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East Midlands Chamber News

Businesses urged to back £4.25m planetarium plans at Sherwood Observatory

Businesses across the East Midlands are being urged to support plans to create a new £4.25m planetarium and science discovery centre which aims to inspire interest in STEM learning and careers.

The ambitious project aims to turn a disused underground Victorian reservoir on the site of the Sherwood Observatory, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, into a state-of-the-art tourist attraction and education centre.

The voluntary steering group behind the project needs to raise £10,000 by December, on top of other funding already secured, to take it to the next level – with a potential opening date of 2023.

Project chairman Martin Rigley MBE, managing director of nearby Lindhurst Engineering, said: “Sherwood Observatory is a real hidden gem which has the potential to become a science and learning centre of national importance.

“For our region and country to truly prosper, we need to encourage our children and young people of today to become the innovators, the pioneers, the entrepreneurs, and the wealth creators of tomorrow.

“Our ambition plans will see the creation of a state-of-the-art tourism attraction which will not only boost the local visitor economy and help raise the profile of our area, it will also help inspire the next generation of workers to pursue a career in STEM.”

Sherwood Observatory planetarium plans will have impact on tourism and education

Sherwood Observatory is already home to a self-built 24-inch Newtonian refracting telescope, which is one of the largest publicly-accessible telescopes in the UK. In 2019, its facilities were expanded to include a radio astronomy centre from which it can monitor solar activity and count meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

The new facility would become one of just a handful of UK destinations to combine a planetarium with an observatory. It would have the potential to attract at least 20,000 visitors a year to support the local visitor economy.

How the reservoir currently looks

The reservoir will be repurposed to house a multi-functional exhibition area and teaching spaces while preserving the existing architectural heritage features.

A 10m-diameter planetarium, accommodating about 60 people per show, will sit on the roof of the reservoir. The area surrounding the planetarium will serve as a viewing platform for portable telescopes.

How the reservoir room could look once it has been transformed

The planetarium will be used for much more than astronomy. As well as the full range of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, it is a blank canvas that can also be used by musicians, artists and other local groups.

It is also hoped the education and outreach activities it carries out will help create a pipeline of talented and motivated people with an interest in STEM, which will support prosperity in the area and develop the skills needed by local businesses.

Donations needed for Sherwood Observatory project

The centre, which is run by volunteers from the Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society, has been in talks with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other funding partners.

To progress the project further, it needs to secure £22,500 of matched funding. It has already secured donations from local businesses and other sources to the tune of £12,500, and now needs to source another £10,000 before the end of this year.

It is hoped more local businesses will now back the plans and provide the funding required to inspire the next generation of STEM talent.

The Sherwood Observatory planetarium would be a tourist attraction but also have an educational purpose for developing STEM talent

Planetarium project manager Dr Steve Wallace added: “Equipping future generations with the STEM-based knowledge and skills that employers are looking for remains a key challenge.

“We play a vital role in this by promoting awareness of – and interest in – STEM learning by bringing science to life in fun, entertaining and informative ways, to inspire the next generation.”

Businesses wanting to get involved can pledge their support by emailing projectmanager@sherwood-observatory.org.uk.

You can watch a visualisation of the project by Bloc Digital here.