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STFC grant brings digital science to Leicester community

A successful project to bring space science to communities in Leicester has been celebrating the young people who ensured that the pandemic didn’t quell the enthusiasm for learning about the Universe.

It started with a Spark...

The Space Celebration Project was born out of a Wonder Match event organised by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Wonder Match aims to bring together STFC researchers with community organisations so that they can explore ways to work together and engage new audiences.

The event sparked an idea and brought together Dr Helen Mason (University of Cambridge), Dr Jennifer Carter (University of Leicester), Abdikayf Farah (Somali Community Parents Association, SOCOPA), Sarah Langford (Sphere Science) and Kierann Shah (National Space Centre). From there, the Space Science Celebration Project was born.

The project went on to receive STFC Spark funding so that SOCOPA could work with Somali families from the St Matthew estate in Leicester. The project began early in 2020 with a trip to the National Space Centre for around 60 people and a science Saturday club for school students.

Held in a local community centre, the club had fun, hands-on science activities and presentations from Helen, Jenny and Sarah about space research. Up to 30 primary and secondary school students from the SOCOPA group were planning to present science research and activities at a local family day as a result of the work they had done at the club. Sadly, the national lockdown saw them having to close their doors.

However, all was not lost. Sarah Langford and the SOCOPA team were keen that local families didn’t miss out. They moved their activity onto an online platform, with local students running the club digitally.

Delivering space in a digital space

Three students took on the responsibility for the running of the online family sessions. Sara and Mariam, both in Year 9 at school, and 6th former Aydarus, had all previously attended SOCOPA’s weekend school sessions, so they were acutely aware of the impact they could have on their community.

Presenting these weekend sessions for families with primary-aged children was the first taste of public presenting for the trio. But as members of the Somalian community themselves, they were able to make the families attending feel comfortable and their own confidence grew as the weeks progressed. They were also trained by Andrew Jenkins from the University of Lancaster so that they could deliver a virtual planetarium show. In total they presented to around 230 people over 12 sessions.

In their anonymised feedback, one of the students explained how the project had helped them: “I have improved my communication and speaking skills and I have learned a lot of facts about the sun. I also think the community will benefit greatly from this project. [It] may also open different career paths for them in the future.”

Well-deserved thank you

The hard work of SOCOPA and the students was officially recognised by the Mayor of Leicester, Peter Soulsby, who recently presented the trio with certificates recognising their commitment to science. The virtual celebration also included presentations from Munna Rafle and Yahye Abdi from SOCOPA, Dr Helen Mason and Dr Jennifer Carter. The trio didn’t rest on their laurels – they too presented Dr Carter’s research in a session to local families!

You can find out more about the STFC Spark awards here and the Wonder initiative here.

You can visit the Somali Community Parents Association online

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Last updated: 04 June 2021


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