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The importance of community access to public venues post-lockdown

Chris Smith, Head of Development at Kajima Community

With yet another lockdown upon us, educational and community spaces have once again been left in limbo. COVID-19 has not just taken a toll on the staff and students, but also on wider access to school and college facilities that are so important to the wider community, such as sports halls and astro pitches.

However, looking forward to the post-pandemic era, these often-underutilised facilities offer a source to support recovery. We know from experience that working with educational environments to create a letting strategy can be invaluable not only in generating revenue, but also in helping students, families and communities to come together again.  

Rekindling the community 

With the spread of COVID-19, social collaboration and communication has been necessarily restricted. It is now vital that we find ways to help foster social connection and raise spirits post-pandemic. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that, as of late November, 25% of respondents reported feeling lonely in the previous two weeks. However, responses to the survey also highlighted seeing family (25%) and friends (16%) more freely as ways to help alleviate feelings of loneliness.[1] Our work with schools has shown how lettings strategies can benefit all generations by reducing social isolation, and it is essential to recognise how this can be extended to other educational environments in the future.

As restrictions ease, the facilities offered by colleges make them perfect community hubs to help people reconnect. The amenities available in these establishments have inherent potential as community assets. Sports halls and specially surfaced pitches like astro-turfs can provide a practice space for local teams, fostering a sense of social connection and camaraderie for all ages. There are further opportunities indoors: kitchen facilities can be offered to local chefs to run cookery classes, and IT suites can become hubs for workshops that aim to develop computer literacy. Both offer a multitude of advantages, from supporting small businesses to enabling people to develop enhanced skillsets that could be of both personal and professional benefit.

Maximise access to outside space 

Many months of social distancing, lockdowns and health and safety restrictions have stifled people’s freedom of movement. Whilst public parks have been open under necessary restrictions, 1 in 8 people didn’t have access to a private or shared garden during the initial coronavirus lockdown.[2] With a reported 26% of people working exclusively from home in the build up to January 2021, it will be vital to maximise access to outdoor spaces following the pandemic.[3] Again, educational establishments should not overlook the key role they can play in this movement.

Making use of available venues that promise green spaces, facilities for physical activity and places for social interaction will be invaluable in helping to relieve the stress and drudgery of remote work and lockdown. Indeed, spending just 120 minutes a week in nature has been shown to promote good health and mental wellbeing. Outside space is not limited to sports facilities; colleges can capitalise upon any outdoor environment that could provide a location for a community class, or simply offer an alternative route for daily exercise. As the nation eagerly awaits warmer weather and hopes for increased flexibility of movement, the promise of an increased availability of new outdoor spaces would be a welcome relief to many.

 Generate revenue to support recovery 

After almost a year of hardships borne from COVID-19, many community organisations will be glad to see the back of the pandemic. However, it is increasingly clear that the economic ramifications of the crisis will have a lasting impact. As we look forward to the distribution of vaccines and an easing of lockdown restrictions, schools and colleges should consider implementing lettings strategies to provide fiscal support in their long-term recovery.  

Our work with schools and community centres has made it clear that the letting of educational facilities offers huge potential for revenue generation. With their variety of resources, colleges can monetise spaces that may spend significant time out of use, whether that be a football pitch or a meeting room. Importantly, this revenue can be reinvested straight back into improving and developing these facilities for further community use.

With this long-term outlook, letting options can ensure that further education environments can constantly upgrade to the benefit of the local population. Such strategies capitalise upon the opportunities for collaboration and social interaction that schools and colleges can offer, and which are so highly anticipated following the end of the pandemic.

Looking ahead

As we start the new year in a lockdown that imposes ever greater restrictions, it is vital to amplify the potential for community integration and personal benefit that are too often left latent in educational environments. Colleges in particular have a range of specialist facilities that can be transformed into assets.

The monetisation of these spaces can be a springboard to an evolution that will benefit not only current community users, but also future generations. These revenue streams will be of great relief in a post-pandemic world, but more importantly these strategies will transform community environments. By maximising accessibility to facilities, these spaces can become centres for the development of personal and social wellbeing that is so vitally needed following COVID-19.

Chris Smith, Head of Development at Kajima Community

[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/coronavirus-mental-health-pandemic/key-statistics-wave-8

[2] https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/oneineightbritishhouseholdshasnogarden/2020-05-14

[3] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/coronavirustheukeconomyandsocietyfasterindicators/2021

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