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 project will see a disused underground Victorian reservoir on the site of the Sherwood Observatory, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, become a state-of-the-art tourist attraction and education centre.
It is already home to a self-built 61cm (24”) 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.
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 approximately 60 people per show, will sit on the roof of the reservoir. The area around the planetarium will serve as a viewing platform for portable telescopes.
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 that the education and outreach activities it carries out will help create a pipeline of talented and motivated people with an interest in STEM, that will support prosperity in the area and develop the skills needed by local businesses.
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 needs to find an additional £10,000 by December to take its plans to the next level. If funding is secured, the site could open in 2023.
It is hoped more local businesses will now back the plans and provide the funding required to inspire the next generation of STEM talent.
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.”
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.”
Local businesses can pledge their support by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.