Our school, Carswell Community Primary School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, is a lovely old Victorian building, but it doesn’t have a field. The only place to play sports was a 30-year-old AstroTurf pitch with no proper drainage, which felt like carpet covered in sand. It had been gradually going mouldy and everyone knew it wouldn’t last much longer. But rebuilding the pitch was just one of the jobs on a long list for the Friends of Carswell School (FOCS).
Then something terrible happened. Two children playing on the pitch fell over and broke bones, and we had to close it altogether. Pupils were left with only the concrete playground, risking yet more injuries.
Carswell has quite a holistic approach and that’s always been one of the reasons people chose it. But families were put off applying because there wasn’t enough space for physical activity.
Setting the target
The school approached FOCS about starting a long-term project to raise more than £60,000 for a new pitch. Most years, FOCS raises between £5,000 and £10,000, but we have to spread the money across all the school’s activities. So the committee held an open meeting to ask for ideas and suggestions. We’re a small school, and when the class reps put the word out, there was a lot of discussion between the parents too.
I hadn’t been involved with FOCS before, but part of my job as a psychology researcher is to complete funding applications. I explained that it wouldn’t be an onerous task for me because I know all the terminology and writing bids is part of my daily life. Once I’d written one major application, I could easily change it for different audiences. I started researching national charities and sports funders such as the National Lottery, but a lot of them won’t fund projects in schools.
So I changed my approach and adopted a more local perspective. Abingdon is close to Oxford, where a big science community has grown up around the university. Some of these businesses are quite large and focus on philanthropy and community outreach.
The Sanghera Foundation, set up by Gordon Sanghera, CEO of Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd, caught my eye. It’s a charity that aims to help improve education, particularly physical education. As soon as I found them, I thought, boom, we’re going to get in there.
I was surprised to find quite a few other hidden charities that hadn’t come up in my searches. One day, I asked our headteacher why we couldn’t extend the pitch onto a patch of land behind the school. He explained that it was owned by an organisation called Christ’s Hospital. I’d never heard of them but I discovered they are an ancient charity who still own a lot of buildings and land locally. One of their stated objectives is to provide educational support to school pupils from Abingdon. In the end they were our biggest donor.
We were also fortunate to receive a personal donation from a family who wanted to give something back to the school.
Abingdon on Thames Council told me they couldn’t give directly to schools but donated money from their community fund, and the school allocated some funds from its capital expenditure budget.
Demonstrating our need
Showing potential funders why we needed the pitch so much was critical, so I held three walk arounds where I explained how important physical health is for good mental health. From the perspective of the donors, actually seeing the state of the pitch was quite different from reading about it in an application. Once they saw the situation, they understood the need, and it was a done deal.
I kept the school and PTA up to date with each funding application. FOCS would review my drafts and give feedback. They also managed the financial side. Once I had secured some funding, I would put the donor in touch with the FOCS treasurer. Donations came directly to FOCS and they paid the contractors. The school groundskeeper was a big part of our team. He got all the quotes for the work, chose the supplier and managed the contractors.
The end result
It took almost a year to get the funding and restore the pitch but it has completely revolutionised sport at our school. We encourage the children to play a variety of sports, such as football, netball, hockey and tennis. An external company comes in to run PE lessons twice a week and organises camps during the holidays, with the money going back into the school PE budget.
All the children love having a new space to play and our SEN children tell us they love the pitch because it’s soft and warm.
When everything was ready, we held an unveiling ceremony and invited all our donors. A governor of Christ’s Hospital, who’s a keen footballer, even got me on the pitch for a kickaround. This person with a grand title, who had helped us so much, was just delighted to play with the children. We’ve created such lovely links between our school and local benefactors, and relationships are what make these things flow.
- Beth Fordham, Friends of Carswell School, Carswell Community Primary School, Abingdon, Oxfordshire (224 pupils)