Our Observatory is located between the towns of Sutton-in-Ashfield, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, and Mansfield, all areas of high Indices of Deprivation. Low educational outcomes mean residents are less likely to achieve the STEM qualifications needed to work in high-skilled, high-paid jobs that improve life opportunities, health and support local and regional economies. We passionately believe that it is a lack of opportunity and not a lack of talent that drives this disparity and that our young people should have access to the types of extracurricular enrichment activities that more affluent communities take for granted.
In 2014, we bought the land adjacent to the observatory, which is the site of a redundant brick-vaulted underground Victorian reservoir constructed in the 1880s. Our vision is to turn this into a Science Discovery Centre (SDC) and Planetarium that will inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers, thereby ensuring local people fulfill their potential as well as supporting job growth and prosperity.
Why is it needed?
There is persistent regional disparity in educational outcomes in the UK. Ashfield is placed 310th out of 379 local authority areas in the UK for education and 371st for adult skills, with only 21.2% of the adult population holding at least level 4 NVQ qualifications as opposed to 39.9% for the UK average.
8.4% of the residents do not hold a qualification as opposed to the East Midlands average of 6.2%. Ashfield is the 8th-ranked worst-performing district for social mobility in the UK, and Mansfield is 10th. This represents a significant threat to the future prosperity of the area, which has a high dependency on manufacturing jobs. Furthermore, it is recognised that a significant percentage of lower-skilled jobs in the area are under threat from increasing automation.
Encouraging and inspiring young people to take more interest in STEM subjects is key to addressing the skills gap between educational attainment and business need. These invaluable subject areas will equip young people to secure well-paid jobs which contribute to economic wealth. The local area also suffers from a distinct lack of visitor attractions to draw economic activity into the area.
Our proposals will fill both of these gaps by providing a local centre, a place where visitors feel a sense of wonder from the moment they arrive, that delivers inspiring extracurricular enrichment as well as being a unique visitor attraction that will increase local economic activity and pride in place.