The new school opened in November 2012 and provides primary, secondary and post 16 facilities for students with special educational needs. The capital project was funded through Knowsley Council’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. This was delivered through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI), in partnership with Balfour Beatty which has seen all the borough’s secondary schools and several primary schools replaced with new state of the art centres. Bluebell Park, along with all seven PFI Secondary Centres for Learning, has a partnership agreement which includes a designated number of hours for community use, which the Council have paid for up-front in the contract.
Since its opening, Bluebell Park has developed a community programme through working in partnership with the local authority, clubs, existing disability groups and specialist partners. The school is currently working with key stakeholders (including parents and governors) to now widen this community offer, with the aim of delivering a fully inclusive community programme serving the disabled community and their families from across Knowsley.
- Small Sports Hall
- Performance studio – for dance and gymnastics
- Hydrotherapy Pool
- Warm water /learner pool (20m)
- Rebound therapy room
- Soft Play area
- Fully Inclusive playground
- Inclusive MUGA including disabled cycle training track and basketball hoops
- Astro turf surface
- Sports field – full sized football pitch
Types of community users
A range of clubs aimed at students, families and the wider disabled community use the school facilities. These include:
- Greenwood Club, a multi sport, inclusive club with 20 members.
- Boccia/New Age Curling Club.
- ‘The Wednesday Club’ for young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMD) delivered by a specialist external group – Cherish UK.
- Quarry Green FC use the full sized grass football pitch for their Under 18 squad matches.
- A Family Sports Club delivered by Knowsley leisure and cultural development services runs every Sunday from 10am to 2pm.
In addition there are ‘pay and play sessions’ on Sundays for families, in the main pool and hydro pool with 15-20 participants per session.
There is a mixed economy regarding the management and delivery of community use:
- The School are responsible for the after school clubs with school staff leading sessions
- Greenbank Sports Academy (the North West's leading sports and leisure facility for disabled people located in Liverpool) support and manage the multi-sport sessions and employ school based staff (funded by an award.) They are also supporting the development of a Sport England Satellite Club on site
- Cherish UK provide the PMLD club on Wednesdays and also employ school staff
- The Local Authority Leisure and Cultural Development Service (local authority) manage the pool sessions and clubs for families on a Sunday
- The PFI contractor provides caretaking services during community hours as outlined in the project agreement.
Making it work
Bluebell Park staff and Governors initially developed a clear community vision which was underpinned by shared values and principles. This then became the starting point for the project planning process and influenced decisions regarding the design and operation of the site. As a result, the building has been designed with a distinct community zone (see floor plan), access is well managed and the layout works effectively. Bluebell Park, have had positive comments from parents, young people and their siblings regarding the overall experience of attending the centre.
Initially there was a Disability Officer working closely with the school to develop community partnerships and this was when most progress was made. Unfortunately this is no longer possible, but the school are exploring how they can fund a dedicated post.
“Offering a safe and ‘known environment’ is critical to encouraging disability use”
Developing the partnerships between the local authority Leisure staff and the PFI site staff has been another key success for the project as this has ensured that there has been a seamless positivity towards members of the public accessing the facilities. The swimming pools are managed so that the access suits family needs and can be flexed to ensure that individual needs are catered for – e.g. sessions at quieter times for young people for whom noisy environments would be a barrier.
The local authority and Sport England commissioned a feasibility study to assess the community potential for Bluebell Park. The study identified that the familiarity of a school venue was an important factor when engaging the disabled community. For example, taking a young disabled person to a mainstream leisure centre open pool session could lead to a negative experience. Both pools, but particularly the Hydrotherapy Pool where identified as having the most significant potential as there are no other hydrotherapy pools in Knowsley and very few across Merseyside.
“Start with your key principles and establish your target groups early in the process”
One of the key potential user groups, Day Services would ideally like to access provision during school time, this is something that may not be possible, the school are considering the implications. The report also outlined that usage would have to be built up slowly over time until confidence and awareness is generated and would take hard work and support to deliver, potentially through a dedicated Development Officer.
- Sustainability and Viability - prioritising disabled users means that the school will need to think carefully about how to market to this audience and will need to attract community users from across Knowsley and beyond
- The ability to appoint a dedicated Disability Officer to develop links and partnerships would make a huge difference to the community use of the site.
- Providing young people and their families with access to the fantastic facilities is improving their health and developing their self esteem
- The partnerships with clubs provides opportunities for students to develop coaching, leadership and life skills
- Sessions are fully inclusive targeting both hard to reach students and those that are gifted and talented - with particular success in Boccia and swimming
- The community programme enhances and compliments the community ethos of the school and improves engagement with parents.
1) Be clear about your principles before developing a model for community use or designing a new build
2) Consult with the whole community to find the best model and respond to their needs
3) Flexible management arrangements can work – a mixed economy works well at Bluebell Park with both the school and local authority involved and in addition some specialist outside groups
4) Have a clear understanding of the detail of your PFI arrangements – Bluebell Park are making it work in partnership with the local authority
5) Make sure the staff who are employed to manage and run the centre have the right skills, including the ability to communicate well with the school and stakeholders and to adapt to different situations.
Headteacher Bluebell Park
Principal Manager, Knowsley Borough Council
|Type: Community Special (All Age, High Need Special)||Gender: Mixed|
|Age Range: 3-19||Size: 190|
|Location: Situated in Kirkby, an urban area within the borough of Knowsley, near Liverpool||Management Model: A mixed management model involving school staff, the local authority and specialist outside groups|
|No. of Community Users: 904 (in first 6 months) and growing|