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Wonder at the Labs – Building our network of collaborators

The ambitious Wonder initiative for public engagement is looking to widen the range of people and community groups that are engaged with STFC’s science and technology.  On 18 September, STFC held a meeting to share ideas and experiences from projects involved with the early stages of the initiative.  A focus of discussion was how projects have gone about finding groups and organisations to collaborate with.  The Public Engagement (PE) teams at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s three main National Laboratory sites describe their early experiences here.

Royal Observatory Edinburgh

Fiona Ross has been leading community activities at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh since August 2018. Through Wonder, she has made connections with community centres, arts groups - mostly through various departments in the local council. ”It’s people who are dealing with families, young people, communities. It’s much more complicated than I thought!”

Fiona took proactive steps. “I was cold calling, fishing for community groups who might come to a specific event.  One year on - it’s like six degrees of separation – and I now have partners who I am working with. A common trait is that community organisations are very stretched for time and money, so you have to work out who is able to bring something to the partnership. In return, I realised I have to show very quickly that I have something to offer them. Running a simple activity for the group is a good way of building trust to do more things.”

“I am not sure whether I always felt passionate about this or whether that has evolved. It has made my job more interesting, more challenging”. 

Daresbury Laboratory

Our Daresbury Laboratory, in the Liverpool city region, is near to some of the most deprived areas in the UK. Phill Day leads the Daresbury Public Engagement team. “Wonder is like public engagement is finally going in the right direction, with those who will benefit most. The whole team can see the walls disappear and it goes beyond STEM.  The pupils in our urban farm project, thanks hugely to their teachers, are experimenting with their diet, exchanging letters with a Secretary of State.”

Phill’s team is part of an ambitious partnership including Halton Borough Council and dynamic local charities. Challenged to show what it was doing for the local communities, Phill was able to say that Wonder was setting a new path for his team. He says “These partners have done a lot of the legwork. They have a real passion and connected us with local community groups. It’s like a cascade effect.”

Is there anything Phill would do differently? “We haven’t got the involvement of parents and carers right yet. The schools can struggle with that, with so much on their plate. The earlier involvement of our partners in that side of things in the future has been a key learning.”

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), in Oxfordshire, is situated in a part of the country where a lot of people are very engaged with STEM – but there are areas where many people have never even heard of RAL, despite only living 20 minutes away.  Sophy Palmer, a member of the PE team, says “It’d be easy to keep running events and activities with the people who know and love us, but we also want to make sure that everyone has the same opportunities to engage, and feel a part of the incredible work that goes on at RAL.”  Wonder has meant that the RAL PE team have gone out into new communities, working with partners who already have strong and trusting relationships with local communities to bring RAL science to shopping centres, community centres and even the Cowley Carnival.  “These successful initial events have allowed us to start to build our own relationships, working with communities to develop activities together.”

So what’s next for Wonder at RAL?  “Most of the activity we’ve done as part of Wonder has involved one-off events: building relationships with organisers behind the scenes.  What we’d like to do next is to develop some longer-term programmes, engaging young people with a series of activities, enabling a sense of ownership of RAL science and technology – and hopefully developing the idea that they can continue to be involved with STEM in the future.”

Space Week

The Daresbury Laboratory Public Engagement team organised an intensive ‘Space Week’ with key local partners to engage 1500 children and their families from ten ‘low science capital’ schools within the local borough. Working with Liverpool John Moores University, and Catalyst Science Discovery Centre improved our ability to deliver a variety of exciting, high volume and high quality space linked activities to complement the space themed lessons being taught by teachers throughout the week. The partnership with Halton Borough Council emphasised the prestige of the project and also provided data to enable the accurate identification of disadvantaged target schools. Partnering with Well Halton gave us extra funds, and better visibility within the surrounding community, which was helpful in promoting STEM dialogue within and between families as the 10 primary schools were engaged intensively ‘en-masse’ over the week. They provided familiar local voices to encourage unconfident parents to engage in activities after-school.

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Last updated: 30 September 2019


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