By Grace Crawford, Strategic Development Officer and Sarah Elton, Volunteer – Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS) (Middleton-in-Teesdale)

In this blog, Grace tells us about her experience of planning a COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant funded event for UTASS so far. This piece has had minimal edits to help keep the content genuine and as the writer intended.

Sitting high in the hills, on the famous Pennine Way, Middleton-in-Teesdale in County Durham, is a village of around 1000 people, with a strong sense of community. Farming is vital to our isolated rural area, and our organisation, Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS), was initially established to support local farmers. Over the years, UTASS has expanded to deliver a wide range of activities to address access to services, poverty, social isolation, health and wellbeing across the whole community. UTASS has been very busy since lockdown, with many volunteers pulling together to help people in the area. As we move from summer to autumn, with the change in seasons, and changes in the way people live and work together, UTASS has been planning how we adapt our activities to provide our local community with the best opportunities.

Just before lockdown in March earlier this year, the British Science Association (BSA) funded a British Science Week science fair for our young people and their families. Youth drop-in sessions are an important part of UTASS, and we normally run three weekly sessions. The science fair ran during one of those sessions and was attended by local people of all ages. They made ‘skeleton worm’ (fossil) keyrings, exploded volcanoes, moulded bath bombs, lifted heavy weights with pulleys, and many other things.

We live 25 miles from the nearest mainline railway station, 30 miles from the nearest university and 45 miles from the nearest science museum, so as a follow up to the science fair, we received funding for a museum trip to Newcastle, and a science stall at the local carnival.

Then lockdown happened.

We couldn’t go on trips and the carnival couldn’t go ahead. Our plans changed and we distributed ‘summer science packs’ to our young people instead. And when we heard about the BSA’s COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant funding to support further science engagement in a ‘COVID world’, we jumped at the chance to apply, and were delighted to receive a grant.

The funding will help us to provide further community activities, not only for our young people and their families, but also for older UTASS participants, and many others who live in Upper Teesdale. It is a long journey to the nearest cinema and shopping centre, so community-based activities are a vital part of life in and around Middleton. Lockdown has obviously changed the way we socialise and what we do. Our programme will promote science engagement, but just as importantly will provide creative and stimulating activities to connect our community. 

We have ambitious plans for our COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant.

Some of our older residents attend ‘Music and Memories’ sessions, which since lockdown have been held by videolink, and one of these will have a science theme. For our young people, we intended to provide socially distanced outdoor activities in the early evening youth drop-ins, doing tasks like moth identification and making maps.

We’re now in a local lockdown and even before then, it had been challenging to re-establish the evening youth sessions. So, if permitted, we will do some youth activity sessions over half term. We are also planning some live experiment sessions via Zoom alongside distributing ‘autumn science packs’. This includes our ‘changing seasons’ scrapbook, where participants record, using photos and other objects (such as leaves), the changes between now and the end of November. 

Our virtual museum will continue the theme of ‘change’. We will ask local people of all ages to collect and collate images that exemplify the scientific world in Upper Teesdale. These might be as varied as the local weather or abandoned objects in barns and will be curated into themed exhibitions (e.g. “technological change”) linked to the UTASS website. Alongside this, we will have a self-paced scavenger hunt outdoors for all ages, where people will work individually or in household groups to follow clues about the science in our beautiful local landscape. We’ll then have a Zoom science quiz finale in November.

The announcement of a local lockdown in September was a shock to us. But, as we see what the next few months hold for how we live, work and socialise together, UTASS is excited to embark on our community science activities and we look forward to adapting them to our changing circumstances.

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 grants of £500 to £2,000 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 5 pm, Monday 9 November 2020.