Written Evidence Submission for DCMS Committee Parliamentary
Inquiry into the Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors
Xplore! Science Discovery Centre
North Wales Science Limited is an educational charity (registered charity number 1102959) that operates from Wrexham. North Wales Science Ltd operates Xplore! (formerly Techniquest Glyndwr) a science discovery centre and schools’ outreach service. The science discovery centre has been operating since April 2003, forming a vibrant part of the cultural landscape of Wrexham, North Wales, and the North West.
The work of the science centre impacts nearly 80,000 participants each year and delivers much needed informal STEAM (Science Technology Engineering, Arts and Maths) learning interventions to some of the region’s most under-served and under-represented groups.
This year the science discovery centre is undergoing a transformational step change. It is currently in the process of a rebranding from Techniquest Glyndwr to Xplore! and it is relocating from Wrexham Glyndwr University’s campus to the heart of Wrexham town centre. The relocation and relaunch are part of a £2.6M capital project that will breathe new life into the science discovery centre and into the town centre of Wrexham.
1.0 The immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector
1.1 The capital project involving the renovation of a large vacant town centre property and regeneration of the area was halted during the initial COVID-19 lockdown with the opening of the new science discovery centre (due to take place 1st May 2020) postponed.
1.2 The loss of 100% of visitor income and the decision to close the existing science discovery centre on 20th March 2020, hit the charity’s accounts at busiest time of year and placed 80% of staff on furlough. This has transformed the organisation’s financial forecast for the year from one of surplus to that of a position of deficit.
1.3 The closure of the science discovery centre led to an immediate stop to all face-to-face engagement, a significant drop in charitable activities and a substantial fall in the number of beneficiaries reached.
2.0 How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?
2.1 The UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme has been welcomed, providing furlough support for 80% of its staff.
2.2 Funds have been received from the Economic Resilience Fund which will help to: safeguard 8 (FTE) members of staff, contribute to the salaries of the Resilience Team and a proportion of operating costs whilst the centre is closed.
3.0 What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?
3.1 A supportive financial package has been requested of the UK Government by the Association of Science Discovery centres of £8.3m per month for as long as Science Centres remain closed.
- We ask that this package is distributed to the devolved administrations for the Welsh centres including North Wales Science.
3.2 There remains huge medium and long-term uncertainty over the future income levels of the organisation, dependant very much on the confidence levels of members of the public and of schools.
- We require funding to offset the loss of income in the months following re-opening when we expect visitor levels to be low.
- We need a medium- and longer-term financial package to enable us to develop alternative and innovative ways to provide comfort to our visitors:
3.3 Future school bookings have plummeted for the whole year, and visitor ticket sales are unlikely to bounce back to full strength quickly when the science centre is allowed to re-open.
- We require a minimum level of funding to keep a Resilience Team in place until a point where it is financially viable to open the centre, regardless of whether this is after the date when it may be legally allowed to open.
4.0 What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?
4.1 The Job Retention Scheme has been welcomed;
- However, we request that the scheme be relaxed for charities to enable Xplore! staff to volunteer their time back to the charity in a non-commercial capacity such as helping to plan and prepare for re-opening.
4.2 Unlike our counterparts working within the museum sector, Science Centres fall outside of eligibility to receive Arts Council Funding.
- We ask that our UK-wide Science Centres achieve separate recognition from other DCMS cultural facilities.
4.3 If the eligibility criteria for charities was widened initially (to include non-frontline charities), science centre charities would have been able to tackle the crisis unfolding within our own sector.
5.0 How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?
5.1 Once restrictions have been eased and centres are legally able to open, the income from a reduced capacity may not make it economically viable to un-furlough staff and to cover operating costs.
- We therefore need continued support to protect jobs for longer periods than many other sectors.
5.2 The changes to individuals’ behaviour may be long-lasting and have a significant impact for a hands-on visitor attraction.
- We will require financial support to Covid-proof our facilities to help us to build consumer confidence
5.3 In the coming months, schools and colleges will be focused on developing new ways of operating and living with social distancing measures, alongside catching up on lost time with their learners. This is likely to mean that school trips and schools outreach booking is not their priority. Therefore, certainly in the short to medium-term, alternative means of delivery to reach this section of our beneficiaries will need to be thoroughly investigated, developed, and rolled out.
- We will require financial support to make this change and be able to position science centres as part of the solution to this and any future crises and continue to play a vital role in communicating such contemporary science topics to young learners.
5.4 The importance of health and well-being has never before been felt more greatly. The significance of our cultural destinations cannot be under-estimated when parents begin again to look for “normal” activities to engage their children and when teachers look to account for the loss of social and emotional engagement.
- We request a financial support package that enables the re-definition of our collaborative hands-on STEAM activities for a post-Covid world which will enable external providers such as Xplore! to enhance the national curriculum through Learning Outside of the Classroom.
Whilst we hear daily that the government is ‘following the science’ in response to their decision making during the COVID-19 crisis, we must ensure that funding is made available to our unique, interactive science discovery centres to ensure they continue to unlock science for millions of people across the UK. With support now there can be a return to a financially sustainable future to reach hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries per year and to safeguard the significant government investment already made to promote STEAM education.