As you’d imagine, I read one recent Guardian story with great interest. It was about the potential for the Government to insist schools open for sports and activities in summer. As I nodded along in agreement to each point made by Denis Campbell who wrote the piece, I couldn’t help but question; what we’re waiting for and why we’re not being more ambitious when it comes to supporting our schools in this quest?
Campbell’s article was in response to a comment piece from Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lawrence Dallaglio which highlighted the health benefits of opening schools to kids in the holidays and a successful pilot project which saw 24 schools open their doors to sports and activities. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that the partners involved are shining a light on this staggering untapped potential for our schools, communities and future generations. But, why can’t the aim from Government be to support every school in opening its doors to sports teams and community groups beyond the school bell in mornings, evenings, weekends and holidays.
Since setting up School Lettings Solutions in 2012, we’ve grown to hiring facilities in nearly 250 schools up and down the country. This sees more than 10,000 different groups making the most of schools’ facilities which would otherwise be left empty and under-utilised. By making the most of these leisure facilities, the school also generates another revenue stream to provide a much-needed boost to its funds. It really is win-win. That’s why we welcome the news that all schools may be asked to provide this access to the communities they’re within.
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, the former Paralympic champion, who led the initiative, summed it up perfectly when she said: “school premises could play a vital role if they became “community hubs” over the summer. She goes on to say: “We are ignoring invaluable community assets sitting right on our doorsteps – school facilities – which should be unlocked during the holidays to give every child the opportunity for a healthy, happy summer.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a straightforward ambition to be in every school and we’ve learned so many lessons on our journey so far working with schools and communities across the UK, but our business is proof how well it can work and we’re keen to work with partners, many more schools and hiring organisations to share the wealth of our experience.
As a country, we need to take our collective wellbeing very seriously and anything that gets people moving should be encouraged. That’s why we have launched our inaugural SLS Active Community Competition which gives one group the chance to win a year’s free hire within a school. Your school years likely determine the relationship you’ll have with sport and provides a place to nurture our future stars. It’s also crucial that young people and marginalised groups see sports groups and teams from the wider community who are active, so they’re inspired to start a life-long relationship with sport.
By handing over the keys to the sports pitches, courts, swimming pools and school halls, we unlock huge potential to boost the health of children, communities and create an education system that’s fit for the future.