so that they can be heated and lit separately from the rest of the school.
The Zone has a designated budget and in the first year of operation broke even. Costs include staffing and utility bills (defined as any usage after 5pm), and any revenue made is reinvested back into the business (such as purchasing sports equipment). The hire rates have been priced competitively low as they are a new facility and therefore did not want to raise expectations regarding the level of service. The Leisure and Community Manager works with clubs to develop a payment plan that suits them – for example some clubs pay weekly, and others (particularly football clubs) spread the costs over a year as part of an agreed twelve month contract. This approach to pricing ensures the Academy are meeting the needs of their community and do not out-price local residents as they are situated in an area of high deprivation. The Academy also offer cheaper gym membership for parents whose children are participating in a club – this encourages parents to stay on and use the facility alongside their children.
All the Academy Community and Leisure staff are DBS checked, and all coaches delivering activities to children must also be DBS checked. The design of the facilities ensures that adult and junior groups do not need to mix and can access separate toilets. The ability to control who comes in and out of the building also minimises risk.
North Birmingham Academy are committed to providing inclusive opportunities for the community on their doorstep. There is a stigma relating to the predecessor school which exists amongst past students who are now prospective parents for the Academy. The Leisure and Community Centre is therefore an important resource for the Academy to raises its profile and present a positive image to local residents.
North Birmingham Academy have a five year community development plan which includes additional capital improvements to the site. The Academy have secured partnership funding from the Football Association for an All Weather Pitch (AWP), and have recently covered an outdoor courtyard area adjacent to the proposed site for the AWP. This will enable parents and spectators to view activity comfortably, and will provide a link to the main building. There are also plans to improve the surface of the MUGA and install floodlights.
The main challenge has been publicising the Leisure and Community Centre with a minimal advertising budget. The Academy distributed leaflets to their six closest primary schools and organised an open day when the school first opened, but this has been the extent of promotional activities.
North Birmingham Academy students benefit in a number of ways from The Zone Leisure and Community centre. The centre provides work opportunities for some of their sixth form students, and also Year 11 students benefit from free courses such as First Aid in work. The Academy have also negotiated a contract with a coaching company who have free use of the facilities and in return they offer a number of students free places on their courses. The Aston Villa kicks programme also provides students with an opportunity to engage in a positive experience on a Friday evening.
- Remember that community use does not happen between 9am and 5pm! You need to have staff committed to working late nights.
- Meet your community users – spend time with them and build up a relationship. It is then a lot easier to resolve any issues, as they will respect you and the facility.
- Employ industry experts who are familiar with niches in the leisure market. For example, The Zone have a fitness instructor who is aware of initiatives in the fitness industry to enable them to compete with private gyms.
Franco Politi – Leisure and Community Manager
North Birmingham Academy
|Type: Academy (Sponsored by E-ACT)||Gender: Mixed|
|Age Range: 11-19||Size: 1100|
|Location: Erdington, a residential area on the outskirts of Birmingham||Management Model: Direct management by the school employing a small Leisure and Community team|
|No. of Community Users: approximately 350 regular users each week|