Suffolk County Council has long recognised the important contribution Community Use on school sites makes to the health and wellbeing of its communities. With a direct interest in around 20 school facilities, it wanted to explore new approaches to:

  • Broadening community access to sports facilities on school sites
  • Improving the quality and consistency of service from community use facilities
  • Making the management of Community Use more efficient for schools, operators and funding partners
  • Improving the sustainability of Community Use in individual schools.

In partnership with Culture First – the culture and sport improvement network for the East of England, Suffolk County Council secured funding from Improvement East to commission the Sport, Leisure and Culture Consultancy (SLC). SLC’s remit was to review community use provision across 12 Suffolk schools in the South West Ipswich and South Suffolk (SWISS) Partnership. Over a period of 9 months the SLC team led by Duncan Wood-Allum working alongside John Wood and Marcus Kingwell  identified issues and opportunities for improvement, and developed a unique approach to achieving more sustainable operations through improvements to deliver wider outcomes for schools and their communities.

The project highlighted some key issues and opportunities which to date, had been holding back the potential of many of these school facilities. Key to the project was the development of a Community Use Support Framework to provide the 12 schools with bespoke support to assist them with  improvements identified with them by SLC. This has led to the procurement of a specialist community sport and leisure operator, Abbeycroft Leisure Ltd being commissioned to provide the enabling support to schools to implement their improvement plans and explore joint collaboration over the next 18 months.

This groundbreaking project demonstrated how through a close collaborative relationship between Suffolk County Council, SLC and the SWISS partnership schools, the true potential of Community Use on a diverse range of sites could be given an opportunity to flourish. All this has been achieved within a climate of huge change for many of the schools, where Community Use could have been viewed as a low priority.

This project will be the subject of a Sport England Case Study and feature in a Seminar on Community Use to be held in the East of England in November – dates to be confirmed. It is hoped this project will shift the mindset surrounding the sustainability and contribution Community Use can make in the future.

Richard Hunt, Head of Service Development, (Culture, Sport and Communities), Adult and Community Services at Suffolk County Council and Chairman of CLOA said; “Duncan and his team brought a creative and innovative approach to the project which both engaged and enthused stakeholders,  which ranged from Local Authority Officers, Head Teachers, Business Managers, School Governors and front line operational staff. Duncan’s ability to communicate effectively at all levels, whilst still challenging stakeholder’s thinking in a way which does not alienate  them has been critical to retaining stakeholder’s  engagement in the future support framework which has been developed. On a personal level it has been a pleasure  to work with Duncan. His professionalism and attention to detail has ensured that the project has stayed on plan and provided excellent value for money.  I look forward to the opportunity to work with Duncan again in the future and would have no hesitation in recommending him.”

Duncan Wood-Allum, who led the project said, ” Together, we’ve broken new ground and unlocked the potential for Community Use of schools to become more sustainable; not just in Suffolk, but across the UK. With increased pressure on local authority budgets and the shift of schools away from their local authorities, the learning from Suffolk will prove invaluable to others seeking to maintain and develop Community Use in this tough climate. Before local authorities or schools consider reducing their funding or closing your Community Use facilities, I urge them to consider adopting the dynamic approach Suffolk have taken with SLC and take the lead in giving these highly valued facilities an opportunity to become more sustainable through smarter, more efficient working, best practice and shared management support.” SLC are acknowledged to be the leading UK expert on the complexities, issues and opportunities and potential of  Community Use of schools.

If you would like to explore how SLC can help you unlock the potential of your Community Use facilities, please contact us on 01444 487740 or email us here.