September 04 2018
A two-day event created by grassroots organisation Discovery Planet helped local people learn about the giant offshore wind farm near their homes. The organisation worked with the University of Kent and renewable energy companies Vattenfall and London Array to teach the community about one of the world’s largest wind farms, located just off the Thanet coast in Kent.
The project took over a working café in Cliftonville, Margate, the fifth most deprived ward in England and home to a particularly diverse community. On the first day, Discovery Planet invited six local schools and home-educated children to learn about wind turbines through three different activities. On the second day, the café was open to everyone for free drop-in sessions. The University of Kent’s School of Physics held six workshops about electricity and generation on each of the two days, and a retired engineer discussed renewable energy and designing wind farms. Participants had an opportunity to design and make their own wind turbine from a range of materials, including wood, paper, straws and beads. Volunteer engineers from various disciplines helped the children to work on and refine their designs, and they could test the turbines with a large fan. On another floor, there was a virtual reality experience that allowed participants to simulate climbing the stairs inside a wind turbine.
Volunteers from STEM Learning’s ambassador programme and postgraduate engineers were available to answer questions about engineering, and the event coincided with International Women in Engineering Day. One participating volunteer said: “There were a good number of female engineers and scientists, such as myself, going around and speaking to the young girls and dispelling the myth that engineers and scientists are male. A number of girls said that they wanted to be scientists.”
Discovery Planet tries to ensure that all its activities are free and accessible, and often uses empty shops or market stalls so that people stumble across the events. The events create a great opportunity for engineers to get involved in community outreach and the pop-up format is an effective way of reaching underserved audiences and presenting STEM activities in an unusual way. Discovery Planet has enabled other organisations, such as the University of Kent and Vattenfall, to conduct more outreach with disadvantaged communities. The local windfarm offers a good opportunity to connect the idea of engineering as a career with a firm example.
The organisation used feedback forms with both open and closed questions to monitor the impact of the event. Highlights included a changed attitude to engineering, stereotypes of engineering, and a better idea of how engineering affects people’s lives. The feedback forms asked participants to describe engineering in three words after taking part in the event. Many of the responses contradicted stereotypes and included: “designing, creative, innovative”; “cutting edge, exciting, fun”; “amazing, special, curious”. Working with engineers helped to change people’s perception of engineering and what engineers do, with one commenting “I gained a better understanding of how engineering improves our lives”
The organisation’s next event at pop-up stalls in Ramsgate Market will be all about genes. For more information, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DiscoveryPlanetRamsgate