The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lisa Griffin

MATs: how can you support your communities?

From integrating services into the community to increasing stakeholder engagement and fundraising, several trusts tell us how they’ve made a real difference to their communities.

Schools play an important and pivotal role in the community. Providing a range of services, schools have the opportunity and often the facilities to meet the needs of pupils, their families, and the wider community. 

We found out how several trusts who have been successful in working with their communities have discovered the positive impact to be had on your pupils, staff, and the wider community. 

Bridge Academy Trust

  • 11 schools across Essex 
  • 7 primary schools 
  • 4 secondary schools 

A key feature of the community work that Bridge Academy Trust undertake is their trust-wide ‘Community Award’ for every child in the trust to:  

  • focus on their community work  
  • develop their understanding of helping others, the environment, and the community.  

The award showcases the things pupils do to support, inspire, and encourage community spirit. Pupils receive recognition for community engagement and outstanding achievement is rewarded with a monetary prize towards a community project of their choice. 

As part of the award, primary school children have undertaken activities such as:  

  • gathering donations for charity shops 
  • helping with more chores around the house 
  • making bird feeders 
  • litter picking 
  • volunteering.  

Working with local partners 

A significant community aspect involves key partnerships with running football academies – Tottenham Hotspur and Chelmsford City. Both involve pupils from Bridge, but also children in other (non-trust) schools. These partnerships work on social groups and anti-social behaviour in the local communities, working alongside local police too. 

To support families facing financial hardship, there are food bank collections at the trust sites where staff and families donate to local food banks.  

The results 

A genuine sense of seeing what good is in pupils and how much they care for others. Regular award assemblies celebrate the achievements of pupils, which reinforces the community message with all pupils, spreads positivity and encourages more pupils to get involved and respect and be part of their community. There is also a termly community newsletter which demonstrates all the achievements.  

CORE Education Trust 

  • Four secondary schools 
  • Based across Birmingham  

To welcome refugee and migrant pupils and their families, CORE has created a bespoke language programme to help pupils integrate, feel part of the community, and thrive. 

CORE serves a diverse community and knows that communication is critical in helping pupils settle quickly, yet language can be a barrier. In one school, children speak over 40 different languages. CORE Hello was established to help pupils develop their English language skills and ensure they can thrive in school and the local community. 

Pupils are also given introductions to everyday life, so they can feel at home in their communities. They are shown how to catch a bus, taken to the nearby library, and helped to get a library card. These skills not only help the pupil but their wider families to settle in their communities. Pupils are encouraged to talk about popular culture and for their ‘graduation’ celebration they are taken bowling.  

The impact 

CORE Hello has helped pupils progress in English, improved their wellbeing and supported wider families to settle. 

Staff have reported increased levels of confidence and class participation and pupils have reported improvements in mental health and wellbeing. They can communicate with peers and have made positive relationships. 

‘I feel really good attending City Academy because I want to learn well, go to college and university. I want to be a doctor in the future.’ A CORE Hello pupil. 


  • 28 schools across the country 
  • 18,00 pupils 

E-ACT has established a range of initiatives that support pupils, their families, and the wider community. They created community hubs which operate from five schools nationally. The purpose of the hubs is to support anyone in the local area facing hardship. This involves providing access to safe spaces, and resources, and signposting to specialist agencies. 

‘I joined Kitty’s group (Creative Confidence) on a Wednesday, which is mental health support for women. It’s brilliant. I feel like everyone who comes looks shell-shocked when they get here, then once they come in, they start to open up and you can see on their face that they are feeling better. Community Hub member. 

Each hub has strong relationships with charities including Shelter, local food banks, Women’s Aid, and Citizens Advice. The hubs provide access to food and signposting to services as well as adult learning and workshops on mental health and resilience, debt counselling, and smoking cessation. 

Schools within the trust also provide community initiatives such as: 

  • uniform rails 
  • community fridges 
  • free hygiene products 
  • making ‘Bags for Hope’ containing essentials and treats for displaced families. 

Mental health support 

The trust wanted to make sure that any child needing mental health intervention did not receive it too late. Knowing investment in children at an early stage is crucial, E-ACT established a mental health hub.  

Launchpad delivers a 12-week intervention programme for some of the most disadvantaged children in the country. At any one time, the programme has up to 24 children on it. Pupils came to Launchpad to engage in activities to:  

  • improve self-esteem 
  • develop resilience 
  • understand and talk about mental health. 

The curriculum includes forest school and cooking and is specially designed, developed and led by a lead teacher, educational psychologist, a speech, and language therapist, learning mentors and a playworker.  

Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT)

  • 43 academies across the country 
  • 30,000 pupils   

OAT’s #WeWill project has engaged 9,000 young people across England in social action projects. Nine youth social action projects were developed to facilitate local communities to feel connected. 

General themes were based on supporting communities with:  

  • physical health and mental wellbeing 
  • community cohesion 
  • arts and culture 
  • the local environment 
  • equality, diversity, and inclusion.  


The projects have helped to build community partnerships. #WeWillCare academies have created connections with local care homes which has seen pupils making gifts and Christmas cards for residents and organising food collections for the local elderly community. The pupils are also researching community stories and memories from older community members to create audiobooks for dementia patients. 

The projects have created spaces for communities to interact. In #WeWillExplore pupils have created geocaching routes for their local communities from Cowes to Ilkeston, encouraging local people to get outside and explore. These have been combined with litter picks, beach cleans, and community events such as Ormiston Ilkeston Academy’s ‘Fright Night’ which was attended by over 400 people.  

The academy pupil leadership teams identify the local charities they would like to fundraise for, using initiatives such as bake sales, raffles, community performances, and fashion shows to raise money for their local communities. Pupils have raised money for MacMillan at their #WeWillSing community concert and are fundraising as part of #WeWillPerform to buy Shakespeare texts for the local children’s hospital and local nurseries.  

Schools in the community 

Community partnerships do not happen overnight, and they take the commitment of the whole-school community. If you’re thinking about ways to build or strengthen community links in your setting, start by asking the following questions. 

  • What resources or skills are there in your school community you could utilise? 
  • What are you doing already? 
  • What new partnerships could you build? 
  • What can you do to help your local community? 

Congratulations to all the trusts shortlisted for the Community trust of the year 2023. We’re already looking forward to reading nominations for next year’s awards.  

Nominate Your Trust

Nominations for the 2024 awards are now open!

Find out more


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