Attempts were made to raise £50k for a new artificial turf sports pitch for around a decade but without making much headway, until Friends Chair Philip Briscoe decided the group would put all efforts into making the dream a reality.
"For years the children couldn't go outside as the turf was degraded. They couldn't get enough exercise and so were coming home full of energy - the parents were definitely behind the project!" said Philip. Failure was not an option.
The secret of success?
The Friends made the all-weather pitch their mission above everything else. The team consisted of around 20 people and they followed a clear, constantly-managed plan. Philip Briscoe said "We had people on grants, others on local businesses, community pots, and running the normal activities. And we absolutely played to people's strengths - some people preferred the direct contact; others were brilliant at filling in funding applications, for example." This business approach embraced a large variety of options with the aim of appealing to the largest number of people possible.
With a mind to community engagement the Friends developed a really good relationship with The Oxford Times, ensuring that the local paper championed the work and encouraged the local community to donate. The media courting included roping in the head coach of Oxford United FC - aptly named Michael Appleton - to open the school's sports day.
The Friends communicated constantly, keeping the school community updated so everyone was galvanised to raise the money. Philip said "We wanted to make sure parents could see we weren't asking them to pay for everything and that we were getting funds elsewhere as well. We told everyone about every win to keep them interested and we kept asking them - we didn't give up!"
There were four funding sources of funds identified and targeted.
- Individuals: the chance to sponsor one square metre of the 1,250 sq m field for £10 allowed parents and community members to make a tangible contribution. And Philip and his team ensured they maximised donations by claiming Gift Aid from tax payers. Philip added, "We also set up an online giving page on the BT Donate site, one of the best on line giving sites as charges are very low."
- Grants and foundations: Philip says that the key to accessing this funding stream is being strategic and thorough. The Friends looked at around 300 bodies, with the help of the Parentkind charitable grants database and Grants4Schools, and whittled these down to 20 whose eligibility criteria matched our needs. Just three of these applications were successful: but this brought in a worthwhile £10,000, after six months of work. They found that they were more successful with local funds, rather than national funds focusing on children. Philip recommends making a specific request and demonstrating that you have already raised some money.
- Local businesses and organisations: "Cold calling was less successful than the grants," says Philip, "But we did get a local house builder to give some funding." He explains, "Local builders often have a community pot and are obligated to spend the money in the community." Parents and extended family were asked - several times - if their employer had a charitable pot. "You constantly have to keep reminding people about the project and its benefits to the children," says Philip. "It probably took us at least three attempts. My advice is don't give up - be persistent. We received a few thousand this way."
- Traditional: ...and all the while the Friends kept up the traditional PTA activities like cake sales, raffles and fairs. In the end, this stream accounted for one third of the total.
And the result?
"I still can't believe it's done," says Philip. "I have to say last summer, after putting in so much effort, things just didn't seem to be going anywhere. It wasn't really until the autumn term of 2015 that money started to really come in. I do have to still pinch myself that we've done it!"
The children thoroughly enjoy using the pitch on a daily basis. “The biggest benefit and thing the children enjoy the most is being able to have active lunchtimes throughout the year,” Headteacher Mrs Amy Carnell says. And how is the pitch used? “As well as high quality PE lessons, we provide many opportunities for the children to take part in sporting fixtures. This year our girls’ football team proceeded beyond the school level and represented county the South east Regional finals. We also have a programme that encourages all children to stay active at playtimes. We can now offer outdoor PE throughout the year.”
"Parents are always very complimentary about the pitch and the opportunities this enables us to offer the children." Headteacher, Mrs Amy Carnell.