How do you make PE thrilling? Balby Carr School right on track
1 November 2011
Balby Carr Community Sports and Science College in Doncaster has had long-standing success in using PE and sport as a vehicle to improve the lives of young people.
So when they were looking for a sporting project that could ignite the enthusiasm of pupils and the wider community, they looked to Steve Wells Associates to build them a national standard BMX track at the school.
The school offers fantastic opportunities for students to enjoy and achieve in sport. This includes promoting high levels of participation by all students and offering specialist programmes for students with the ability and commitment to achieve at the highest level.
The school responded to an opportunity to access Department for Education (DfE) funding for sports facilities, by deliberately going outside the norm with the aim of bringing new levels of challenge and inspiration to their PE curriculum.
Balby Carr wanted to take a different approach to engaging young people in PE and sport, and to using positive experiences in sport to develop personal skills and self-belief. They were looking for a sporting project that could ignite the enthusiasm of its participants in PE lessons and then develop this into high take up of after school and community sport programmes.
Balby Carr School decided to build a national standard BMX track on its site in order to provide students with the experience of an exciting and challenging alternative sport. The project aims were to develop BMX opportunities for novice riders and to support talented riders through the Balby Carr Academy of Sport, a Post 16 programme for elite performers.
With DfE rules limiting the time available to get the project off the ground, and recognising the need for specialist professional skills to deliver the project, the school commissioned Steve Wells Associates to manage the development of an exceptional facility.
Brenda Grace, SWA's Principal Consultant, explains: “The school’s decision to develop a BMX project was a really exciting one. Not only was it going broaden the PE curriculum and appeal to students less engaged by traditional team games, it was clearly going to be a hugely attractive to lots of young people living in the local community. BMX is a fast growing sport in this country and recent success at the Olympics has significantly increased its profile and appeal.
“Balby Carr School is located in a community which faces many challenges and the young people who live there need all the help they can get to improve their life chances. Quite simply, the school saw the BMX track as another way of getting young people more involved in sport and using this as a vehicle for building their self confidence, self discipline and determination to succeed.
“The school had a very clear vision about how BMX could be developed in the PE curriculum and through after school activities. They have a range of really good partnerships with community organisations like South Yorkshire Police and local sports clubs, and had already discussed the potential for the BMX project with their partners. There was considerable support for the idea - everyone recognised that this project could make a real contribution to local agendas. A number of Doncaster riders who had been trying to develop a BMX club met with the school to discuss the proposal and a positive partnership was developed.”
Having worked with Steve Wells Associates in the development of the school’s sports specialism, Balby Carr Headteacher, Martin Craig, turned to the company to lead on the delivery of the BMX project.
“Part of my role in the company, as a former PE teacher, is PE advisory work to support school improvement,” explains Brenda. “But I also have a lot of experience working alongside colleagues on the design and development of sports facilities, bringing my knowledge of school and community agendas to the process.
"I think we are fairly unique as a practice in that are able take a sports facility project from its earliest concept though to opening, dealing with everything from the design work, to planning permissions and contract management, to maximising the sports development impact and establishing a sustainable management and operation model."
With the clock ticking against a set timescale for spending the DfE grant, the Steve Wells Associates team set to work addressing the practical problems of delivering the project.
Brenda described the approach that was taken: “We had a series of steps to go through to get to the important milestone of committing the DfE grant to a contract. The first key task was to finalise the location of the track and to develop an outline design in order to get planning permission.
“The school had engaged in discussions with Doncaster Borough Council about the potential for building the track on Council owned land adjacent to the school playing fields. This was clearly a possibility and had the advantage of providing more space than was available on school land. However, a detailed options appraisal of potential locations weighed in favour of designing a track that could fit into a triangle of school land between the synthetic turf pitch and the boundary fence and still deliver British Cycling standards for a national track.
"We engaged in early dialogue with the Planning Department and made a thorough job of demonstrating local support for the project, as well as meeting all the planning requirements. We had to be sure of gaining planning permission first time round - we would not have had time to resubmit a different scheme and would have lost the funding.”
While the planning application was under consideration, the track specification was developed to enable the contract to go out to tender as soon as planning permission was granted. Meetings with various partners to discuss the delivery of BMX activities on the track continued in earnest.
Brenda explained: “As project managers, we drive the project through the various design and planning stages leading up to the tender process, but we work hard to ensure that the school is appropriately involved and informed at all times. While my colleagues were developing the design, I was supporting the school to develop its partnership with the Doncaster BMX Club and with British Cycling, who were very supportive of the project. Our aim is to use our professional expertise to ensure that the school gets a top quality project in a way that keeps them involved, but enables them to focus on the demanding job of running a school."
Following the approval of the planning application, Steve Wells Associates managed the tender process on behalf of the school and the contract for the works was successfully let.
“We manage the contract side of things, everything from the tendering process to certifying the works and payments,” explains Brenda. “Obviously the school retains overall control of the programme, but as contract managers we can save the school a lot of time and trouble by dealing directly with the contractor on their behalf.”
The sight of large earth moving machinery starting the track build was a very exciting moment for staff and students alike. After months of planning and meetings, the BMX track was literally beginning to take shape before everyone’s eyes.
Once the underlying structure of the track was in place, British and European BMX champion Kelvin Batey, a member of the design team, regularly spent time on site advising about the nuances of each bend and berm to ensure that the track would both support the development of novice riders and provide the highest level of challenge to elite riders. Everyone involved in the track was committed to giving proper attention to detail in order to achieve the goal of creating a top class national standard BMX facility.
On 14 October 2011 the Balby Carr School BMX track was officially opened by Rosie Winterton, MP for Doncaster Central.
Before cutting the ribbon and starting an elite rider race, Rosie commended Martin Craig, the Governors and Balby Carr School for developing an inspirational project that would engage many young people and further enhance the school’s outstanding contribution to the local community.
The tremendous excitement shown by students at the launch trying BMX riding for the first time said it all. The project was clearly going to be a huge hit with young people - boys and girls alike.
Brenda commented: “Observing the thrill experienced by the youngsters having a go on the track at the opening was fantastic. And you know that this is just the start of many of good things to come. Two days after the opening we received the very good news that a £10,000 bid to Sport England for BMX bikes and equipment that we assisted the school to submit was successful. This means that the school’s plans for developing community BMX activities will really take off and the project will reach many more young people in Doncaster.”
Head Martin Craig is delighted with Balby Carr’s new facility and SWA’s commitment to the project. “SWA provide invaluable support, and their creativity and professionalism in helping us develop our exciting new BMX track has been outstanding,” he said.
“They’ve led the development of this national standard facility which will enhance our PE curriculum and Post 16 Sports Academy, and make a significant contribution to developing the sport of BMX in our community.”Make Sport Happen in your School