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A science extravaganza

An Ogden physics education grant helped to support this community science festival in Rochdale.

Published: 29 March 2023

Earlier this month, the Rochdale Science Extravaganza took place with more than 1,400 people experiencing a huge range of science activities celebrating the wondrous world of STEM. The theme for this year’s event was climate change and sustainability, and visitors could take part in nearly 40 activities including circuit building, upcycling electronic waste and t-shirts, exploring water, and investigating global weather patterns. Visitors could also enjoy an immersive planetarium, art exhibitions, community art initiatives and a high-impact drama production that looked at the impact of climate change in the UK and Bangladesh. Geraldine Cox, Artist in Residence in the Physics Department at University College London, was on hand at the festival to create a beautiful Fibonacci spiral of feedback from the day that will be used to help build and expand this community initiative.

The event brought together education, research, business, community and faith groups in the planning and delivery of this fabulous festival, which engaged and inspired visitors and reinforced the message that STEM can be for everyone. The theme of climate change and sustainability is a worldwide issue, which resonated strongly with the local Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities who are acutely aware of the increased flooding in the subcontinent. A huge range of STEM careers were in evidence on the day with engineering, urban design, landscape architecture and sustainable energy among the many future pathways being showcased to the Rochdale community.

Visitors to the Rochdale Science Extravaganza explore the activities on offer - a female demonstrator is showing an investigation to a young girl who is stood with an older man. Other people are shown in the background.

Ogden regional rep, Melissa Lord contributed to the planning for the event and to the wider conversations about developing and growing the Rochdale Science Initiative (RSI) – the community interest company that now leads this annual festival. Melissa, who has a passion for sustainability physics, also shared her own physics investigations on the day, asking visitors to explore the urban heat island effect and to think about how we can keep towns and cities cool in hot summers. “An early trickle of people first thing rapidly turned into a throng of interested children and families,” says Melissa. “I talked non-stop all day! It is so inspiring to see people getting to know science for its own sake and not just to pass exams. I have to say that this was one of my best and most memorable days ever in STEM.”

“There was a real buzz in the air with such a wide array of exhibitors and activities from local schools, charities, companies and community groups,” adds Paul Sapple, Ogden Programme Manager. “It was great to be able to speak with young people from schools showcasing their passion for the community, the environment, and physics, as well as meeting inspirational exhibitors. The organisers must be very proud of what they have achieved, and without a doubt families will be talking about this event for a long time to come. It has really highlighted the role that physics plays in the world, and clearly demonstrated that physics is for everyone, everywhere,” concludes Paul.

Community matters

A science event in Rochdale first launched in 2017 when Mohammed Rahman, inspired by the Manchester Science Festival, wanted to celebrate science in (and for) his own community. “I’d never really been interested in science,” explains Mohammed, “but my son has a real passion for it, and by the age of five he was asking me questions about physics that I couldn’t answer. We went on lot of trips to museums to try to answer his questions, and soon enough we discovered the Manchester Science Festival. We went back to the festival year after year. But we realised we were often in the minority. My son asked if we could do something similar in our hometown, for our culture and our community,” he adds.

Visitors to the Rochdale Science Extravaganza explore the activities on offer - a boy is holding a blue air cannon. Other people are shown around the display table and in the background.

Since its inception, the event has grown and is now run by the Rochdale Science Initiative (RSI) and a team of volunteers. This year the Ogden Trust provided a physics education grant to help fund the event, with further support from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the British Science Association; the Institute of Physics, the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and many other local groups, organisations and individuals provided people power and resources to help make the day a huge success. This year, the festival was held in partnership with the Bangladesh Association and Community Project.

“I cannot praise Mohammed and his team enough for spotting a need, taking on a huge task and turning it into something so very significant,” adds Melissa.  “I think that the oldest young people involved in the Rochdale Science Initiative are now taking GCSEs; it will be interesting to see the future impact of the initiative on this vibrant community and the whole of the town.”

“RSI cannot thank The Ogden Trust enough for not only granting the physics education grant, but also for the contribution made by the Ogden Trust regional reps, Melissa Lord and Scott Walker, their contributions were immeasurable,” says Mohammed.

“We were hopeful that a thousand people would come through the doors of Number One Riverside, Rochdale, and engage with the amazing array of STEM and art content on offer,” continues Mohammed. “We hoped visitors would leave understanding how we need to work intergenerationally, collaboratively, and creatively if we are to seek resolutions to climate change. The hopes we had were met and exceeded. Nearly 1,500 people registered on the day, and we think actual numbers were even higher. The positive feedback from visitors, presenters and volunteers has been overwhelming. All this puts RSI in good stead for an even bigger and better Science Extravaganza for next year.

“RSI wants to raise the next generation of science enthusiasts and scientists from Rochdale. We want to make STEM more accessible for ethnic minorities and those that are socially and economically disadvantaged,” continues Mohammed. “We believe that bringing science into the heart of our communities can engage minorities and the extravaganza was a prime example of what we can achieve; the audience was a celebration of diversity and multi-culturalism.”

Members of the RSI team are shown in a group photo

“RSI’s big dream is to find a permanent home to offer STEM activities to young people and adults in Rochdale seven days a week. Rochdale is a town yet to establish a STEM-based discovery centre, how wonderful and fulfilling it would be if RSI could initiate this,” enthuses Mohammed. “Our immediate attention though is on delivering an inspirational series of physics-based workshop for disadvantaged secondary aged children, working in partnership with Emma Nichols, Outreach Manager in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at The University of Manchester.”

Ogden enrichment lead, Janinne Delorenzo is leading a special interest working group of regional reps who are looking at how links can be built with local community groups. “The Rochdale Science Initiative, and this Science Extravaganza, are incredible examples of community partnership,” says Janinne. “It was a privilege to be able to support this project and to learn from their experiences. Mohammed will be sharing his story with our north-west school partnerships later this year, and we hope that they will be inspired to look at how they can build and reinforce links with their own communities.”


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