The process of developing our disused caretaker’s house came from a combination of vision, the use of volunteers, an innovative spirit among the team and sheer cheek, with an attitude of “If you don’t ask, you never get!”
1. Identify potential uses but keep an open mind
A vandalised building with no heating, lighting and broken windows required a certain vision and can-do attitude. The cautious but necessary stabilisers were involved later when the wheels were in motion, and the project needed taming by the reality of budget constraints and consideration of the appropriate use of the school budget.
2. Draw up a plan
An action plan was created and a number of colleagues identified to research each aspect. Ideas were brought back to the table and timescales set. The children and their families competed in a logo competition and the idea gathered momentum. The best ideas came from the children.
3. Find a champion
Our local councillor toured the disused house as I leapt around enthusing about the walls that could be taken down and the transformation that could take place. A building with a connection to the local community was a good start in encouraging buy in. During periods of austerity, pots of money can still be found for innovation. Small donations also started to roll in.
4. Raise the money and engage the volunteers
Those with knowledge of businesses that were keen to share their social and corporate responsibility were approached, such as John Lewis, HSBC and BMW. They offered enthusiasm, volunteer time, donations and access to grants. The community of parents, children and friends and family of the school offered their skills; Sheffield City Council found funding and volunteers to bring the house back to Decent Homes Standard. Never be afraid to ask. If the vision is made clear and volunteer time is carved into manageable chunks, everyone can see how they can get involved.
5. Ensure that the house is purposeful, reflective of the current needs of cohorts, and innovative
A member of staff has been allocated to staff the house part-time since it opened and this role has been rotated to ensure a fresh approach each year. A stream of parents and volunteers bring the house to life. Volunteers from the community received invites to offer their skills in the house, subject to DBS checks. Applications came flooding in and these have changed each year.
6. Don’t be intimidated by cost
Costs are minimal. Pupil premium is high in the school, at 68 per cent, but the costs of the house can be met for less than £2,000 per year (with tight budgeting).
7. Don’t underestimate the effect it can have
Some projects in school cannot be measured by a test. Their long-term impact will be anecdotes and memories, confidence gained and cycles of deprivation broken. It’s a small cost for a long-lasting effect.
Vanessa Langley is executive headteacher of Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield