Earlier this year, the Centre for Public Engagement launched a Community Engagement Funding stream. Centre of the Cell used the money to take their science shows into the local community at the Ideas Store in Whitechapel. Very different from their usual classrooms or their Pod at the Blizard building, what did they learn from the experience?
10 September 2018
After receiving a Community Engagement Grant from the Centre for Public Engagement, we were able to partner up with the Idea Store in Whitechapel to deliver some science shows for our local community. With the help of Lisa Coveley, a Health & Wellbeing Outreach Worker for Tower Hamlets Public Health, we organised two events: one in the Easter holidays and one in the May/June half term. Both events included a science show delivered by members of our Learning Team in the Idea Store, followed by a visit to Centre of the Cell’s unique interactive exhibition - the Pod. Receiving funding from the CPE meant that local families could attend these events for free.
For the first event we ran our famous ‘Snot, Sick & Scabs’ show in a corner of the children’s library. At the back of the library there was a small area which was well suited to our show; we started setting up while reminiscing over the books we used to read as children. During this time families would wander over to find out what we were doing, with our bright green table containing all manner of interesting looking substances for some disgustingly fun demonstrations. Slowly but surely, the chairs we’d put out started to fill up. Once we had a small audience it was time to start. Many of the children were a little younger than our typical audience for this show, but our brilliant Explainer Jacob did a fantastic job in adapting the content for all of them to understand and enjoy. Everyone’s favourite (or possibly least favourite!) part seemed to be the ‘recipe for sick’ demo - the finished product is not only a gross colour and texture, but also gives off a very distinctive smell! By the end of the show almost all of the children in the audience had helped with one of the demos, which led to many happy smiles from both parents and children. Our audience was then offered a free Pod show, if they were happy to walk over to the Blizard Institute – about two thirds of the group decided to join us for an hour of playing games and learning all about cell biology and medical research.
For the second event we ran our ‘Teethtastic’ show, which, as I’m sure you have guessed, is all about teeth! It was pouring with rain and thundering outside as we made our way over to the Idea Store to set up the show, this time in an event space upstairs. Despite the weather we had a great turnout for this session, with some families braving the storm specifically to come and see our show, while others, taking shelter from the elements, decided to join us at the last minute. Once again we had lots of lovely volunteers getting involved throughout, even some of the youngest audience members were brave enough to come up to the front to help us demonstrate how different types of teeth work. Parents seemed to particularly enjoy seeing their little ones wearing great big animal hats while we talked about how many teeth different animals have. At the end of the show we had lots of questions about taking care of your teeth – luckily one of our Assistant Explainers, Emma, is a dental student and helped us answer some of the trickier questions! In the friendly atmosphere, some questions even prompted a bit of discussion among the audience. Lisa was also on hand to give information and help connect families with their local dental services. On this occasion fewer families decided to join us in the Pod – but with the rain not letting up we couldn’t blame them for wanting to stay indoors! For those that did join us, it was a brave crossing as the rain was almost flooding parts of the road we had to cross and there was an impressive lightning display with accompanying thunder. This didn’t dampen anyone’s excitement however; one parent commented that they had enjoyed the Teethtastic show and were very much looking forward to seeing what’s inside the Pod. Having a small group meant that the families had free reign over the games once inside, with ‘Poo Racer’ fast becoming a favourite.
At Centre of the Cell we have visitors come from all over the UK, and every now and then from as far as Italy, the USA and Australia, but we have really enjoyed engaging with our local community here in Whitechapel. It’s very important that our spaces are welcoming and accessible to local families and we were really pleased that we had the opportunity to engage with audiences who, despite living just down the road from us, didn’t know about us before seeing one of our shows in the Idea Store. We hope that we can continue working with Lisa and her team to deliver more events like these in future.
You can apply for up to £500 for community engagement as part of our monthly Small Grants. The deadline is 15 of each month. The Centre for Public Engagement celebrates outstanding community engagement at our Community Engagement Awards. Look out for details of nominations soon.