#AssetTransfer: Investing in schools in order to help meet community demands…

One of the issues in Belfast is the crumbling leisure infrastructure. The (relatively speaking) cvast number of centres were built in thick of the troubles in the late seventies and early eighties as a large scale capital investment programme.

They were located in specific areas in order to take account of the physical separation of working class urban communities. At the time it was not reasonable to expect individuals from the lower Shankill to visit the Falls.

Some are already closed, others teetering on the edge of viability as individuals become more socially mobile than they were back in the seventies when Belfast closed down at 6pm and the question of how to deploy budgets become more problematic for departments and the city council.

In this interview with Peter Dornan of the social enterprise charity Artemis he talks about their work in upgrading schools facilities in order to make them more open to the wider community.

In essence they offer schools the opportunity to invest in quality facilities for their students by offering them out for the use of the wider community. Much of the work they do is focused on sports facilities since this is the greatest demand. But there is also investment, particularly in new build schools, in modern educational facilities.

So far just five schools are operating Artemis scheme, all them newly built by a consortium led by Amey (the company that established Artemis as a social enterprise) under a PFI: Ashfield Girls’ School, Grosvenor Grammar, Belfast Boys’ Model School, Belfast Model School for Girls, and Orangefield Primary School.

But Dornan hopes to prove the non profit model will prove effective enough to be taken up across the educational sector. I asked him whether tying facilities into the education system would not simply replicate some of the social fracturing that took place during the troubles, and he cited the use of the Model Girls by a local Camogie club.

None of this is new. This practice of upgrading school facilities in order to make them available to the wider public has been in widespread use in England for years, though perhaps the social enterprise model (in this case as a non profit) is more recent. They also have plans to take their work beyond Northern Ireland and into the Republic.

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  • Chris Donnelly

    I suspect the Girls Model example is an exception to the rule (owing to demographic realities in the area), though I don’t believe it really is fair to expect otherwise.

    There are many more examples beyond those operated by Amey, though I’m not sure if there is any clear orchestration beyond the management of the actual school.

    There are practical difficulties relating to ensuring school facilities are not put at risk, but these would appear to be quite manageable with proper care taken regarding security procedures and the architecture of the new schools in particular.

    I’ve always thought it strange that schools, with all their facilities, were effectively closed off to local communities after the working day ended in the past.

    We’ve moved beyond that.

    I can think of a number of shared campus projects across the north where it is envisaged that a number of schools will share sites. I would imagine that these present new opportunities to be more ambitious with leisure provision in the hope and expectation that they will be used regularly by the schools and local communities feeding into each school.

  • Mick Fealty

    The thing that came into my mind when I sat down to talk to Peter was the situation in Portugal after the revolution.

    When thousands of colonial settlers came back after Portugal pulled out of Mozambique and Angola, they often operated several ‘schools’ in the same building, and kept them open for adult education in the evenings.

    Working the buildings hard was a necessity in their case. And it was still in place when I first worked in there ten years later in 86.

  • Chris,
    I have been arguing (like you, I guess) for a lifetime for the asset of the school estate to be opened up after hours, rather than locked down.
    At last, Artemis has been able to demonstrate the theory of the ‘extended school’ in practice, at least in these five new builds, with over 100,000 real users. (and I declare an interest as its Company Secretary)
    The much talked about ‘problems’ of breakages, insurance, child protection, wear and tear… are all being managed and overcome.
    So, yes, it is being done elsewhere (well done, those brave experimenters in single schools) yes, it is being anticipated in the future (well done those ambitious pioneers of Lisanelly in Omagh), but http://www.nicommunityschools.org shows it in action and now in a scaleable model.
    The opportunities for schools, communities and all those in between are huge – in this case without formal asset transfer; it’s more like asset maximisation, courtesy of BELB (the state), Amey (the private provider) and the local communities, through Artemis (the social enterprise vehicle).

  • melegis

    Much though I am a huge advocate of asset transfer I tend to agree with Quintin. This is often about maximising the potential of the school estate and individual buildings within that portfolio but there may of course be circumstances where transfer is appropriate.