By Marsha Fisher, Children’s Lead - Sutton African & Caribbean Cultural Organisation (SACCO) (London)

In this blog, Marsha talks about her experiences so far of planning SACCO’s COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant funded event. This piece has had minimal edits to help keep the content genuine and as the writer intended.

I am the Children’s Lead for Sutton African & Caribbean Cultural Organisation (SACCO). We aim to improve and broaden the social, educational and cultural aspirations for those of African & Caribbean heritage; in Sutton, Merton and Croydon in South West London.

SACCO is a grassroots organisation which is completely powered by volunteers, and as they say in Jamaica about the Island “Wi likkle but wi tallawah” which means we are little, but we are strong. The phrase can also be brought to an individual level, meaning that a person may not be what you expect, but should never be underestimated because they may have a strength inside that is unseen.

For all our events, but particularly our Children’s events, we focus on celebrating culture, community and creativity. We are keen to organise enriching activities that serve two purposes: those that challenge perceptions of what Black children can or should do; and encouraging the community to access a variety of opportunities.

During the height of the pandemic, many images of scientists working hard around the world appeared. I was struck, but not surprised, that so few of the interviewed scientific leaders or experts were Black.  People from minority ethnic backgrounds are underrepresented in science, engineering and technology. The structural racism and barriers for Black scientists won’t go away without significant funding and change. That’s why SACCO applied for the COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant and STEM related grants.

Because it’s hard to be what you don’t see.

It was perfect when I discovered the quote from Mae Jemison “Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity or your curiosity”. I wanted to celebrate her excellence and let families know about what this remarkable scientist achieved.

Our Look Up! Science Blast Off event is an inter-generational experience learning about rockets and Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space. It takes place in October, Black History Month and celebrates diversity in STEM.

Families will make self-propelled rockets from juice bottles, experiment with fuel for the rockets and learn how a chemical reaction which produces gas can be used to propel a rocket.  We are expecting squeals of delight and surprise, (from young and old alike) as their rocket bottles take flight.

Our Community Engagement Lead has just enthusiastically emailed me to say that a scientist from a prestigious Institute saw our advertisement and will bring her child along to the event. “Good Job” our Community Lead writes.

I feel queasy, I am leading the experiment - I am not a scientist! I am a parent – I love learning, experimenting and problem solving.  I have an interest in STEM – I take a breath and I remind myself that the BSA wants to show that science is everywhere, and everyone can be a scientist.

Today, I am really excited, community spirit is alive and well in South London. We’ve been able to secure the gorgeous book Look Up! (about Mae Jemison and space) by Byron and Adeola from a local independent and inclusive bookseller. The main characters are unapologetically Black and the book is bursting with energy and passion about science and space.

It’s great news because each family will be given a book, so they can continue the joy of science, reading and learning at home. This is important because Black children are more likely to see a talking alien or animal than they are themselves in books! Only 1% of UK books published feature a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic character. That is only 743 of out of the 11,101 books published last year.

We have been busy planning, organising and putting in additional protocols to ensure we meet and exceed government guidelines for safety in the current climate. Arrgh! I have just heard the latest government guidance stating you can only meet in groups of 6!  We planned a socially distanced in-person event, where families remained in their own bubbles and learnt together. Following the announcement, we may need to switch to plan B, to move the event online, where we pre-record and demonstrate the experiment sending the ‘ingredients’ to the participants beforehand.

We may have some re-arranging to do, but in true Mae Jemison spirit – her journey to becoming a hero of science was not straightforward and she had to overcome several challenges to get to the top.

We persevere! And we keep looking up.

What are ‘Community science inspirations’ blogs about?

Earlier this year, the British Science Association (BSA) partnered with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to provide grants up to £2,000 for community organisations to run activities and projects between 1 September – 30 November 2020.

The mission of the ‘COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant’ scheme was to support community groups to explore and trial new, alternative ways of running science-related activities for audiences under-represented in science in the wake of COVID-19.

Over the next month, we will be sharing blogs written by grant recipients to inspire prospective British Science Week 2021 applicants, demonstrating how community science engagement can be done despite uncertainty. 

 For more ‘Community science inspirations’ blogs, visit here.

 Apply for British Science Week 2021 Community funding!
Applications for
British Science Week 2021 Community Grants are NOW OPEN- offering £500 to £2,000 grants for community groups that work directly with audiences who are traditionally under-represented and currently not engaged in science activity. The deadline for applications is 5pm, Monday 9 November 2020.