Written evidence submitted by We The Curious
Written Evidence Submission for DCMS Committee Parliamentary Inquiry into the Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS Sectors - We The Curious
Introduction to We The Curious
We The Curious is an educational science centre in Bristol. As a registered charity, we are a vibrant part of Bristol’s cultural landscape, welcoming half a million visitors a year to our city-centre exhibition and event spaces and generating income in the region of £6m a year. Our outdoor community spaces span 11 acres and have an annual footfall of over 5 million people. We employ 157 staff and have a thriving volunteer scheme with over 150 active volunteers. As a member of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) we contribute to engaging and educating 20 million people with science annually, across the UK.
We work with disadvantaged communities, schools and universities to remove the barriers to STEM that so exacerbate educational inequality. We strive for a connected, creative, compassionate and resilient society where everyone can participate in the scientific process and search for solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges. We seek to achieve this by empowering our communities to investigate and respond to the issues that have impacted their lives, from climate change to racial discrimination, poverty to pandemics. We are breaking down barriers between art and science and making public engagement more inclusive through an open source science programme that empowers the public to participate in active university research. We are working with international university researchers to further best practice and evidence in inclusive science learning and we are leading the way in environmental sustainability, pledging to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Our charitable objectives to educate and inform have never been more vital to society. We must continue working with our audiences online to promote the role of science in saving and improving lives during this crisis, whilst continuing to inspire the next generation of scientists to create a resilient future for all. Science centres recognise the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to the national economy - the absolute necessity of science in our modern world has never been more apparent. With the right support we can continue to engage people in that conversation.
The immediate impact of Covid-19 on culture sector charities and science centres in particular
We The Curious usually operates on the basis of a financially sustainable mixed income model, made up of trading, retail, fundraising and ticket sales. We closed our city centre exhibition space and venue on 18th March, depleting our income from £500,000 a month to zero, while still incurring costs. This is the most serious financial crisis that charities have ever faced, with the NCVO estimating that it will cost the charity sector £4bn over the first three months of the national lockdown. As the lockdown is extended, it is set to cost the sector even more.
We have had to immediately suspend many of the projects we have been working on to improve participation in creative scientific disciplines. This includes our pioneering work experience and trainee programme for school leavers from schools in areas of deprivation, our curriculum-led education workshops that attract 70,000 school children a year and the launch of a youth steering group that would amplify children and young people’s voices in our organisational decision making. As a charity, we operate for the public benefit and when we are unable to provide services that people rely on, our communities bear the brunt of that impact.
During this period our priorities are to look after the wellbeing of our staff, provide valuable online content for the public, maintain our city-centre estate, and continue to develop our new exhibition for when we reopen to the public. We are fortunate to have financial reserves but with ongoing operating costs and no income they will soon be depleted, leaving the charity in serious jeopardy.
Impact of Government Support and how it could be adapted to better support the charity sector
Lessons to be learned and how charities may evolve after the Covid-19 crisis to deal with future challenges
The funding announced so far to support charities through this crisis has been very welcome. Charities increasingly provide services that were previously part of the public sector and support the government in achieving their socio-economic goals, to improve the lives of the British public. However, the funding announced so far falls well short of the £4bn shortfall costed by the NCVO. Whilst it is right that the focus should be on health and social care charities in protecting vulnerable people, many more charities in other sectors will require support in the months ahead to avoid the collapse of British cultural institutions. The economic impacts of this crisis will be felt in the charity sector for years to come – many in the culture, tourism and leisure sector have their darkest days ahead of them.
Science centres have always struggled to access support from DCMS despite being a cornerstone of Bristol’s cultural tourism offer. Science centres have been awarded occasional grants through BEIS, however we believe that in the longer-term, DCMS should consult with Arts Council England to reconsider whether science centres can be made eligible for the museum’s accreditation scheme. Museums and science centres share a common vision and yet museums and science centres have always been treated as very much separate from one another. There is greater strength to be found in unity in times like these. In many ways our sectors can learn from one another to become more mutually resilient.
There is still time for DCMS to address these longer-term needs for charities in the culture sector. DCMS must ensure that additional support is made available for venues in the leisure, tourism and culture sector once the Job Retention Scheme ends, especially if social distancing measures continue to be held in place. We call on DCMS to engage with the #sciencecentresforourfuture campaign and release the funding needed to support science centres through this crisis.
Science has driven so much of the UK’s COVID-19 response. This is not the time to lose our world-leading science centres, with staff and expertise in these socially vital areas. We are needed now more than ever to help people make sense of what is happening and to inspire future generations of scientists, technologists, mathematicians and engineers, from epidemiologists and vaccine researchers, to data modelers and climate scientists. We have a role to play in bringing stability and normality back into the daily lives of children, young people, teachers and parents through online content and educational resources. We also have a duty to support our community partners and the young adults participating in our creative skills and careers programmes, who have had their exams cancelled and offers of work placements retracted.
We have done everything we could have done to independently free ourselves of this crisis. We urge the government to look again at its measures to support the charity sector and agree to a funding package for science centres, giving cultural organisations dedicated to STEM the same access to funding as museums and the arts.
If this support is granted, we can look ahead to the longer-term role we have to play in the months and years ahead, to ensure everyone has equitable access to STEM education and learning opportunities that will empower, inspire and educate for generations to come.