Gary Dawson provides a comprehensive briefing which explains how to ensure the build of your new school sports hall goes smoothly

Research published in January 2008 by Sport England shows that sport-related economic activity in England is now running at over £16bn a year, an increase of over 50% since 2000. The sport and fitness industry is one of the fastest growing in the UK, as the nation becomes ever increasingly concerned with living longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Where our children are concerned, sport enriches their lives, raises their self-esteem and confidence and provides them with immense enjoyment. Research demonstrates the contribution that sport can make to the Every Child Matters agenda by helping children to be healthy and nurturing their physical coordination, thereby avoiding obesity. Research also shows that apart from helping children to become fit and healthy, sport diverts many away from crime and anti-social behaviour and helps their communications skills. I have seen this at first hand, as my school conducted the very successful SAND ‘Sporting Activity Not Drugs’ programme for a number of years.

So what about the educational benefits of sporting activities? Research from schools that have obtained the National Healthy Schools Standard shows that the performance of pupils in mathematics, English and science is better than at schools not involved with the initiative.

ducational outcomes and value added by specialist schools (including sports colleges) are significantly better at GCSE level than at non-specialist schools. While such improvements inevitably come from a combination of many different change factors within the school, sport is of course one element.

Considering your sporting offering

These findings make it clear that every school needs to take its sporting facilities and activities seriously. One possibility that you may wish to consider to take things to the next level is the building of a new sports hall and this will be the main subject of this article.

First of all, however, it is crucial that you consider why you might want a new sports hall: a vital factor to consider here is that the potential new building is not the outcome, but merely a tool to help your school achieve its objectives. Think long and hard about your school development plan, and how the project might contribute to its fulfilment.

Consider the facilities that might best help your school achieve its goals. Do you just need a simple sports hall? Other options might include a dance studio, a gymnasium or an all-weather multi-use sports pitch. A swimming pool might prove to be prohibitively expensive but a PE and sport theory classroom well-equipped with ICT facilities might prove a very useful addition.

The need for careful planning

Your next step is to talk to your local authority (LA) to explore whether planning permission might become a problem. If a new sports hall on your site is unlikely to receive planning permission, you can save yourself an awful lot of heartache by quitting now.

Assuming that no major problems are foreseen with planning permission, you will need to open discussions with your LA to see whether a new sports hall on your site will fit in with their own sports development aspirations. This may have already been discussed as part of your LA’s plans for your school under the Building Schools for the Future programme.

As your LA’s plans will take into account the needs not only of your own school but those of the wider community, your project will only gain full support if you will be willing to share your new facility with your local community. It will also help if you can demonstrate how your sports hall will benefit the disadvantaged people in your neighbourhood. Most potential funders will prioritise hard-to-reach groups and will wish to make a difference to areas that suffer with problems associated with deprivation. This is because people living in deprived areas often miss out on the benefits of sport and have lower levels of participation.

Working with your LA, you should develop a shared vision, complemented by a robust business case which outlines the rationale for the project and the practical issues that will have to be considered. Your business case should, as a minimum, cover details of:

  • exactly what your project is
  • who will benefit (including details of when it will be open to the public and at what cost)
  • the legal constitution of the facility’s management, eg whether it will be part of your school/LA, or perhaps run by a company established specifically for the purpose of running the facility
  • the timescales involved
  • the capital costs that will be incurred, including professional fees and VAT where applicable (you would always be wise to seek advice from the relevant government agencies on this issue)
  • estimated future revenue costs and income streams: these estimates are crucial in demonstrating the sustainability of your project, as no funder will inject cash into a sports hall which will not then be financially viable to operate.

The Sport England website contains a guidance document entitled ‘Managing Your Project’ which I have found invaluable when putting together a management plan for a major project.
Your best bet is to split your vision into achievable objectives, so that you can demonstrate to potential funders the benefits that will accrue from their partnership with you. However, be aware that it can be tempting to set unrealistically high targets to impress potential funding partners, or to set very low targets for fear of failure. Try to make your objectives SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed.

