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BioQuarter boxes for Edinburgh pupils inspire next generation of scientists

Curiosity boxes packed with fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) activities have been given the thumbs up by primary school pupils in Edinburgh.  Edinburgh BioQuarter sponsored the initiative to provide education packs to children in its neighbouring communities at Craigmillar, Niddrie, Moredun and Gilmerton after being approached by local teachers for support.

BioQuarter – a partnership between the City of Edinburgh Council, NHS Lothian, Scottish Enterprise, and the University of Edinburgh – is home to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, the University of Edinburgh Medical School and the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, alongside a number of medical research institutes and life sciences businesses.

Cathy Southworth, BioQuarter’s community science engagement manager, with help from the University of Edinburgh, raised the £20,000 funding required to provide enough STEM activity boxes for children in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Cathy said: “We’ve built up good relationships with our local communities over many years, so when the teachers came to us to ask for help in boosting science capital by providing STEM activity boxes, BioQuarter partners pulled together to help. World-leading science and research takes place across Edinburgh BioQuarter  and it’s important that our local young people can benefit from this and can . access a first-rate science education.”

“These areas should benefit from our location, and if we can inspire and assist young people and their families to engage with STEM and realise it could be a future career, then that’s a start. We run holiday science clubs, school science clubs, are behind the Craigmillar Community Science festival, and are here for the long term. Simply, our goal is to be good neighbours”

Eight-year-old Seamus Whelan, a pupil at St Francis Primary in Craigmillar, is delighted with his BioQuarter STEM box. He lives with his mum Kara, an early literacy project manager with a local charity, dad John, who works in a homeless hostel, his older brother Oisin and his dog, Buddy.

“Seamus loves STEM work and it really captured his imagination over lockdown,” said Kara. “His grandparents sent him a microscope for his 8th birthday in May and he set up his own YouTube channel ‘Snake creations’  to share the science videos he was making with his Dad.

“When we realised the STEM boxes were available we were thrilled. A lot of children will be keen to do activities over the summer whereas before lockdown, when boundaries between school and home were clearer, the end of the school year would have drawn the line for educational pursuits.”

Mhairi MacDonald, depute head teacher at Niddrie Mill Primary school, made the initial approach to BioQuarter for support.

She said: “Like many families across the city, lots of our children and their loved ones have found lockdown difficult. Some have experienced more financial difficulties and have struggled without the structure and resources that school usually brings. A number of families also do not have a garden, so keeping the children entertained in a contained space has been challenging. During COVID we have had many families in crisis looking for support to make their home a more positive place to be.

“We are limited to what we can offer but reached out to Edinburgh BioQuarter and asked if they could help, and they provided us with these wonderful exciting science boxes, fully funded. These boxes were offered to all children locally to offer equitable experiences during lock down.”

BioQuarter’s Partners – the City of Edinburgh Council, NHS Lothian, Scottish Enterprise, and the University of Edinburgh – are currently seeking views from the public on their future plans Due to current restrictions caused by Covid-19, the consultation is online here.

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