Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) was recently announced as one of seven organisations from across the UK to have been awarded a Bold Futures grant by the Association for Science and Discovery Centres.
The organisation will use the grant to engage with the local special educational needs community.
AOP was awarded the grant for its proposal to make a meaningful impact on the local special educational needs community, by engaging with community youth forums and with special schools across Northern Ireland.
The organisation will initiate its Bold Futures programme by partnering with More Than Words, an Armagh-based autism support group, and will also receive input from Middletown Centre for Autism.
It is hoped that the groups will advise on the special educational needs events that they provide, including training and resources available, and offer feedback on the accessibility of AOP’s facilities.
Joanne McCracken, Chairperson at More than Words, said: “I would like to thank Armagh Observatory and Planetarium for the invitation to participate in the Bold Futures programme.
“At More Than Words, we are dedicated to helping families and children with autism and I hope that by engaging with the scheme, we can work together to ensure that they can make the best use of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium’s unique facilities.”
Each group will be given the opportunity to make purposeful changes to AOP’s facilities and events. They will also be included in the design of a sensory map of the Planetarium and exhibitions space and in the creation of sensory bags for the facility.
Evangelene Haffey, Learning Support Officer at Middletown Centre for Autism, added: “It is a pleasure to participate in the Bold Futures programme and we would like to thank Armagh Observatory and Planetarium for the opportunity.
“At Middletown Centre for Autism, we support the promotion of excellence throughout Northern Ireland and Ireland in the education of autistic children and young people and I believe that taking part in this initiative will be a great confidence building exercise for our young participants.
“Bold Futures will help to amplify their voices and will harness their lived experience to achieve positive outcomes.”
Feedback gained from the groups participating in the Bold Futures programme will be put into practice through engagement with special schools across the country.
Shaaron Leverment, Chief Executive at Association for Science and Discovery Centres, commented: “Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is an active champion for community representation within the UK science and discovery centre sector.
“Its commitment to the vision of a Bold Future involves platforming the voices of young people, to provide the advice and direction that informs the design of planetarium and exhibition resources, events and activities.
“We can’t wait to see the outcomes of this project and the lasting legacy it will have for local communities.”
A second phase of the Bold Futures Programme will see AOP deliver direct outreach to schools for children with special educational needs by bringing its portable star dome to schools across the country.
The dome, which displays the cosmos, will accommodate up to 30 pupils at a time for a Dome Show viewing led by one of AOP’s Outreach Officers.
Sinead Mackle, Education and Outreach Manager at AOP, commented: “We would like to thank the Association for Science and Discovery Centres for this funding and very much look forward to working with More Than Words and Middletown Centre for Autism on this important project.
“At Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, we are committed to ensuring that our facilities are accessible to everyone. The project was borne of a desire to ensure that that we are a ‘place for all’ and to seek feedback from the families and young people that visit us on potential improvements that we can make, both in terms of our facilities and our educational programmes.”
Sinead added: “We have already begun work on making our facilities more accessible, with the inclusion of our sensory room, our Changing Places facility, the subtitling of our Dome Shows, and the translation of these shows into other languages including British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language.
“We hope that by engaging with local youth forums, we will give children within the special educational needs community the ability to directly influence the changes we make going forward.”