Funding considerations

Once you’ve developed your vision and you’ve constructed a business plan you need to start approaching potential funders. It is important to be aware that, unless you are very fortunate, no individual body will fund your whole project. Your total funding will be met by you creating a partnership with a number of bodies. And be warned, it can be very difficult to aggregate enough funding for a new sports hall, so be prepared for a long haul.

Start by trying to raise sponsorship money from local businesses in your area. While this is not always easy to achieve, funders such as Sport England are very impressed by commercial sponsorship. Getting some might make the difference between the success and failure of your project. Sport England’s website contains a ‘Funding guidance’ section which is packed with advice and tips to enhance your approaches to these potential funders.

As we have already established that your project fits in well with your LA’s sports development plan, you can reasonably expect a significant contribution from that quarter. If yours is a primary school, your LA may be able to bid on your behalf to Sport England’s ‘Space for Sport and Arts’ programme, a £134m initiative which funds new or modernised facilities for schools in deprived areas.

Investigate the possibility of getting a grant from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts (FSA), an organisation which channels money into a wide range of sporting and artistic causes. But get your bid in as soon as you can as the FSA is winding down its activities – no new applications for funding will be considered after March 2009.

Write to trusts and foundations if your project meets the organisation’s criteria for financial aid. The Directory of Social Change (DSC) produces some first class publications to help you make your applications. If yours is a voluntary-aided school, share your vision and your plans with your diocese – they may well be willing to pledge their financial support.

Don’t forget to persuade your own school governors to make a contribution to the project from the school budget too. This will impress other potential funders: when an organisation invests its own money, it demonstrates an obvious commitment to making the project a success.

Hopefully by now you will have amassed enough funding for your new sports hall. If not, there is still one significant door to knock on: the sports council for your home country (ie Sport England if your school is located in England). The amounts of funding available from one council to another will vary but you have nothing to lose by making an approach. As an example, you could approach Sport England with a view to securing some money from the Community Investment Fund (CIF) a fund which distributes lottery awards for sports. The full bidding procedure can be lengthy and somewhat complex, so the process would be beyond the scope of this article. However, there are a number of basic points which are worth bearing in mind:

  • You cannot access CIF monies without partnership funding, which is why it is essential to secure as much pledged sponsorship as you can prior to approaching Sport England. The CIF will only fund £1 for every £2 pledged via sponsorship.
  • It may be your LA, not your own school, which will submit the bid – ask Sport England for their advice.
  • Sport England state that: ‘We will be looking towards projects which demonstrate synergy with other relevant initiatives and sources of funding.’ This is why the business case that you have compiled is so essential.
  • The application process is split into two stages:
    • The fate of your ‘Stage 1’ application will be decided by Sport England very quickly, usually within three weeks. If you are ‘successful’ at this stage, Sport England will ask you to provide a great deal more detail.
    • Your stage 2 application will be subject to much more rigorous scrutiny. After your Stage 2 bid is submitted, Sport England will usually give you a final decision within ten weeks.

From vision to reality

Once you reach the milestone of securing the funding for your sports hall it’s time to turn your attention to the exciting part: turning your vision into reality!

You will need to assemble a team to manage the construction of your new sports hall: everything from a project manager to an architect to a quantity surveyor. Even if you have not gained funding from Sport England, you should still seek their advice regarding who you might appoint. They will only point you in the direction of professionals who have considerable experience in delivering projects such as your own, but they will also have been ‘tried and tested’ in terms of quality and value for money.

One word of warning at this stage: however competent your team may be, there is every likelihood that your project will run over time. Even if you are scrupulous in keeping to your project plan the British weather is guaranteed to be unpredictable, particularly if you are banking on your facility being ready for the first week in September!

Another factor to be aware of is the possibility of rising costs as the construction continues. Everything from the price of oil to the demand for steel in China can affect the cost of your project.

Managing your sports hall

The most important job is to appoint an overall manager of the facility. This manager will certainly have his or her work cut out getting things up and running. Some of the main issues to be addressed are as follows.

