Designing for community use

When opening up your facilities for community use it is essential that both the needs of the users and the school are considered

Clubs and groups need to gain access easily and feel welcome, and at the same time schools need to be able to maintain their security and ability to deliver their core business.

Improving your community access

Best practice design principles do not always have huge cost implication, think about this checklist: 

  • Site entrance – clear community signage, safe and well lit routes for pedestrians, cyclists and cars.
  • Reception – welcoming space with an area to answer queries and monitor security, logical routes from reception to changing and practical spaces.
  • Changing rooms – clean and comfortable, cubicle showers and access to lockers if possible. Outdoor changing with direct access to sports pitches and courts, and an accessible changing space. Flexible changing suites will allow use for team changing at certain times as well as individual male and female changing.
  • Zoning – clustering community facilities together, ability to isolate your security, heating and lighting systems in your main community areas.
  • Clubs – provide separate team and official changing for competitions, access to a meeting/coaching room, secure storage for their equipment and a noticeboard or area to promote their sessions.
  • Spectators/viewing – a suitable space for parents/spectators to meet, spectate, and refresh.
  • Safety – practical spaces that are clutter/equipment free, clean - especially sports floors and outdoor surfaces, and well maintained (lighting and equipment).
  • Efficient/running costs – energy saving design such as automatic lighting, flexible use of spaces, use of renewable technologies, recycling waste points, clear signage to encourage community users to save energy.
  • Universal design (also referred to as Inclusive Design) – you should aim to ensure that the facilities are suitable for as many people as possible. For example, if you are looking at new signs, ensure that you use the correct font and size with the right contrast with the background.

Community Use and the Equality Act

If you are providing community access to your sports facilities, then under the Equality Act (which has now replaced the Disability Discrimination Act), you must offer access to everyone on equal terms, whether they are disabled or not. The Equality Act has wider requirements for community rather than just school use. This means you must take all reasonably practicable steps to provide an equal service for disabled users who may want to use the facility.

The act does not specify precisely what should be done or define specific physical or management actions that need to be put in place. The onus is on the organisation. It is therefore important to develop an access strategy and identify adjustments that can be made to remove any barriers. Examples include:

  • installing a short ramp at the entrance or providing a door bell to reception so that someone can open an adjacent side door.
  • Ensuring that door widths meet published guidance, making movement easier for people pushing buggies, maneuvering sports chairs, carrying large sports bags etc.

Management solutions must be kept to a minimum and under review whenever there is any investment, as inevitably many adjustments only reduce the barrier and therefore an equal service will not yet be being provided. In addition, management solutions also incur ongoing costs.

Further advice on a universal/inclusive design approach can be obtained from a suitably experienced and qualified access consultant with experience in sports facilities.

If you need to make adaptations to your building to accommodate community use, then you may be eligible to apply for a Sport England grant. 

Capital projects

If you are planning a new capital project it is important to consider both your curriculum and community needs from the start.

For example you will need to ensure your facilities meet the correct national governing body of sport specification for the level of sport that will be played.

You should also consider the design layout and adjacencies of spaces – it may be helpful to plan the ‘journey’ of a potential community user from first entering site. Sport England has a range of design guidance notes (see the useful links) to help you during the design process.