20 years of Kajima Community – a Q&A with Chris Smith, Head of Community

To celebrate 20 years of Kajima Community, we interviewed Chris Smith, Head of Community, to discuss the transformations he has seen since year one, the team’s achievements and the next big opportunities for Community. Join us as Chris reflects on two decades of growth, innovation and memorable milestones that have shaped the Community team we know today.

What transformations has Community seen in the last 20 years?

There has been a massive transformation since 2004 when Community’s only two employees, Sam Bell and I recruited part-time Leisure Attendants to manage the out of hours activities at our Kajima-built schools – Haverstock School and Brentside School in London the Darlington Education Village and the Wooldale Centre for Learning, in Northampton.  Realising the potential of the school lettings business and Community’s ability to help maximise underused public assets, Kajima invested over £2m in developing the lettings software we now know as BookingsPlus.  Further understanding that not all schools had the time or resource to effectively manage lettings in-house, the idea for our BookingsGuru service was born. Now, we employ skilled customer service personnel and a highly qualified technical team consisting of engineers, testers, business analysts, and programme managers. Customers quite rightly expect seamless service; they want to speak to people who want to help them, and they want it immediately.

What are some of the key milestones Community has reached over the years?

Over our past 20 years, Community has had many milestones that have shaped our services into what they are today. Successfully launching the BookingsPlus software in 2013 and our BookingsGuru service the following year with external clients eager to come onboard, demonstrated to us that our idea to help organisations monetise this niche area was in demand. We were the first company to launch bespoke school lettings software and the first to offer a comprehensive lettings administration service. Other milestones include the launch of NHS Open Space and BookingsPlus 2.0 expanding our market in the Healthcare and Local Authority sector and establishing us as a reputable software company, with community at its heart.

 What has been the most rewarding moment in your role as Head of Community?

There are so many. In 2013 our school lettings service received an Excellence, Innovation and Inspiration Award at the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) annual awards ceremony. It was recognition that Kajima had shown great insight when coming up with the idea of a Community Department to help organisations maximise the income from their facilities. As Head of the department, for me, it’s all about our people. Community have employed hundreds of individuals over the past twenty years, whether part-time in schools, in central service roles such as marketing and accounts, sales teams, and more recently developers and technical experts.  We’ve employed a number of apprentices who have completed their qualifications and either gone on to find other suitable roles or remained in our team. Beverley Roy, Sam Bell and Julie Moorhouse began their career with Community and have advanced into senior positions within the wider Kajima business- it’s been rewarding seeing their progress.  Additionally, two people who started with us working part-time at the Wooldale Centre for Learning ten years ago when they were both just 17 years old, are still with us. They have embraced the company’s collaborative approach and are due to be married next year.

What do you most enjoy in your role as Head of Community?

 In addition to managing a great team of enthusiastic people in Community, having some client contact, doing a deal with our end users and getting their endorsement gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Whether it’s a hirer who’s booked a badminton court or a Council purchasing our software, knowing that our service really matters to people and contributing to the public purse to the tune of now over £40m per year is a massive motivation.

What do you believe are the next big opportunities for Community?

Advancements in technology, especially within recent years, have opened numerous opportunities, many of which we should embrace. While AI is being integrated into many customer service roles, we understand the frustration of dealing with a robotic voice at the other end of the line. Rest assured, our dedicated BookingsGuru team will continue to play a pivotal role in assisting our customers. Instead, we will leverage AI to provide personalised recommendations and seamless multi-channel booking capabilities, enhancing user experience and efficiency. Additionally, incorporating blockchain technology for secure and transparent financial transactions will revolutionise our payment processes, continuing our innovative approach to adding value to our communities.