Staff will need to be appointed to operate the facility. There is no magic blueprint to follow, as the staffing structure will of course vary from one sports hall to another, but typically you will need to appoint receptionists, fitness suite supervisors, administrative staff and cleaners. Also, think about how the building will be maintained and repaired, who will clean the windows, who will refill the vending machines etc. You must also be aware of the need to have trained first aiders on duty at all times. Your LA’s health and safety advisers will put you straight regarding what you need to do, including giving you advice on where your staff can obtain relevant first aid qualifications.

It’s also worth getting in touch with Quest, an organisation supported by Sport England which is committed to quality in all aspects of the sport and leisure industry. Quest offers first class training for staff with no prior experience of working in sports facilities and it will turn out to be money well spent.

It may be possible for you to get some financial help from the European Social Fund, which can assist vocational training schemes with a sporting element. This may be an excellent way to help prepare one or more of your students for a career in sports management.

Business management
A vital task is to create a pricing structure which will determine how much members of the community will pay for using your facilities. This is no easy task. Charge too much and you will have insufficient customers to cover your costs. Charge too little and you may find that your revenue is insufficient to make you financially viable. Consider whether to have peak and off-peak tariffs and whether to offer discounts for bulk bookings. My advice would be to seek advice from your local Business Link adviser.

You will need to devise and implement a marketing strategy, answering questions such as what are your target groups of customers and how will you advertise? Your strategy may include leaflet distribution, advertisements in the local press, a space in your local Yellow Pages or even a series of plugs on a local radio station.

You will also need to negotiate a number of contracts, everything from adequate insurance to photocopying to the provision of water dispensers. The tenets of best value apply here of course: always get at least three quotations but remember that quality is as important as price.
You will clearly need to ensure that all your legal requirements are met. These range from very simple issues such as obtaining a TV licence and relevant public performance licences, through to complying with health and safety legislation or the requirements of the Data Protection Act.

The safety of your pupils is, of course, of paramount importance and you need to be acutely aware of the possible dangers inherent in your sports hall being open to the public. I found it very useful to talk this through with the Child Protection in Sport Unit.


You may have got the impression from all of the above that raising funds for a new sports hall, getting it built and then getting it up and running successfully sounds like very hard work over a long period of time. Having been part of a team that achieved exactly this, I cannot deny that the road to achieving this goal is a hard one. You have to learn to accept the setbacks, take the knocks and just keep on going. The facility with which I was involved has proved to be a crucial part in enhancing the education of our students, as well as playing a key part in the regeneration of one of the most deprived areas of Hull. Being a part of the team that has made this happen is my proudest professional achievement.

Gaining business sponsorship

A sports hall is a significant investment for your school and it can also bring many benefits to your wider community in terms of access to facilities and healthier living. As such it represents an ideal target for businesses wishing to raise their own profile and put something back into the community. There are many ways to go about persuading business to part with their money, but probably the least effective is to write lots of speculative letters in the hope that a flood of cheques will soon arrive in the post. Instead, consider the following two steps which are based on the successes of schools that have managed to harness business sponsorship for their sports halls.

This will provide a focus for your work and help to draw people’s attention to the benefits your sports hall will bring. Meticulous organisation is vital, so ensure that the person taking the lead with the launch has a very close attention to detail. Draw up a list of potential business donors and send out personalised invites signed by the headteacher. Consider staging a cocktail reception before the public launch that is just for businesses and try to get a prominent person in your locality to speak (MP, bishop, famous ex-student, etc). During the launch include suitable performances by students, such as gymnastics or sporting demonstrations. Make sure that the press are invited too so you can gain positive publicity locally.

  •  Follow up each business individually

Although you might get some offers of help during the launch event, it is more likely that these will come in if your school has a private discussion with each business after the event. Work at the highest level in the school and the business (ie headteacher: manager/managing director) as this is more likely to lead to high level donations. Try to offer specific things in return for offers of help, such as the naming of the sports hall for major donors or the placing of a plaque on the wall for less significant support. It is vital to thank all donors personally – and of course to invite them to the opening of the sports hall when it is finally built!

Further information
Sport England
Tel: 020 7273 1551
Funding information line: 08458 508 508

Tel: 0131 317 7200

Sports Council for Wales
Tel: 0845 045 0904

Sport Northern Ireland
Tel: 028 90 381222

Gary Dawson is a school business manager with over 15 years experience in school financial management

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