The Centre of the Cell “is a wonderful emblem of how public engagement is embedded in what this university does,” said QMUL’s Principal, Professor Simon Gaskell, during the science centre’s fifth birthday celebrations.
Since opening in September 2009, over 100,000 people have taken part in Centre of the Cell (CoC) activities, with a particularly large increase in visitor numbers in the first part of 2014-2015. There have been approximately a million visits to the website: www.centreofthecell.org.
During the evening of celebrations on 6 May, Simon said that public engagement was not an “optional extra” for QMUL. “We define education as educating students and graduates, but, crucially, as also including engagement with a much wider audience.” He said this engagement with the wider community was also at the heart of QMUL’s Life Sciences Initiative, which focuses on post-genomic population health and aims to improve the health of the local population particularly, but also nationally and internationally.
Professor Mike Curtis, Director of the Centre for Public Engagement and Director of the Blizard Institute where the CoC is located, paid tribute to the leadership of Professor Fran Balkwill, the CoC’s Director. “Fran, this wouldn’t have happened without you,” he said.
He highlighted three ingredients that were vital for the success of such a project: “Fundamental support from the leadership of the organisation, an inspirational leader, and funds and support from a great many people.” Fran had not only provided the inspirational leadership, but had visited many different people and organisations, carrying a model of the CoC, to raise the funds needed to build the real thing. In addition, to her CoC work, Fran had a national and international reputation for her scientific research, leading the Centre for Cancer and Inflammation at Barts Cancer Institute. “She is a twin star,” he said.
Fran said: “Tonight is a celebration of the hard work and persistence of a large number of people.” The people and organisations she thanked included QMUL (“I can’t think of another university in the country that would have supported us like this”); the CoC staff (“fun, creative, hard-working and persistent”); QMUL scientists, about 200 of whom provided content for the CoC, ambassadors and students; the numerous funders; the trustees during the period when the CoC was a charity; and the external contractors, such as the designers, architects, accountants, graphic and web designers.
Her aims for the future included achieving sustainability for the CoC, building a second pod - the Neuron Pod - which will help towards making the CoC sustainable by providing more space and for which 60% of funding is already promised, online games and apps to encourage, for example, participation in the East London Genes & Health project, an expansion of the Youth Membership Scheme, and a summer school to encourage and mentor young people to apply to university to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
John Hall, Chairman of the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation, which has supported the CoC from the start, said he was thrilled at the number of children that had visited the CoC, particularly those from Tower Hamlets as the charity existed to benefit young people from the borough.
Mike concluded that the future of the CoC was “fantastically bright”. He said: “I hope that in five years’ time we will have welcomed half a million visitors.”
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