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Kick-start for sport dreams

A grant-maintained school has upgraded facilities through leasing land to a leisure company. Diane Spencer reports

A SOUTH London school has acquired a five-a-side football complex, a pavilion and floodlights free - and pound;20,000 a year to boot.

The pioneering deal with Wilson's School in Sutton, gives hope to sports-mad secondary schools across the country. While administrators everywhere consider selling their assets in return for new buildings, Wilson's has come up with an alternative.

The selective, grant-maintained school for 850 boys is leasing four acres of its site to a leisure company for pound;20,000 a year.

Powerplay Supersoccer invested pound;1.2 million in building the all-weather complex which opens to the public this month. It expects to recoup the cash over the next few years by hiring the 10 pitches and leisure facilities in the pavilion to local people after school hours and at weekends.

Chris Tarrant, the head of Wilson's, said the governors thought it an amazing deal. "It's not like the Private Finance Initiative as we are not paying rent," he said.

The school can use the pitches during the day which are designed to convert to tennis, mini hockey and fast cricket.

In addition, the company has provided four basketball courts in an enlarged playground that will be used as a car park outside school hours, a new car park for staff, a cricket square, an astroturf cricket strip and a long-jump pit.

The key factor for Jez Hall, a director of the company, is access to a prime site at low cost - he estimates that 250,000 potential customers live within 20 minutes' drive of the centre. He hopes the five-a-side-football complex will tap in on one expanding market in particular. "Women's football is the fastest-growing sport in the country," he said.

He says that similar deals could help schools aspiring to become specialist sports colleges. "It is in line with the Government's policy to involve the private sector in education and to take the risk," he added.

Pat Smith, executive officer of the National Council for School Sport, said: "As long as there's no undue commercial pressure on children, we're pleased to support something like this - it's a valuable facility to schools."

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