Partnerships for Schools celebrates diversity as it marks its 50th BSF project

Like many of you, I spent time at last week’s excellent Building Schools Exhibition and Conference at London’s ExCeL. As ever, it was a great chance to meet people from all sectors and all parts of the country who are engaged in the delivery of the full range of schools capital programmes, and to reflect on progress and share lessons learned as we look ahead to forthcoming challenges and opportunities.

As many speakers noted at BSEC 2010, PfS has enjoyed a highly productive year - and one which saw many changes for our organisation. This month we hit our 50th financial close in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and over 130,000 pupils and 12,000 teachers are now benefitting from BSF investment. But of course our involvement in a wide range of capital projects is now quite different from the picture just 12 months ago.

We are now also seeing the first projects completed as part of the £200 million Co-location Fund - part of our increased remit and a great example of our ’One Conversation’ integrated approach. By co-locating health facilities with housing support, sports with childcare, and youth centres with libraries and the arts, the Co-location Fund has offered 101 projects up and down the country the opportunity to develop community-focused facilities - some of which are being delivered alongside BSF.

One of the first projects to be completed is the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre in Waterloo, London, which has seen existing and unused basement space converted into a suite of consulting and waiting rooms. These new facilities are being used by a wide range of agencies, including midwifery and mental health services through the local NHS Trust. It also includes a training and advice service, enabling the local community to access all this on one site in a dedicated space.

We hope that the diverse range of projects being supported through the Co-location Fund will generate lessons learnt and good practice for local authorities and their partners in the future and act as a catalyst for wider regeneration and improved partnership working. This programme is helping to demonstrate that the multi-agency approach can and does work, and that it can bring efficiencies both operationally and also during procurement. Our next challenges are to help build the capacity of local authorities and other parties, to bring co-location to the forefront of their minds and to help them make full use of the resources available to them.

The construction industry will need to think about how it responds to this growing interest in multi-agency facilities, not just with the flow of projects delivered through the Co-location Fund, but beyond.

Given our name, Partnerships for Schools, it might lead to you think that we only deal with education, but the Co-location Fund is another string to our bow - challenging local authorities to tackle head-on the complexities of multi-agency working and breaking down the barriers to integrated services. I look forward to seeing first-hand how the new generation of co-located services bring real benefits to the communities they serve.