OUT-OF-HOURS activities for young people at the new Bathgate Academy sports complex will be planned, uniquely, by local volunteers and not West Lothian Council employees.
The authority wants to make best use of the pound;1.8 million facilities, built through the public private partnership (PPP) initiative, and has established a local trust with sports organisations to run the lets, removing the conventional role of school boards. The trust acts as a subcommittee of the board.
School halls and gyms around the country continue to be closed during non-school hours, especially at weekends, or are priced beyond the restricted pockets of local groups. West Lothian is proposing a new beginning and Frank McAveety, Sports Minister, launched the project on Tuesday.
While other PPP projects have been criticised for limiting school access out of hours, the agreement at Bathgate aims to increase opportunities by freeing the trust from worries about overheads such as cleaning and janitors' costs.
The trust will focus on getting young people involved, primarily in indoor sport, and recruiting enough coaches to offer advice and run activities. A clubroom-cum-classroom is housed in the complex.
Charlie Raeburn, sport and physical recreation manager and a fan of similar ventures in Denmark, believes the numbers of young people taking up sport can be boosted by linking clubs and schools.
"There are some six organisations on the trust and their job is to manage the use of the facility, including the all-weather pitch, and develop activities. We carried out a survey four years ago and found there were very few clubs around in West Lothian. We had a lack of infrastructure and lack of participation," Mr Raeburn said.
Community organisations also complained they could not gain access to the halls they wanted. "If you were trying to hire a school facility on a Sunday it would cost the world," Mr Raeburn said.
The Bathgate PPP project, backed by SportScotland, writes in seven-day access to the facilities. A more difficult task may be pushing up the numbers involved, not just on the new site but across West Lothian.
"There is a lot of interest among kids in basketball but there are not enough coaches. Sport is largely voluntary and coaches normally last around three years. We would like to target young people under 25 and promote more sports leadership courses," Mr Raeburn said.
Groups are likely to focus on table tennis, badminton, basketball, hockey, volleyball and football and will try to avoid duplicating activities at the local sports centre with its five-a-side pitches and fitness suite.
The council this week launched new strategies on community sports clubs and coaching and volunteering to tie in. Mr Raeburn believes it is time to move away from "telephone teams", which involve only those good enough to play competitively, to wider clubs that offer opportunities at many more performance levels.
More organisations should in time be able to manage sports facilities, he contends.