Make more of your assets

With funding under pressure, schools need to make the most of everything they’ve got. So take a step back and consider what’s possible, says Jane Hughes.

Visualising your school as a community resource of bountiful possibilities may seem a bit far-fetched when you’re scrabbling for pennies to make ends meet. But when it comes
to capitalising on your assets, it pays to be creative. Do you have green space that could accommodate an event marquee or a local sports club? Could your school hall be temporarily transformed into a party, wedding or conference venue? Have you explored hiring out your buildings as a film or language school location?

Consider your specialist expertise and facilities. Could you offer your drama or dance studio to local groups? Have you thought about raising income by revamping your in-school catering or even hiring out your kitchen to external caterers? Do you have music or food tech rooms that others could make use of out of school hours?

Consider your location. Are you near a major event venue that might want to rent your school car park? Are you in a large city or town where prices for wedding venues are sky-high?

Positioning your school as a community solution could bring in thousands of pounds a year. Moreover, opening your doors can boost your profile locally, creating the kind of positive PR that could lead to an increase in pupil numbers as well as future collaborations with local organisations.

‘A school’s ability to generate income depends on what resources it has available,’ says Hayley Dunn, business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders. ‘Many schools are exploring new income streams to help balance budgets that are under severe pressure.’

She points out that this shouldn’t be seen as an expectation, however ‘it is worth reviewing the school site to identify potential opportunities,’ she says. ‘For example, the roof space may be suitable for solar panels, which generate feed-in tariff income. Another option is to provide services to other schools, such as school meals or letting out school buildings at weekends. Schools should look at what infrastructure is required and prepare a clear business case, ensuring, of course, that any planned activity doesn’t compromise the quality of education and the safety of pupils.’

According to Julia Green of education law specialists Browne Jacobson, schools only use their sites for education for 55% of the year, leaving plenty of potential to raise funds from lettings. ‘Schools should take legal advice and have one policy document that covers both lettings policy and procedure,’ she advises. The good news about hiring out premises is that the income raised is ‘unrestricted’, allowing you to direct a funding stream to the spending priorities of your choice.

Can you hire out your facilities?

For Sharon Noble, development manager at Chestnut Grove Academy in Wandsworth, the income from lettings is vital, but so too is the community goodwill that comes with it. ‘We hire out our 3G and MUGA pitches, and our drama studio is used by local judo and Pilates clubs. We also reach out
to local groups, such as the young children’s football team, and we provide some free and subsidised slots for local community groups, in accordance with our constitution. As an academy with good facilities, it’s important for our reputation and future success that local people view us as a community hub.’

One reliably good earner is the weekly booking from an online sports club that organises social sports meet-ups for individuals. The only drawback of evening and weekend hire, says Sharon Noble, is the cost of premises staff. But this isn’t an issue if the facilities can be accessed independently of the main building.

More schools are turning to online booking to help manage lettings. Non profit-making Kajima Community’s BookingsPlus software, for instance, allows schools to manage bookings in-house (for a three per cent commission capped at £2,500 a year).

Using BookingsPlus has certainly paid off for Manor CofE Academy, built ten years ago in Nether Poppleton, near York. The school makes more than £120,000 a year by letting out its facilities out of school time. ‘Our large auditorium is extremely popular and has been used for everything from roller discos to charity events,’ says lettings manager Rachel Snowden. ‘It took a while to get staff on board, but they have recognised that the revenue raised comes back to the school and that we want to be a buzzing community resource. We offer very affordable options for local groups who struggle to find spaces.’

The school also hosts weddings, charging far less than hotel rates. ‘We provide round tables and staging and people can organise their own licensed bar. They can use our catering or bring in their own,’ adds Rachel Snowden.

Haverstock School, a PFI secondary academy in Chalk Farm, north London, has also opened up its facilities to the community. ‘By making our assets available for public use through Kajima’s fully managed lettings service, the school now plays a central role in the community, which has directly benefited our students and fostered a great sense of local cohesion,’ says director of finance and operations, Martin Hesketh. ‘Our facilities are used by a wide range of groups, from sporting clubs to adult education classes. Community use has also helped generate additional funding opportunities. Powerleague – a user of our sports facilities – funded an upgrade of the all-weather pitch to support its five-a-side football league. The high-quality playing surface can now be enjoyed by both our pupils and local clubs.’

CASE STUDY: ‘A new alarm system meant we could hire out our school hall’

For one West Sussex village school, paying for an evening caretaker is no longer an issue. Ashurst Wood Primary School started hiring out its hall after being approached by a local karate and judo group. ‘The group had lost its previous home – and the Saturday morning booking meant a regular income for us,’ says headteacher Lisa Hobby.

Fortunately, as part of a new security system, two separate alarm and entry systems were installed, allowing hall users to lock up after themselves while the alarm is on in the main school. ‘This means we can keep our rates affordable but still receive a bit of extra income,’ says Lisa Hobby. ‘The hall is very much a community resource and we charge £15 an hour, with a reduced rate of £10 an hour for local groups, such as the Brownies, which benefit our children. We’re also renting out the smoke machines we use for drama productions.’

