An explosive half term amid an uncertain future for the UK's Science Centre network

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After having been closed for over 200 days, Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium blasted back into action on Saturday 17 October followed by a spectacular sell-out October half term. 

The Science Centre received rave reviews for its completely transformed visitor experience, but following new government guidelines the venue is once again closed until at least December. Despite comments showing that visitors are more eager than ever before to get hands-on with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), Winchester Science Centre, and the network of over 40 Science Centres across the country, have been forgotten by the government as we enter a second national lockdown.

A brand new experience greeted visitors who patiently waited over seven months to return to Winchester Science Centre. Highlights included a giant 10m long guitar, a journey through a huge ear, dancing fire, acoustic rocket, experimentation zone and explosive live demos on the exhibition floor as well as a refreshed welcome area, shop and café and an innovative Recombobulation Room – a quiet place designed for people who need time away from the hustle and bustle of the Science Centre. The team, who had worked tirelessly for two and a half years to bring the project to life, were overwhelmed by the outpouring of supportive comments from those who visited.

Facebook User:Lots of interactive fun, best way to learn for children.”

TripAdvisor Review: “Wow, what a place. Loads of interactive things to do and learn and all science areas are there to amaze. Even I learnt a lot of how things happen.”

Visitor Survey Comment: “Watching my children explore the spaces and exhibits with excitement and wonder. We look forward to visiting again soon.”

Visitor Survey Comment: “We couldn’t drag our kids away from the exhibits, they were so engaged!”

Despite this clear desire from the public to engage more with STEM, the network of over 40 Science Centres across the country, including Winchester Science Centre, has been forgotten by the government. Unlike museums and zoos, who have received resilience funds to keep them going in these challenging times, Science Centres have received no financial support and these world-class venues are now at risk.

Ben Ward, Chief Executive of Winchester Science Centre, said: “Seeing visitors enjoying themselves in the Science Centre again was truly amazing and we are so touched by all the kind words and comments. It is disappointing that we have had to close our doors once more but we can’t wait to see people return as soon as it is safe to do so.

Science Centres make a big impact. Our visitor comments and sell out half term show that we are bringing value, opportunity and enrichment to our visitors. We therefore don’t understand why our government would put this valuable and viable national STEM network in such jeopardy. We are imploring the government to listen in our time of need and invest in an Emergency Resilience Fund to help UK Science and Discovery Centres weather this pandemic and continue to provide the backbone of exploratory science education across the country.”

Science Centres play a crucial role in inspiring young people with STEM, creating the environmental and science innovators we need for the future and ensuring that the UK stays at the forefront of global research, development and innovation. As we head into a second national lockdown, revenue streams and visitors numbers are once again non-existent and vital science outreach programmes, many to disadvantaged areas, are closed.  

With still no funding in sight and the pandemic far from over, 153 leaders from across the UK’s scientific community have come together to highlight the importance of our national infrastructure, which inspires future scientists, by signing an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State Alok Sharma. The letter has been signed by some of the world’s most famous scientists and science advocates including Professor Brian Cox, Professor Sir Robert Winston, Professor Alice Roberts, eight Nobel prize winners and two British astronauts - Helen Sharman and Tim Peake.

Set up in 1986, Winchester Science Centre, an independent educational charity with no government funding, made a commitment to spark curiosity in STEM in everyone, regardless of age, ability or background. It aims to improve access to STEM, making it more relevant and fun for all, through interactive exhibits, live science shows, an engaging schools programme, partnerships with university research teams and community outreach.