It gives us a real advantage

As the focus on managing assets grows, some PFI projects are showing just what an be achieved above and beyond the specifications. Paul Jarvis visits Haverstock School in north London to find out more

“There is a lot of scaremongering about the impact that [non-core activities] have on a school,” says Chris Smith, head of community at Kajima Partnerships. “All too often this is used by the operator to deter community use in schools.”

Smith is clearly not someone who believes in this approach. Sitting in Haverstock School in Camden, north London, Smith is explaining the way in which his firm, in conjunction with facilities manager Mitie and the school itself, has managed to deliver a whole host of activities that have transformed the school into a community hub.

Outside the school day, the building provides a vast range of activities, from ballet and flamenco classes, to an Egyptian school, children’s parties, sports leagues and a Kurdish community group. On an average week, there are around 200 bookings at the school, the majority of whom pay market rates, but some of which are put on by the school either free or cheaply as part of its outreach programme and involve sixth formers, for example running a film screening.

Part of that has been down to Kajima’s implementation of its technology platform, which allows people to book and sign up to events online, taking the administrative pressure off the school and facilities management (FM) staff. But part of it is simply down to the fact that there is a private partner working closely with the school. “It gives us a real advantage,” says Nikki Haydon, a former teacher at the school who is currently its community partnerships and extended services coordinator.

“Previously at 6pm everything locked up. We always wanted to be a hub for the local area. Working with Kajima allows us to do that. Making the school into a hub for the community was part of the local authority’s extended schools focus.”

And while initially there were some reservations from staff who were worried about the idea of others using their classrooms, that has been overcome. They are still able to use many rooms to continue working after-hours, and unlike before the PFI, can stay much later if they wish, giving them more flexibility.

Haydon has seen that change first hand, having worked at the school for 40 years. “We didn’t have very much community use before the PFI,” she says, “other than a few evening classes. Now there are any number of things happening on each day.” To an extent, this has made her work more difficult, because it requires careful management of school events such as presentation evenings and parents evenings so that they don’t clash with outside activities. “The important thing is planning in advance,” says Haydon. “We now plan a year in advance, and if something comes up we work with our partners to avoid any problems or clashes.”

Difficult start
Haverstock is probably not where most would have looked for an example of a model PFI partnership in the first months and years after the deal was signed back in 2003. Two years later, the Kajima team building the project was fined £21m for delays to the scheme – it was a factor in the firm’s 2008 decision to wind down its construction arm.

Nonetheless, the project was delivered and rather than allowing that bad start to poison the relationship, all sides have worked hard to make the partnership work.

“The continuity of staff helps,” says Smith, pointing out that the individuals currently in place at Haverstock on all sides have by-and-large been there since the contract was signed.

And for a building that gets such hard wear – 1,250 pupils pound the floors for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, quite apart from the various groups that view the building as a community and leisure centre seven days a week, outside school hours – it is in good condition.

Seeing the sports halls, some are showing signs of wear, but others look brand new thanks to replacements and sanding down. Similarly, the outdoor astroturf pitches appear in excellent condition.

“We want to provide an experience akin to a leisure centre for people,” says Smith. “For people coming from the local community that’s what it is. We don’t want them to feel like it’s an empty school where they have to be let in by the cleaner.”

“Families see it as a centre for the community,” agrees Haydon. This focus is leading to new developments, both physically and behind the scenes. In what during school hours is the playground, a section has recently seen the installation of outdoor gym equipment – something that is becoming increasingly popular these days. When open, members of the public will be able to use the equipment outside school hours, adding to the feel of the school as a community centre.

But it is behind the scenes where the really interesting things are happening. Kajima Partnerships’ use of its new technology platform has revolutionised the way the school is run and created a new approach to facilities management by taking the administrative and marketing systems out of the equation.

By using an online platform that gives the public their own access to the system to book and pay for facilities, the school acts much more like a community centre and also allows the facilities management providers to get on with other jobs.

In demand
“The online administration system means we can put the same resource in, but spend more time marketing and less time sending invoices out to people and all those sorts of things,” explains Smith. “We spend more time asking people about their experience rather than asking for money or bookings.”

The success that Kajima Partnerships has had at Haverstock and other schools means that the firm’s technology is now in demand – and could be starting to change the face of facilities management within PFI contracts across the country.

“We have been asked to run quite a few schools where there is a PFI and the existing operator is struggling to find a way through the bureaucracy,” says Smith.

As a growing number of projects come to the middle period of their contracts, the public sector is beginning to look at what it can get out of these deals, particularly in relation to how they can be used to benefit the local communities that they serve.

“Schools are now starting to look a bit deeper and community use is often one area that is not being done so well,” says Smith. He warns that no school should see the approach as a moneymaking scheme, but instead recognise it as a real benefit to the community. Smith says the money made from the public should ideally be enough to cover the cost of hosting the events, “plus a little bit more”.

In Haverstock’s case, that money at the moment goes towards a reduced premium that Kajima must achieve on the contract. Once that is achieved, the money will be pooled as a profit share.

Smith is adamant that there is little downside to PFI schools – and other projects – growing their community use programme. He reiterates that as long as the partners work well together, the danger of the private sector failing to have the facilities ready for their core use – in Haverstock’s case, ready for the school bell every weekday morning – is minimal.

“I can count on one hand the amount of deductions we have incurred because things were not ready for the next day,” he says.

Once again, key to this has been the successful partnership on the ground. Both sides respect and value each other’s roles, and for the FM side, recognising the need to check all rooms at the end of every day proved an important learning curve, says Smith.

As Kajima Partnerships looks to expand this offering, it will be vital for all parties to buy into the concept of enhanced partnership working.