Making facilities hire work for your school

Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed per pupil spending in England has fallen by 8 per cent since 2010 – news that will come as no surprise to school business managers at the coalface. The lack of funding for education has drawn protests, attracts daily national news coverage and yet the government shows no commitment to increasing education budgets in any meaningful way. It’s against this backdrop that schools are becoming more savvy about the potential to hire their facilities during evenings and weekends in order to generate a welcome additional revenue stream.

However, while the number of schools keeping the gates open past 3.30pm has undoubtedly increased in recent years, there are still too many that haven’t been able to take advantage of the opportunity it provides to generate additional revenue. By demystifying the process, I hope that more business managers will be encouraged to consider the possibilities it offers their own school.

While facilities hire offers huge benefit to the school – as well as those using the space – the unsociable hours and the seven-days-a-week nature of the job often poses staffing challenges. For many schools, it proves impossible to recruit a single person to open and close the premises Monday to Friday and remain on site throughout Saturday and Sunday. In addition, business managers often worry about providing cover in the event of illness, with the prospect of having groups of people turning up and unable to access the premises proving too stressful a scenario. Appointing a specialist school facilities hire partner like SLS eliminates those staffing challenges, but if that isn’t an option, it’s vital to have a robust plan in place. Think about implementing a rota system between staff, or consider a job-share role – and make sure there is a back-up process in place in the event of illness.

It’s a process that can seem hugely complicated for schools, but the planning and groundwork is worth the return. Generally, we find it’s the initial groundwork that is most off-putting to business managers, such as establishing a pricing structure, for example. We always advise schools to keep it simple – a complicated system will increase workload and make hire less likely to succeed long-term. Agree the pricing and don’t be afraid to pitch rates competitively; do your research to establish the cost for the use of equivalent facilities in the area.

It’s also important to create Terms and Conditions for users that eliminates any grey areas and gives the school certainty and reassurance that those using the space understand exactly what’s expected of them. Generally, groups are very respectful of school property and will take care to ensure that the space is left as they found it.

Insurance is also a common concern for the schools we speak with, but it’s actually more straightforward than they anticipate. The onus is largely on the groups using the facilities – make sure that they have Public Liability Insurance, along with a robust health and safety policy. Where individuals are concerned – for example a group of friends getting together for a game of 5-a-side football – they aren’t required to have commercial insurance, although if the school has a facilities hire partner, the school will be protected under their insurance policy.

Safeguarding young people will also be taken care of by companies like SLS; something that shouldn’t be overlooked. We used the NSPCC as consultants to shape our safeguarding procedures, which gives the schools we work with confidence that what we have in place is thorough and effective. Schools are of course familiar with such policies, but it can sometimes be overlooked in relation to community activity outside school hours.

In a similar vein, it’s important not to overlook event-specific licensing – for certain activities, such as live music or a party serving alcohol, appropriate licenses should be sought in advance.

Schools should aim to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to their facilities hire programe. The schools with the most successful facilities hire programmes take a strategic approach that reflects the objectives of the school and maximises revenue. This should also feed into activities to market the space in the community, building a pipeline and ensuring that the facilities are enjoyed to their fullest by a diverse range of groups.

Managed properly and with the right procedures in place, there is huge opportunity for schools to significantly enhance their budget while illustrating their commitment to the community. While undoubtedly time intensive and requiring a great deal of planning and know-how, hundreds of schools are still missing out on the chance to bolster their finances at a time when they need it most.

Those schools that don’t have the resources to handle facilities hire themselves should consider appointing a company like SLS that will handle it all on their behalf – there’s nothing to lose, but plenty to gain. An effective facilities hire strategy delivers benefit beyond revenue alone and allows school staff to get on with what they do best.

Scott Warrington, Founder and Director, School Lettings Solutions

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