Strong opinions, lightly held

Who’s the most powerful person in Scottish sport?

It’s not who you think.

  • The CEO of sportscotland?
  • The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport?
  • Your governing body CEO?
  • Your local authority head of sport?

No, no, no and no.

It’s your local school janitor.

Have you ever driven past a school playing field on a Sunday and wondered why it’s empty?

I hear complaints about a lack of facility access all the time. People say millions are spent on regional performance facilities but local access is harder than ever. The facilities are often in place but too many janitors won’t let go of the keys.

A shift in power is needed. Too many janitors are tired, grumpy and don’t actually care about the kids they serve. The stories from coaches are numerous — the janitor didn’t show up to open the school, or turned the lights off while we were playing, or we can’t put out the badminton posts because that’s the job of a leisure attendant . Or my personal favourite, the janitor doesn’t want to work extra hours on a Sunday, so you can’t get a facility let.

To be fair — some janitors are awesome. If your local school has a janitor that gives a sh*t please take them a box of chocolates and ask them never to retire. They are literally worth their weight in gold.

Janitors feel under paid, over worked and under appreciated. That’s probably all true. Firing every janitor in Scotland wouldn’t solve the problem. We need solutions that enable trusted people to open and close school facilities.

Recently Edinburgh Leisure began taking control of Edinburgh’s school sport facilities at evenings and weekends. Clubs are worried. They fear costs will go up and clubs will be replaced by five-a-side football.

At sportscotland, they recognise the opportunity to open up the school estate. They’re working in the background with local authorities but can’t just click their fingers to create change at the local level.

There’s another solution — trust people.

Trust the people that volunteer hundreds of hours a year to help kids get active. Trust the people who local parents trust to look after their children.

When people are trusted they become trustworthy.

I can hear the objections now. Image the risks! The health & safety implications!

Well, I help run a community-led sports facility in central Edinburgh. There are no staff in the building during evenings and weekends — volunteer coaches open and close the building when they use it.

In the five years since we took over the facility from the local authority we’ve had:

  • 0 break-in’s
  • 0 injuries resulting from there not being a janitor sitting at the front desk
  • 0 law suits
  • Hundreds of women on skates, kids bouncing basketballs and folk hanging upside down
  • 50 people who are experiencing homelessness sleeping on our basketball court for nine nights over Christmas (after a group of volunteers made them a meal in our small kitchen)

Our Centre is financially sustainable. By doing away with unnecessary staffing costs the Centre is cheaper for users, better quality, more accessible and pays the bills. Yes, we have our challenges with the local youths….. and occasional minor thefts. But none of those challenges would be solved by having a janitor.

Scottish sport needs new facility access models based on trust.
Simon Turner