Swimming pools, cricket nets, rugby pitches, a boathouse beside the river: facilities like these can often sway a particularly sporty pupil to a specific school. For less specialised children, meanwhile, a smart and modern sporting environment can often inspire engagement with athletic activity, installing good habits that will last a lifetime.
The even better news for well-provided schools, however, is that these amenities can also be used to reach out to neighbours, building bridges and opening up opportunities for friendships to be made and broader understandings of the world to be formed.
Such philosophy is at the heart of the public benefit activities arranged by the Lady Eleanor Holles School (LEHS) in Hampton, Middlesex. Through its public programme, the school upholds its founder’s aims by engaging with local, national and international bodies, fostering strong relations with the local community and encouraging its pupils to contribute positively, willingly and altruistically for the greater good.
Moreover, part of LEHS’ Community Links Working Party’s mission statement is to facilitate the use of school buildings by local groups and schools, and to encourage pupils to engage in activities with members of the local community – in particular schoolchildren and the elderly. Underpinning this ethos is an acknowledgement that, by attending the Lady Eleanor Holles School, pupils receive a privileged education, and that with that privilege comes responsibility.
The school also offers free use of its swimming pool to Clarendon School, a local special-needs school, as well as organising an annual ‘Splash and Gym Day’ event, providing free use of its facilities to other special-needs schools in the area. A host of organisations, including Teddington and Staines Swimming Clubs and Thames Turbo Triathlon, use its swimming pool at reduced rates. Back on dry land, several netball groups, a lacrosse club and a gym tournament all take advantage of a waived charge or reduced rates when using the school’s facilities.
Strong facilities can also attract visitors from abroad, as was proved by Oakham School which recently hosted a party of around 45 under-14 girls and their coaches and parents (and sometimes grandmothers) from the splendidly-titled Strikers Fox Valley Soccer Club in Geneva, Illinois.
For many of these visitors, it was their first trip outside of the UK, and the feedback was very positive. “Your campus was just beautiful,” wrote one visitor. “After a long, harsh Chicago winter, we thoroughly enjoyed the spring flowers, impeccable grounds and the historic buildings that intrigued our curiosity each day. We took many pictures that will keep our memories of England and our football tour alive for many years to come.”
Proximity to other attractions was a plus for one parent, who plans a return. “My expectations were exceeded by our stay at your school! I loved that we could walk to town and enjoy the sites which gave us a great sense of England. I will be back in two years with my other daughter and am very excited to do it all over again!”
Keeping things closer to home, The King’s School, Canterbury opens its recreation centre for use by locals. Open from 6.15am to 10pm during the week (with slightly earlier closing times on weekends), the centre’s hours of operation extend greatly beyond the standard school day. The community is impressively represented across all age groups, with most in the 40-59 years range, around one in six members over 60 and just under a third teenagers or younger.
The centre was built in 1990 and funded mainly by donations and fundraising by the school. The site already had an outdoor pool and squash courts, and the centre was built to include a 25-metre indoor swimming pool, six squash courts, a sports hall with two cricket lanes, a fitness room and restaurant and bar area. The outdoor space remained the same with an all-weather pitch and three tennis courts. Since opening, many adjustments have been made to keep up with the demand and growth in numbers.
One thousand public swimmers enjoy the benefits of the school’s teaching programme, with students at Canterbury’s two universities also using its facilities. In addition, strong links have been built with the town’s Chaucer Hospital, GPs and physiotherapists, while local schools are supported via prizes for their fundraising events.
By catering for all ages over the course of the day, providing a wide range of activity options (via careful expansion) and forging bonds with the town around it, The King’s School Canterbury provides a blueprint for how a school’s sports facilities can place it at the heart of its community.
Rowan Edbrooke, headmistress of Abingdon’s St Helen and St Katharine School, is also chair of the Girls’ Schools Association’s sports committee. “At St Helen and St Katharine we run a very full PE programme with a wide range of activities, although our facilities are not extensive,” Rowan reveals. “We let out our sports hall to a local badminton club who use it regularly in the evenings and at weekends. We have also just completed the relocation and resurfacing of our hard courts for netball and tennis, and we will be looking to make contacts with local netball clubs and tennis coaches for their use. We also have a partnership arrangement with local schools for the use of our playing field.”
Further north, St Peter’s School in York hosts an increasing number of local and national sports and community groups, providing access to indoor and outdoor sports facilities, and is committed to the further development of local and national partnerships.
On the river, a successful arrangement has been developed with British Rowing and York City Council to use the school’s facilities, coaching young people outside term time. In addition to opening its facilities to several local groups, St Peter’s has also offered free coaching for pupils from York High School.
On dry land, several staff members coach and referee at York Rugby Union Football Club, while York Cricket Club use the school’s facilities. The Pathways programme for talented cricketers, meanwhile, is accommodated at St Peter’s junior school, St Olave’s, which has also hosted a successful primary schools’ football tournament.
Like many schools, London’s Latymer Upper School (LUS) makes its pool available to outside organisations – including the Latymer Upper School Sub-Aqua Club for People with Disabilties. A Vivaldi-themed underwater music lesson has been staged, with impressive results online.
Nautilus is a learn-to-swim programme which, in partnership with Latymer Upper, gives swimming lessons to LUS pupils as well as (in return for use of the pool for its own members) local primary school children. “The relationship works for all parties, enabling pupils at the school and those from local primary schools to be taught by professional swimming coaches,” notes Will Rowley, Nautilus’ director.
“The new, bigger swimming pool planned for Latymer Upper School will allow us to increase the amount of time spent in the pool by the school’s pupils and by local primary children, with the ambition that every child from these schools will be able to swim by the age of 11.”
“Being a good neighbour is hugely important to all at the school – indeed, voluntary community service is included in the lower-sixth curriculum,” says David Goodhew, Latymer Upper’s Headmaster.
“All Year 12 pupils choose between offering their help to local primary schools, after-school clubs, sports clubs and to elderly residents, and all gain a tremendous sense of achievement in so doing. Latymer enjoys opening its doors to local primary schools for Saturday School, and we share our wonderful sporting facilities, from our Wood Lane playing fields to the swimming pool and sports hall on our King Street campus. We look forward to welcoming back many of our partnering primary schools when the new sports centre is in action next autumn.”