W5 is calling for public's help in campaign for government funding

  • W5 has joined the Science Centres For Our Future campaign, which is calling on the government to set up a £25m Emergency Resilience Fund to support the UK’s world-class network of regional science centres.

    W5 has been running in Belfast for over 19 years now and is currently a self-sustaining charity.

    Due to Covid-19 it closed its doors to visitors in March, cancelled community outreach and education programmes and stopped all events, cutting off all of its revenue streams.

    W5 is joining a nationwide campaign along with over 40 members of the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), which is being supported by some of the UK’s leading science advocates, including Professor Alice Roberts.  

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    As a community resource, W5 has attracted over four million visitors since its opening in 2001.

    During 2018/19 it attracted 286,084 visitors, supported 34,845 pupils through schools’ engagement, worked with 512 schools and facilitated 1,909 STEM activities, teaching Northern Ireland’s children skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths.

    During the Covid-19 lockdown, science centres like W5 have faced a chronic funding gap with no or reduced revenue streams.

    Whilst the UK furlough scheme has been helpful, Victoria Denoon, head of W5 Experience said that costs like utility bills, insurance, payroll, site security and rents still need to be paid.

    She added: “Science has never been more important. It is front and centre in shaping government agendas for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Science centres are a vital resource for engaging the public with science in an inclusive and innovative environment, inspiring the curious and creative scientists and engineers we need for our future, and providing life-long learning opportunities.

    “We are proud to support this campaign and encourage our visitors and followers to visit the campaign website to find out how they can offer their support.”

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    Alice Roberts is a biological anthropologist, television presenter and author. Since 2012 she has been Professor of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham.

    As an ASDC Patron, she commented: “These centres support hands-on learning for children, all the way through to lifelong learning for adults. Like many other cultural institutions, science centres are struggling - they need our support.

    “I hope the government can help them survive, so that they can continue their crucial work, making science accessible for everyone.”

    ASDC and W5 are asking the public to support the Science Centres For Our Future campaign in two key ways:
    ● Share your Science Centre photos and why you love them on social media, using the #ScienceCentresForOurFuture
    ● Write to your local MPs asking them to support the creation of this Emergency Fund to secure the future of W5 (find a downloadable email on the campaign website)

    A £4.5m development of W5 began last year, with plans to finish around now.

    Eight new themed exhibitions were to be revealed by June 2020, and a £17m redevelopment of the Odyssey complex in Belfast where W5 is situated within also began in October 2019.

    Sync NI reached out to the Odyssey marketing team, who said that both of the projects are still underway, despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

    A spokesperson added: "Tools were down for a few weeks due to the lockdown but construction has started again."

    It is unclear currently as to when the facilities will be fully open for public use again.

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    Visit the campaign website to find out more here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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