Each champions of their communities and their communities’ needs, meet the 12 individuals selected to participate in the British Science Association’s (BSA) Community Leader Programme.

With support from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the BSA has been running the Community Leader Programme since 2018. Each year, we recruit a cohort of 12 individuals who work with underrepresented audiences with the aim of harnessing their skills and ideas in delivering and embedding longer-term science engagement activities within their communities.

These individuals are drawn from volunteer and community sector organisations, of which there are over 160,000 in the UK. Most of these organisation (over 80%) are defined as “micro” or “small”, with an annual income of under £100,000. Yet their importance in serving local communities and addressing local needs is invaluable.

Find out more about the Community Leaders Programme

We’re thrilled to announce our fifth cohort of Community Leaders, who kicked off with their first in-person training session earlier this week (17 October 2022).

The session gave the Leaders an opportunity to get to know each other, their organisations and the motivations for joining the programme. They also heard from former Community Leader, Claudia Mcfarlane (African Caribbean Achievement Project, Bradford) about how her journey on the programme influenced running regular science engagement activities. The session ended with a visit to the Science Museum’s Wonderlab for the Leaders to gain inspiration for their own science engagement activities to come!

Meet the Community Leaders

Arun Bector, BME Housing Consortium 

As Project Manager with The BME Housing Consortium, Arun works in partnership with local Black ethnic minority, refugee and migrant communities, carers, and vulnerable individuals to identify, assess and prioritise their housing, health, social care and support needs. Their “ground up” community engagement and co-creation approach ensures their projects are user-led and meet the needs of the diverse individuals and communities they work with. As a result, they have developed projects across housing, mental health, drug misuse, learning disabilities, science and furniture recycling. 

Claire Schmidlin, STEAMISTIC 

STEAMTISTIC was set up by Claire to facilitate child-led, free-play clubs where neurodivergent families can engage with science, technology, engineering, the arts, and maths (STEAM) activities in a way that is meaningful to them and makes them happy. As an autistic-led group, they liaise with STEAM centres, community groups and charities to facilitate workshops on how to explore neurodiversity through the medium of STEAM, reduce barriers to inclusion and develop projects that engage an even wider range of children. 

Glory Attipoe, 5th Impact UK 

5th Impact UK is a collective of professionals drawn from human resources, social work and mental health services. They are committed to tackling social issues that affect ethnic minorities, young people and communities. Glory is keen to gain further skills and experience organising science related events, while becoming part of a network of likeminded Leaders, to develop her group’s interest in science, technology, innovation, and creativity. 

Hajia Saidat Oketunde, Faiths Women Community UK 

Hajia is the founder of Faiths Women Community UK and a holder of several high-profile community roles. She conducts training workshops to empower women of all faiths through the successful delivery of various projects increasing community cohesion and breaking the barrier of isolation. She strives for improvements in health and wellbeing by conducting dance therapy sessions, overseeing parenting workshops and managing activities for people of all ages.

Helen Hughes, Stephens and George Charitable Trust 

Helen has been a Chief Executive and Director in the charity sector for over 30 years. In 2012, she was shortlisted for Chwarae Tef Woman Inspire Awards Wales and in 2022 Director of the Year Awards IOD Third Sector. She is a qualified youth and play worker. Helen currently heads up the Stephens and George Charitable Trust, which in 2022 was awarded a Queens award MBE for charities and Best Training and Education Project in the UK, as well as Shortlisted in 2020 for Best Organisation in Wales. 

Iqra Akhtar, Banbury Madni Masjid 

Banbury Madni Masjid is a non-profit organisation providing religious services, a range of classes, sports and more. As a teaching assistant, Iqra supports Arabic and religious classes. Iqra also takes part in running workshops and community events, helping to raise awareness, and providing support. Through the Leaders programme, Iqra hopes the resources and training provided will help Banbury Madni Masjid to plan and deliver longer-term science projects, to inspire their community members to further engage in different fields of science and STEM subjects. 

Justine Kigozi Nakimuli Odwongo, Ugandan Community Association Liverpool 

Justine has been a mental health nurse manager at the NHS for over 15 years. Alongside her work in the NHS, Justine has founded a number of charities including Mind, Body and Soul mental health, which advocates and mentors young ethnic minorities in Merseyside. Through the Community Leaders programme, Justine is keen to upskill the young people of her local area in scientific research and mental health awareness. 

Lesley Self, ArtCare at Salisbury District Hospital 

Lesley is the curator of exhibitions, collections, and archives for ArtCare - the arts in health service, at Salisbury District Hospital. ArtCare aims to inspire creativity and innovation in healthcare and to raise awareness of the importance of a creative hospital environment to patient and staff wellbeing. ArtCare’s core work falls under four categories: patient experience, public engagement, staff wellbeing and innovation. They work collaboratively with local schools, colleges and engage in community-based arts. 

Nusrat Begum, SocietyLinks Tower Hamlets 

As head grant bidder and administrator for SocietyLinks, Nusrat liaises with funders and organises projects for service users. Established in 2010, SocietyLinks is a community-based charity providing opportunities and activities to address the needs of disadvantaged people living in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Through small, targeted projects, they empower people to make significant lifestyle and social changes, and to achieve long-term improvements to their quality of life and that of their family. 

Paul Hollick, 1st Yetminster Scout Group 

As a retired Dorset Police Officer, Paul now works as a First Responder across the Country. He lives in a rural village in the north of Dorset, where he is a Group Scout Leader, Scout and Cub Leader, as well as serving as a Community Emergency First Responder and Parish Councillor. As many aspects of scouting involve science, the Group enjoy exploring how science can deepen our understanding of the world around us.

Robert Whan, Armagh Robinson Library 

Robert is the Director of Armagh Robinson Library. Established in 1771, it is the oldest public library in Northern Ireland, an accredited museum and popular tourist attraction. Robert’s experience taking part in British Science Week and the Northern Ireland Science Festival has demonstrated to him how fusing heritage/history with science is a great way to engage underrepresented audiences. With the aid of the training sessions and the new contacts that he can build through participating in the Community Leaders Programme, Robert is keen to develop this area of the Library's work. 

Shikha Ahuja, Milan Senior Welfare Organisation

Shikha is an outreach support worker for Milan Senior Welfare Organisation and supports elderly people from South Asian Communities in Edinburgh and the Lothians. The organisation has been established for over 30 years and is registered with the care inspectorate. They organise activities for the elderly and their carers to improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing. Shikha is keen to build on the science activities they have been running over the past three years.  

Below is some feedback from one of the 2021-2022 Leaders on the programme:

I looked at the application and thought: Oh my goodness! This is really exciting but I’m not - I’m just your regular person…I just really thought this is not something I could do”. After an encouraging email from the BSA to apply, the programme changed how the Community Leader now sees science. She explains how her community members see her as a science advocate “very much so. … Because I always talk to kids about science and they remember…the wow factor, and the messiness and the busy-ness, and it’s loud and it’s exciting and it’s different. 

If you’d like to stay up to date with the Community Leaders’ journeys, and our other BSA community engagement work, follow BSA Communities on Twitter.

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Are you part of an organisation or community group that reaches underrepresented audiences in science? Join our Community Engagement Network to be notified of community engagement projects, grants and opportunities offered by the BSA and other organisations.

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Read more about the Community Leaders Programme