Bringing science home - public engagement during a pandemic

At the Crick we want to share our passion for science, but so much of our public-facing work – education, exhibitions, community projects and events – relied on face-to-face interaction. Our Public Engagement team tell us how they have adapted and found new ways to support our local community in Camden, and share our work throughout the UK and beyond, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Working with schools

"I think I developed intellectual curiosity and it has encouraged me to do more research about different scientific experiments and... not be afraid to discuss and ask questions to improve my understanding on a certain concept."
Virtual work experience student

Our education programme inspires young people to aspire to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), and provides the knowledge, skills and experiences to help them succeed. 

Before lockdown, we were able to offer activities for every child in state education in Camden - reaching over 20,000 people each year, both in schools and at the Crick. Our audiences come from a wide variety of primary and secondary schools across the diverse borough of Camden, and include young people with a range of special needs. 

Normally, we visit schools, host groups at the Crick, and arrange around 90 work experience placements across all areas of the Crick - from lab work to hospitality and IT. But with schools closed and students unable to visit the Crick, we had to rethink how we reach young people and their families. 

One part of our new approach has been virtual work experience - we recruited 12 students from Camden secondary schools, and challenged them to design and plan an interactive activity based on an aspect of Crick science that they thought would be interesting and fun for their peers.

At the start of the week, the students were introduced to some of the research that’s happening at the Crick, and chatted directly with scientists to find out more about their work. After hearing tips from the Crick Public Engagement team and staff from the Wellcome Collection and Centre of the Cell, the teams of students developed their ideas and presented them to a panel of engagement experts. 

It was hugely impressive to see how the students’ transferable skills improved during the week, and fascinating to see what types of activities they thought would draw a crowd – something that we always want to find out about!

Bringing science home

Normally, we provide in-person training to school teachers, practical workshops for primary school children, and a cross-borough competition where children present their science in the theatre at Regent High School. To keep up these links, we had to find effective ways to reach as many students as possible, including those without access to digital devices.

We moved our training sessions for teachers online, and collaborated with Wellcome, Regent High School and 43 primary school classes on a Science at Home challenge. This included a poster competition, with winning entries featured as part of the Great Science Share for Schools. 

"I’m so proud of our Camden pupils, teachers and school communities for continuing to share and celebrate science in these extraordinary times."
Maria Ocampo-Hafalla, Lab Manager for Education and Science Educator at the Crick

The pandemic has also offered some new opportunities for our team to work together. Our community engagement and education teams collaborated to produce family science packs for May half term and the summer holidays, with activities relating to both the curriculum and Crick science. English and Bengali versions were sent out through Camden Primary Schools, our community partners and to over 10,000 homes nearby, providing more ways for students to get involved with science while schools are closed.

Working with our local community

Sign on door of the Living Centre inside the Crick

Run by people and organisations who believe in social change, the St Pancras and Somers Town Living Centre is a vibrant and inclusive health and wellbeing centre.

Our community engagement team at the Crick focuses on making sure that residents of the area immediately surrounding the Crick benefit from having the institute on their doorstep. Local employment schemes and our partnership with the community-led Living Centre are just two of the ways that we work with our neighbours. 

One of our other key projects is the Community Chest scheme, which awards small grants to community health and wellbeing initiatives within a mile of the Crick. We aim to support grass roots, resident-led projects. At our last panel we supported Hafid and his cousin, who live opposite the Crick, to set up Camden United FC - a football club for local young people. 

“I don't think we'll ever be able to explain how happy this has made us.”
Hafid, founder of Camden United FC and local resident

We recently announced a new pandemic support fund in partnership with Somers Town Big Local - a resident-led Big Lottery project. Together with a panel of local residents, we’ve supported another 11 local projects and organisations that tackle the effects of the pandemic in our local area. 

Some of our other work during the pandemic could never have been predicted, like using our connections with local organisations to help distribute face shields made by our Making Lab to local schools and care homes.

Looking more widely

Although our focus is often on our local community, the pandemic has given our team a new chance to focus on connecting with people around the UK and beyond. Our public events team normally organise panel discussions, film screenings, our annual family Discovery Day, and many more events every year. We’ve moved our events online this summer to create entirely new activities that are open to a wider audience than ever before.

Discovery Day became a whole week of online science activities, with demos from Crick researchers and members of the education team. We were able to reach thousands of people around the UK and internationally, who normally wouldn’t have been able to make it to Discovery Day in person.

Explore our Family Zone for the latest resources, activities and games. 

We have also used this as a chance to try out some new approaches, like transitioning our in person ‘Meet a Scientist’ events into Q&As on YouTube and Instagram.

What next? 

These different approaches have meant that we have been able to keep in touch with our local community and reach more people than ever before, both in the UK and internationally. This autumn, our plans include: 

Back to school

We are resuming practical science activities in schools and in our Discovery Lab, by adapting our previous workshops to make them compliant with COVID rules. Hands-on science practicals are especially challenging for schools to deliver during this time, because they require access to science lab spaces and equipment. 

Supporting COVID-19 testing

Our gallery will remain closed to the public, but it isn’t empty. The NHS nurses who are staffing the drive-through testing centre at the British Library are using part of our gallery for their breaks and we are happy to be able to support key workers during this time. 

Local community

We will continue to support our local community through our community chest scheme, the pandemic support fund, and a new donation point for the food bank based at the Living Centre.

We are also working with Regent High School to increase the number of students who are able to access virtual learning by sourcing Chromebooks for students, as part of the Digital Divide campaign

Join us online

If you have primary-aged children, you can visit our growing Family Zone for the latest activities and at-home experiments. We're also continuing to connect our scientists to people around the UK and beyond - join us on Instagram to Meet a Scientist - normally for adults, but we also have family specials.

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