What will be learned from the case study?
- The added value benefits of working in partnership with community based organisations, to overcome the legacy of a stalled development
- How the council went about developing a mutually beneficial three way partnership with two community based organisations to deliver an improved community sports facility
- The benefits inherent in taking a long term strategic approach towards asset transfer, where learning by individual practice can inform and shape wider council policy.
Setting the scene
Spikes Bridge Park is located in the heart of Southall, in the south west of the London Borough of Ealing. Ealing has a population of circa 315,000, of which 41% belong to black or minority ethnic communities. 78% of Southall’s population is of minority ethnic origin.
Formally Southall Municipal Sports Ground, the 8.2 hectare open space site was once the hub of an extremely diverse community, traditionally of Indian and Pakistani origin. However, a lack of investment and intensive informal use had rapidly taken its toll on the ageing facilities, (the pavilion was demolished for health and safety reasons in 2007). A private sector led plan for re-development, (begun in 2002), failed to materialise, despite extensive negotiations, and its generally run-down condition had led to the site becoming an unwelcome focus for anti-social behaviour.
What facilities were in place had been used to destruction by a local population that's obsessive about cricket, and the running track was also very popular
Julia Roberston, sports development manager, Active Ealing
As part of the council's borough wide plan to create more Youth Provision, refurbishment of the fenced tarmac courts and unfenced tarmac, the creation of 3 tennis courts and a MUGA, was undertaken in 2010. A playing pitch strategy in 2007 had previously identified Spikes Bridge as a key site of local importance, but its long-term future had yet to be secured. But, with renewed political interest, a continued demand by clubs and a growing population, the council decided to re-tender the opportunity to manage the sports facility in 2009.
As Julia Robertson, Active Ealing Sports Development Manager, explains, the sense of local ownership of the site remained strong, despite its poor condition.
"We knew this wasn't going to happen if we didn't have a credible community partner. Historically, the site has been the focus of extensive unauthorised use – what facilities were in place had been used to destruction by a local population that's obsessive about cricket, and the running track was also very popular".
The council has since capitalised on this local enthusiasm with an exciting community led scheme involving two community based organisations - London Tigers - a football team and community organisation, and Southall Community Alliance (SCA) – a local charity representing a wide range of smaller community groups in Southall. A 25 year lease, a low rent and a revenue commitment from the council to cover grounds maintenance, (approx £10k), and utility charges, will form the main terms of an agreement to regenerate the sport and leisure facilities in the park.
A cross directorate team was established, including Parks, Property, Regeneration and Sports Development, with a view to transfer Spikes Bridge to a community partner to help meet the council's aspirations for the site. A new leasing pack, that clearly set out the council's long term vision, was prepared, which sought to obtain the following information from potential partners:
- Ideas and future plans for the use of Spikes Bridge
- A 'Method Statement' which asked for evidence of: experience; skills; organisational capacity; ability to maintain a mutually beneficial partnership and the submission of a Sports Development plan for the site, (the Sport England standard sports development plan template was suggested in the brief)
- Probity checks
- Financial accounts
- Eligibility to fundraise
- Confirmation of suitable governance arrangements in place, including: CRB, Equality and Diversity, Health and Safety, Insurance and Constitution.
The individual elements of the leasing pack were purposefully designed to extract information that would dovetail with the aspirations of different strategic partners at a national, regional, sub-regional and local level, including:
- "Game Plan, A strategy for delivering government's sport and physical activity objectives"
- The PE and School Clubs Links Strategy
- The "London Plan for Sport and Physical Activity"
- Pro Active West London, (one of 5 sub-regional partnerships in London)
- Active Ealing, (the borough-wide strategy for increasing sport and physical activity and access)
- The Football Association's "National Game Strategy"
- Middlesex County Football Association's Development Plan
- The England and Wales Cricket Board's vision.
As well as saving time in preparing future bids, evidence of strategic thinking also gave the council an early steer on those applicants who would demonstrate future credibility with a range of funders.
The transfer opportunity was advertised to all local contacts, (approx. 700 groups), through National Governing Bodies and posted on the council's website. Although London Tigers and SCA originally came forward with separate proposals, during the evaluation stage the council considered that the organisations' ideas were extremely complementary, and subsequently encouraged them to consider making a new joint proposal.
6 week initial expressions of interest period
This suggestion was agreed between the two organisations, and a consultant was appointed by the two organisations to work up a more detailed proposal for the council, which was subsequently agreed.
The initial expressions of interest stage took 6 week to complete. The second stage, which included formal proposal submissions, evaluation, interviews and preferred partner selection, took 10 weeks. The process included officer time to get to the position of agreement and minimal legal and property management costs.
"Issues around the 5 year business plan were important to get right", says Julia. "We tested the groups' assumptions around running costs using internal benchmarks, and the need for a sinking fund was clarified early on. Responsibilities would be split for grounds maintenance. For example, the groups would take on aspects such as 'dressing the wicket', while the council will continue with broader grounds maintenance responsibilities."
Cabinet approval was gained to delegate approvals and speed up the transfer process. An outline timetable was prepared so that all stakeholders' expectations were managed, including those of councillors and residents.
Outcomes and impact
A three way partnership has now been established, with the following consortium vision:
Together we aim to develop and promote excellent recreational facilities that have full community involvement, are safe, accessible and sustainable. We will forge positive relationships with statutory partners, external funders, local sports groups and residents to regenerate the park area
A phased approach to delivery has been agreed between partners. The first phase consists of creating a 4 changing room pavilion, educational space, flexible community spaces, car parking, a 3rd generation pitch, (essential to the viability of the scheme), floodlighting, (subject to planning), resurfaced athletics track and provision of 6 bay cricket nets.
Phase one elements have a capital cost of £1.7m excluding professional fees. The council has agreed to lead on planning advice, technical drawings, the landscape architect and achieve VAT savings on purchases. London Tigers, (who will eventually be established as the lease holder with a 25 year agreement), and SCA will lead on external funding bids, engaging with the community in the consultation process and marketing and promotion leading up to the opening of the new facility. A management committee will be developed to ensure ongoing support of the local community who have a significant vested interest in the site.
A formal partnership agreement enshrines the fact that the consortium is entering into a development agreement, rather than a landlord and tenant arrangement. The partnership agreement covers the following shared interests:
- A schedule of allocated partner tasks and responsibilities, including the provision to renegotiate the same at any time during the term
- Performance monitoring, (via quarterly project meetings)
- Financial terms
- Confidentiality, Freedom of Information, Data Protection, Branding and Publicity terms
- Maintenance of accurate records
- Termination terms, (and consequences)
- Liability and Indemnity terms
- Dispute Resolution process.
Both external and internal capital funding, (£200k from the council), has been identified and gained. One has successfully levered the other. Three major grant bids, totalling £950k, are currently underway to the Football Association, the London Mayors Legacy Fund PlaySport and the London Marathon Trust. If successful with these funding applications, work will start on site in summer 2011, subject to planning and successful procurement.
The experience of Spikes Bridge has also contributed to the refinement of the council's asset transfer process. A rent subsidy method has been established to balance the council's need to meet its 'fiduciary duty' to manage its assets in a way that makes best use of resources, against the economic, social and sporting impacts implied by the partnership arrangement.
The rent subsidy methodology is based on the degree to which community sports organisations meet standard criteria. Maximum points are awarded for the attainment of Sport England Clubmark or National Governing Body of Sport equivalent. Supplementary points are gained for the demonstration of the following:
- Appropriate NGB affiliation
- Qualified coaches
- Insurances in place
- Open membership and equity policies
- An agreed Sports Development Plan
- A commitment to maintaining and developing school-club links
- Appropriate monitoring and evaluations processes
- CASC registered, (if appropriate)
- Governance arrangements in place
- Need and demand led
- External funding secured.
As Julia explains, the council's pragmatic approach to a rent subsidy for Spikes Bridge remains evidence based.
"We decided that meeting all our criteria would warrant an 80% reduction in market rent. In this instance, our community based partners are providing significant added value. If, as a result of their intervention, the capital improvements are realised and more users can benefit from an enhanced site, then the value for money argument is easily won."
The consortium partnership for Spikes Bridge has been led by the community, for the community, with the underpinning reassurance of a local authority presence. The council has confidence in the community partnership to deliver against community need, and the community partners are satisfied with the arrangement that day-to-day management of the site is their responsibility.
Overall, the outcome of the approach taken by the council and its community based partnership is pointing the way to a sustainable and long-term future for Spikes Bridge. What was, until recently, a council facility that was attracting political and community attention for all the wrong reasons, is now a focus for neighbourhood regeneration and local pride. As a result of the possibilities that have emerged as a result of the approach for Spikes Bridge, its appropriate replication across similar challenging sites in the borough is now a top priority.
Critical success factors
- Agree what you want to do with the site - establish an easily understandable and clear vision for potential bidders, evidenced by need, (the proposal for Spikes Bridge is in-line with current Government thinking on the provision of multi-sport hub sites that are able to service a wide range of users)
- Design the process to get the best out of potential partners. The council were open to ideas, the 'interview' was informal and explanatory. Meetings were scheduled in the evening to accommodate volunteers' availability, (in retrospect, the council feel that it could have included less council-specific obligations and jargon in the original brief, and still ensured due diligence was met)
- Do not underestimate the level of professional support that a council has to offer, in terms of planning, project management and supporting external funding bids
- Get planning involved early on, so issues like floodlights can be addressed
- If the transfer is to be a success, the council must remain involved throughout the process and in the future, as part of a management committee or similar
- Although cross-departmental arrangements are essential, decide who is going to lead overall, and on the various element into the future, such as monitoring progress
- A long term view is essential. Ongoing revenue funding, rent subsidy and general resource commitment are vital ingredients underpinning the viability and sustainability of Spikes Bridge
- Residents welcome the fact that a community based partnership is providing a visible leading role. There are fewer concerns about whether residents' views are going to be heard. As the roots of community based organisations go deeper in the community, they work more naturally and quickly as accountable providers than the local authority.
Julia Robertson, Active Ealing Sports Development Manager
Environment and Leisure, 1st floor, Perceval House, 14 - 16 Uxbridge Road, Ealing W5 2HL