Can you get creative with catering?

Now that many schools are moving away from local authority or contractor catering, in-house caterers have the opportunity to increase income streams, says Liz Greene of Catering Management Consultants (CMC), which works with around 120 schools. ‘We help in-house caterers revamp every aspect of their service, from better presentation to reduced queueing time and improved menus so that more pupils buy the meals. We also look at ways to generate additional income, for instance with birthday party lunch tables, take-home meals for families or Friday treats.’

For Julie Smith, headteacher at St Chad’s CofE (VC) Primary School in Lichfield, Staffordshire, bringing in CMC was a revelation. ‘After visiting another primary school that had taken its catering service in-house with the help of CMC, I decided to do the same. Our menus are now made with better-quality products and presentation has improved. This has led to an increase in the number of pupils buying school meals, with the potential to bring in an extra £6,000 each year. A new break menu has also increased income by £50 a week.’

Can you capitalise on your car park?

During the school day the car park never seems big enough, but at weekends and during the holidays these spaces are often deserted. So why not turn this to your advantage? Some schools offer parking for local events on a cash-by-car basis. PTAs can also use car parks to host car boot sales. However, by advertising your car park online, you gain access to a much larger market, particularly if you’re in a popular location (near a town centre, train station or attraction) where parking is limited and expensive. For instance, it’s free to list your car park on the app and website JustPark, which has more than a million users who pay to reserve spaces online. You can set availability times, and the money goes straight to the school account.

CASE STUDY: We run a car park for Twickenham rugby fans

‘Nelson Primary was one of the first schools in the area to open a car park for Twickenham Stadium. We are within a short walk of the stadium and the RFU asked if we could provide parking while one of the stands was being refurbished. That was 25 years ago and the car park has been the PTA’s main source of income ever since.

We offer a high level of service. Up to five volunteers per hour meet and greet our customers at the school gate, show them where to park and give directions to the stadium. We use our staff car park and the school playgrounds. We also open up the toilets – something that is much appreciated by our customers as many have travelled for several hours, and some even fly in from other countries (especially when the stadium hosts big concerts).

We aim to park more than 100 vehicles per match. England matches typically attract a lot of four-wheel-drive cars, but for concerts people often arrive in small cars and we can fit more in. We also have space for minibuses and one coach or limo. If people come on a motorbike, we are happy to store their helmet and leathers. One of our biggest challenges is the weather. It can be freezing cold, boiling hot, rainy or snowy. We have to be prepared for anything!

We sell spaces online via our website twickenhamparking.co.uk. We’re around £5-£10 cheaper than official RFU car parks, and our customers like supporting our school rather than commercial organisations. The website, staffing, communication and cleaning is all run by PTA volunteers.

After covering the costs of the website and credit card fees, we make around 97% profit per car space. This brings in thousands of pounds a year. It has helped us to fund major projects, as well as supplementing school trips and workshops and paying for books, transport and sports equipment. 

Our last major project was a £15,000 refurbishment of the school library. Customers have also been topping up our book fund with donations. Car park fees have additionally paid for permanent stage lighting for school productions, and we’ve just bought some lovely recycled plastic picnic tables and buddy benches that the children and customers will be able to enjoy.’

Mary Weaver, Nelson Primary School PTA, Whitton, Twickenham (432 pupils)

Do you have any unused land?

No one wants to see school playing fields disappear, but perhaps there is a fenced-off area or a mothballed building that could be sold without affecting the quality of your educational provision. The DfE’s property company, LocatED, has identified a pilot group of 100 schools that have ‘surplus’ land or estates in poor condition, such as dilapidated tennis courts and disused buildings. It suggests such schools could generate windfalls of between £100,000 and £15 million, possibly for school rebuilds combined with new housing. Bear in mind that there are competing interests at play here as most school land is owned by local authorities or dioceses, with only one in ten schools owning their own land.

Useful contacts

- Help with capital funding
E3 Cube is a property consultancy that helps schools develop business cases for capital funding applications, such as CIF, building condition surveys and maintenance programmes. e3cube.co.uk

- Maintenance software
Altuity offers an easy-to-use software package that increases the efficiency of site maintenance, with visual tracking of orders and jobs to identify priorities and volumes of work. altuity.com

- Filming 
Companies such as Location Works offer the possibility of listing your school online as a venue for filmmakers and photographers. Online application is free and you can earn between £800 and £2,000 per shoot. locationworks.com

- Online school lettings and bookings resources
Sport England’s Use Our School online resource has information on facilities hire, operating safely and best-practice case studies. sportengland.org/how-we-can-help/facilities-and-planning. See also bookingsplus.co.uk; schoolhire.co.ukschoolsplus.co.uk

- Legal advice 
Browne Jacobson specialises in education law and can provide advice on the legal aspects of lettings, such as safeguarding, health and safety, and insurance. brownejacobson.com