Become the next Glastonbury
We have a big field behind our school that’s quite secluded. For the last 20 years, we’ve used it to hold our own music festival, Music in the Park. We hire a huge inflatable stage with professional light and sound equipment and schedule around six bands across the day – a mixture of professional covers bands and up-and-coming groups featuring ex-pupils. We also have our own resident DJ, a mum whose three kids went to the school. We don’t pay the performers, but we do pay for their expenses and food and drink on the day. We have a barbecue, a licensed bar, face painting, ice-cream vans, a glitter bar and stalls selling things like hats and glasses. Everyone who comes says it feels more like a music festival than a PTA event. Over the years, it’s become such a big occasion that we’ve had to set up a subcommittee of the PTA just to run it and we start organising it in November. We sell adult tickets for £15 (£18 on the gate), but children go free. We have to limit ticket sales to 1,000. We get sponsorship wherever we can and even have sponsors for individual Portaloos. All the sponsors get free adverts in our festival programme and we sell the rest of the advertising space at £25-£100 per ad. Our costs are in the region of £7,000, but on our anniversary year we made a record profit of £12,000.
John Black, former joint lead of the Music in the Park PTA organising group, Bentfield PTA, Stansted (214 pupils)
Programme a speakers’ festival
Since 2019, we’ve been running two speakers’ festivals a year – one for Black History Month and the other for International Women’s Day. We’re a local authority maintained girls school in a very ethnically and economically diverse area, so they reflect the interests and demographic of our pupils. We try to get speakers who can talk about a range of professional and creative experiences and we’ve had some great contributors. Two weeks before Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from prison, a human rights lawyer from her team spoke at one of our events. In the past, we’ve had an international development expert, the UK’s first black female ambassador, a leading midwife, an actress from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the head of diversity and inclusion at BBC News and the singer Kamille. We get everyone through our contacts and they all do it for free. Even people who have quite a high profile seem honoured to be asked to speak to a group of girls in south east London. We hold the events in the school hall, but we always emphasise in our publicity that it’s not just for people connected to the school. We’re careful with ticket pricing because we don’t want to lose anyone, so they’re essentially by donation, with a suggested price of £8 for an adult and £4 for a child. We have a bar and cake sale on the night and in the past we’ve managed to get sponsorship from local businesses, which has helped us raise up to £1,500.
Anna Thompson Onitolo, PTA deputy chair, Sydenham School PTA, London (1,500 pupils)
Throw a midsummer ball
Last summer we held our first ball, to raise money for new computers. A local wedding venue gave us a charity discount and a company came in to set up the crockery and glassware for us and created a beautiful balloon arch. We opted for a ‘mini’ theme for dinner, with mini fish and chips, mini burgers and mini mac and cheese. We hired a DJ and covers band and held a raffle and a silent auction. It was a great evening and we raised £3,000.
I wrote to Rishi Sunak and invited him, telling him we thought the government should be helping us buy the computers. He couldn’t attend, but he gave us a raffle prize: a signed bottle of House of Commons wine. The Mirror published the story that he’d only sent us a £10 bottle of wine and when a company in London saw the article, they came forward to donate all the computers we needed! I’ve invited Rishi to our next ball but haven’t yet received a reply.
Melissa Wise, PTA chair, Leyburn Primary School PTFA, North Yorkshire (180 pupils)
Organise a jazz night
We used to organise a summer ball, but it was quite an expensive night out for parents and we wanted to try something else. A friend is in a jazz band, so I asked if they’d consider playing for an evening at the school. As it was summer, we held the event outside and we put out covered tables and chairs with canopies overhead and lots of tea lights. A local business provided ‘grazing cups’ with olives and nibbles and we ran a bar. The band played two sets with a break in the middle, performing contemporary songs in a jazz style. We had perfect weather and the music complemented the event perfectly. The organising was minimal – I took most of the night off and listened to the excellent music. Even the headmaster enjoyed himself and had a couple of glasses of wine! We’ve held our jazz night twice now; we charge £10 a ticket. The first year we raised over £2,500 and the second time we made £1,500.
Jacquelyn Baker, chair, The Skinners’ School Parents’ Association, Tunbridge Wells (1,098 pupils)
Throw a Spanish fiesta
We’re an English/Spanish bilingual school and eight years ago the PTA decided to create a summer fiesta to celebrate Spanish and Latin culture. Since we’re right next to one of the biggest parks in Brighton, we decided to hold it there and make it a whole community event. Over the years it’s got bigger and bigger and now attracts around 3,000 people, most of whom don’t even realise it’s connected with the school. We hire a big stage and have flamenco dancing, samba, Zumba, modern dance and Brazilian drumming – all performed by parents at the school or people connected to it in some way. One of our after-school clubs comes and does a big dance show for everyone, which is great because the kids get to perform in front of a big crowd. We don’t charge for entry, but stallholders pay a fee to come to the event, as do all the food trucks – we have everything from paella to fish and chips and candy floss. We also have a bar and a barbecue in the ‘festival zone’ and in the ‘fun zone’ there are activities for the kids, such as hair braiding, eco slime, reptiles, a bouncy castle and a circus. We need hundreds of volunteers for the day, so we have sign-up sheets and everyone gives us an hour or two of their time so they can still enjoy the fiesta with their kids. It’s like organising a professional event, but it’s a lot of fun and last year we raised £13,000.
Laura Cameron, PTA chair, The Bilingual Primary School PTA, Brighton & Hove (613 pupils)
Host an outdoor opera
Rather than constantly targeting parents for money, we were keen to hold an event that appealed to the wider community and felt as professional as possible. Two parents at the school are professional opera singers and kindly offered to give a performance for us, bringing in other musician friends to accompany them. We’re in quite a rural area, so there are some pretty spots and one mum with a lovely garden offered to host the event. Another mum, who is a former graphic designer, put together a professional-looking flyer. The singers performed operatic arias and duets by Lehár, Puccini and Delibes, as well as excerpts from musicals by Lloyd Webber, Sondheim and Gershwin. People could bring picnics and we served summery drinks. We had lots of positive feedback and will do it again.
Charlotte Ward, PTA chair, Leigh Primary School PTA, Tonbridge (160 pupils)