Before becoming an academy in 2011, our co-educational secondary school in Buckingham suffered decades of under investment as a grammar. Indeed, several years ago, we were receiving less statutory funding than any other school in England. In 1997, a School Fund (registered charity) was established to help provide financial support. Then, in 2010, the school invested in development as a permanent function – and I was employed for 12 hours a week. The development team has since expanded to three people, as we began generating significant income.
Our students are drawn from Buckingham and Winslow, as well as Milton Keynes and surrounding areas, and have a wide range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. The school celebrates its 600th anniversary in 2023, and we have used this landmark as the catalyst for an ongoing fundraising campaign to deliver the facilities our 1,290 students deserve.
The 600 Campaign is led by the development team, in conjunction with a voluntary campaign board of parents and alumni representatives. By 2015, we had raised enough funds to complete a stunning £5m STEM Discovery Centre, and in 2016 we launched a Sixth Form Study Centre. Since then, we’ve focused on raising the £3m needed to create a new Sports Campus.
Long before the pandemic, the school was concerned about young people struggling with physical and mental wellbeing, with a decline in rates of physical activity matched by a rise in referrals for counselling services. The constraints of outdated facilities made it hard to devote space to physical and mental health activities, or to encourage young people to try new things.
Drawing on research data and with the input of key advisors (including sports governing bodies, primary schools, local sports providers, universities, the county sports partnership and professional sports clubs such as Arsenal FC), the school designed new sports facilities to revolutionise the physical learning experience, and to inspire young people of all abilities to follow an active and balanced pathway at school, university, in their community, and into employment.
Our Sports Campus was designed to be light, welcoming and accessible, with an energetic VIVA Fitness Suite, calm Mind & Body Zone for yoga, dance and wellbeing classes, and a futuristic Sports Lab to explore the role of technology in sport. Combined, these facilities offer young people and the community opportunities to be active and to attend a free programme of lectures and seminars provided by visiting sports and wellbeing specialists.
With no statutory funding available, it was clear the project needed to be funded by a charitable campaign. Our application to benefit from the sugar tax was refused, and Sport England funding for schools had been so drastically reduced that it wasn’t an option either.
At the core of our 600 Campaign strategy is a philosophy that adopts an innovative approach to sponsorships, philanthropy, community and sustainability. Whether it’s corporate partnerships, or links with local sports clubs, charitable foundations or community groups, the school focuses its energies on engaging like-minded people and creating positive change for all. With this in mind, we developed the Sports Campus fundraising campaign as follows:
A document to outline why the campus was needed, the benefits it would bring, and why funding was sought. One page and longer versions were distributed, and also posted on our website. This enabled early discussions with community and potential supporters, and influenced building design.
We set out a calendar of regular events to create a campaign structure and milestones. Launch receptions were held at school and the House of Commons. We held regular engagement, briefing and thank you events for supporters. We organised fundraising dinners at Arsenal FC, the RAF Club and Williams F1. We held a Gin & Jazz evening at school.
We targeted suitable grant providers and held discussions with funders to understand the application criteria and enable a compelling application to be made. We also worked collaboratively, asking the trusts for help and advice during applications where possible.
We held one-to-one discussions with engaged alumni to elicit major gifts. We also organised private fundraising dinners at unique venues with VIP speakers. We set up a sponsor scheme, enabling donors to give £1,000 or more by spreading monthly payments over several years.
Engaging the wider community was critical. From students to parents to grandparents and alumni, everyone was encouraged to ‘do their bit’ and join in. Initiatives included:
We created case studies of effective corporate partnerships, which we shared with the business community. We also built a sponsorship framework to help businesses identify how they could support us. Most corporate support didn’t materialise until towards the end of the campaign, the highlight being a multi-year pledge totalling £107,000 from ek robotics!
Several schemes enabled monthly donations from around £6 pcm to be made across several years:
The £3m campaign target was met just weeks before the facilities were completed. Contributors included the Football Foundation (£662,000), the London Marathon Charitable Trust (£150,000), ek robotics (£107,000), Racelogic (£100,000), and Garfield Weston Foundation (£50,000). Community fundraising and events raised a further £177,000, while regular giving brought in another £179,000.
The doors to the Sports Campus opened to students and the community last September, prior to a formal opening by Greg Whyte OBE. The reaction has been extraordinary, with a hugely positive impact on users.
'The ek robotics Sports Campus is transforming what we're able to offer students and the community. It's come at a critical time, when we need to work extra hard to help everyone rebuild fitness and confidence after the pandemic. It will allow us to enhance equality of provision, and it adds a new energy to the school that will change lives for the better. My department is really proud to be a part of that.' - Ian Gould, RLS director of sport