Establishing a route through the funding maze

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You’re looking at your school play space and feel it’s dull and grey, lacks appeal and provides no shelter from the elements – in short, an expanse of flat tarmac or barren grass. However, in your mind’s eye you see it transformed into a place for fun, laughter and learning. The available space has huge potential but the main barrier preventing it from being realised is financial. So, how does a school turn their playground dreams into a reality? Here, Colin MacAdam, managing director of Playforce discusses the issue of funding and explores the available options.

It is an unfortunate, yet common, fact that there are many schools across the country wanting to install an exciting play space for their children, yet are held back by an immediate lack of suitable funds. However, there are funding options available, so exploring and utilising them could open up possibilities hitherto out of reach.

A well planned, inclusive and flexible play space is now considered a core requirement of any school, providing a foundation for learning and education, whilst offering social, physical and health benefits. Each individual child should be encouraged to experience the natural world beyond the classroom, as part of their personal development. Learning outside of the classroom remains a rewarding and positive experience, achieving a range of educational outcomes and encouraging a more active childhood. So what can be done to help you deliver your dream?

Let’s start at the beginning  
I recommend that a first stop for all schools should be the Devolved Formula Capital (DFC), or Devolved Formula Capital Grant (DFCG) as it is sometimes known. This most accessible and flexible key source of funding is allocated to all primary and secondary schools on an annual basis. DFC can be used to pay for grounds development as part of ‘building renovation’ projects. Also, it can be used to pay for a solution in the creation of an ‘outdoor classroom’, or could be invested in the necessary upkeep, repairs and ongoing maintenance of existing school grounds equipment. Alternatively, DFC can be pooled with capital funding, provided from other sources, or it can be saved over a number of financial years should a school wish to fund a larger project. DFC is allocated at the start of each three year spending review and the amount allocated is dependent on the number of children within the school. Furthermore, as stated by children’s secretary, Ed Balls (March 2009), schools are able to access up to 40 per cent of their 2010-2011 DFC budget this financial year, in support of the Government’s drive to continue stimulating economy and education.

The enjoyment of “fun”draising
An alternative source of funds for a school grounds project is through direct fundraising; a whole school activity that encourages inclusivity and community involvement. Whilst anything associated with funding and finances can appear dry, daunting and distracting, the reality is very different and the potential huge for all involved with planning the fun activities and events. Naturally, fundraising involves staff, children and parents but it can extend beyond the school gates to involve the wider community. Events can be as creative and as flexible as you wish but, to start the ball rolling, below is a non-exhaustive selection of fundraising suggestions:

  • School concerts and plays: there is no better way to involve everyone and achieve a sense of community than organising a school production. Why not let the children select the play they would most like to perform, or link it to the curriculum by selecting a story you have recently studied during class time.  
  • Cookathon: with the UK on the cusp of an obesity crisis, the latest statistics from the Health Survey for England (HSE) reports 27 per cent of children aged 2-10 are overweight or obese. Educating children about the importance of exercise and healthy eating has never been more vital. With this in mind, why not hold a sponsored healthy food cookathon? Pupils could be encouraged to cook healthy meals; why not challenge them to make tasty meals and desserts including as many different types of fruit and vegetables as they can? To raise further funds, these could then be sold at other school events or at lunchtime.
  • School sporting events: linking to the goal of counteracting obesity and promoting healthy eating and exercise, a school sporting event is an ideal way to raise funds for a school grounds project. You could organise a sponsored run for the teachers, or a sponsored obstacle course for the children to complete.
  • Themed events: Link your fundraising ideas to the calendar. For example, if Halloween or Christmas is approaching, you could organise a themed disco or, in the spring, an Easter fair could be held. Children could create Easter cards to sell, which will enable them to practice and perfect artistic skills too. Once again, this could provide curricular links and related to Religious Education; decorations and fancy dress costumes could be designed. Funds can be raised through a number of methods, such as ‘guess the weight’ of the Easter egg and the sale of cards and gifts.

The most popular fundraising events remain the summer and Christmas Fete/Fair, and the regular class cake sales. There is, though, plenty of opportunity to try out new and unique ideas. The key is to ensure all the stakeholders have a common vision as to what you are fund raising for and the funds will come flooding in with added bonus of team work, commitment and community spirit. Make sure you put up a fundraising chart in school so parents and children can see the positive financial results of all their hard work.

Fundraising projects can be tailored for all ages, although do ensure all necessary rules are in place and adhered to, and bear in mind the legal aspects involved with school events.  Seek adult permission for children under the age of 16 years and ensure trained staff members supervise any event. Also, consider that events taking place in the wider community often require permission from the local council.

As you begin to raise money through fundraising activities, be encouraged if the funds come in amounts equating to only a few hundred pounds here and there. This is still a huge positive step and each sum of money raised takes you a step closer towards ensuring your playground dream becomes a reality. 

Business support
Outside of the school, involving local businesses offers a perfect solution. Often businesses want to contribute and be part of the local community and welcome an approach for a donation or a request for support in the form of sponsorship. You could contact a range of neighbouring companies to sponsor areas of your school grounds project and this could be facilitated, by the PTA and school newsletters, in the form of advertising. Schools are often surprised by how many local businesses are happy to support schools in their quest for a play space for pupils.

Another idea is to contact the local press; make them aware of your playground aspirations and that you are looking to receive support. Not only will your children love being featured in the local paper, but local businesses may come forward and offer to either donate funds or, alternatively, assist with fundraising. The current extended schools service initiative means that many schools now open their facilities to the wider community. Therefore, inform the local community, perhaps via the media, that your new facility could be one from which all can benefit, as this is likely to increase community interest and participation.

Are there any other options?  
Another viable option is applying for a funding grant. There are a number of charities and organisations offering financial support, and there may be a local grant within your Local Authority (LA) that you did not realise existed. Should you wish to discover more about available grants we recommend you contact your LA or visit the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) website (www. dcsf.gov.uk).

Gain expert advice
If you feel confused about gaining funds and feel you need to discuss your options, any good playground developer should be more than happy to assist you. For example, at Playforce we take pride in the expert guidance we can offer; many schools nationwide turn to us as their trusted advisors. With school resources and teacher time often overstretched, funding is not a trivial issue, hence why it is important that the process is as streamlined as possible. A good partner should identify the available options to you on both a national and regional basis, the latter based on knowledge of your region or local LAs.

With endless fundraising possibilities, every school deserves an imaginative and educational play space. Schools across the country may be pleasantly surprised when they discover the wealth of funding options available. Whole school and community fundraising can help deliver a real sense of pride and ownership. For more inventive ideas, please visit www. playforce.co.uk/design-services/playground-funding.aspx

Colin MacAdam, managing director of Playforce.

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