We knew from our well-established Visitor Centre (Royal Observatory Edinburgh) that there would be huge interest in our activities if we could take them into new places and communities. We wanted to reach that wider audience to show them that, in the words of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, “the universe is yours to discover”.
Our aims are to:
• Inspire the public, pupils, teachers and parents through dark skies and astronomy;
• Encourage and sustain positive attitudes toward science & technology subjects & careers;
• Support the development of dark sky tourism, recreation and dark sky parks & sites.
• Develop the network of people able to run future astronomy outreach activities;
• Create long-lasting partnerships between organisations that will support future activities.
Summary of activity:
The programme has involved a vast array of events and activities in different types of venues, following different formats, tailored for different types of participants:
• We have run weekend events in some of the most remote communities in Scotland including several island communities.
• We have run projects with environmental youth groups in Glasgow and Edinburgh, including helping them to identify their local Dark Sky Discovery Sites.
• Our activities, which run at night and during the day “whatever the weather”, are based around a suite of very popular and accessible time astronomy activities including stargazing, mobile planetarium shows, comet-making, rocket-making and short illustrated talks.
• We have integrated training into all our events to build the capacity of organisations to run their own activities.
The most vibrant events and projects have often been led by grassroots community and environmental groups.
Participants at the events and projects include families, community groups and schools – in both urban and rural communities throughout Scotland. We have run events at more than 50 different locations attended by more than 10,000 participants. Our training workshops have been attended by more than 800 teachers, other educators, community group leaders and tourism businesses. These have the capacity to have reached at least an additional 10,000 participants.
Images of a UK light pollution map and young stargazers are here:
We piloted events in a variety of locations to refine the format of successful events.
This front end evaluation also clearly identified outdoor, environmental and community groups as excellent partners.
The strength of the feedback from the pilots persuaded the Forestry Commission Scotland to become a key national partner, providing a national network of contacts with local communities, particularly through the Community Woodland Association.
We have evaluated each of the three main phases, using the evidence to plan and fundraise for subsequent programmes.
We have written up a case study of the project which describes longer-term impact of the programme including the Forestry Commission Scotland creating of the UK’s first Dark Sky Park in Galloway Forest in 2009 and the potential economic of that development.
What went well:
We inspired people to do their own things.
We inspired organisations to do their own things - and to collaborate with others.
The events are accessible and in depth at the same time.
Community groups hosted the most vibrant events.
Outdoor learning organisations are excellent partners.
We developed a model that is taken up by partners in other parts of the UK.
Media interest in Dark Sky tourism is especially strong.
What was learned:
We learned that just about everyone will engage with astronomy if it’s done in the right place and the right way.
We learned the value of casting the net wide to find the right partners, in our case especially outdoor, environmental and community organisations.
We learned new ways of packaging our activities for different types of participants, enabling us to tap into different funding sources.
We learned the motivating power of astronomy for many individuals from our partner organisations. They revelled in doing astronomy as part of their job!
Top tips and advice for others
Have an enthusiastic and trained team that can run a mix of proven, accessible activities, whatever the weather.
Have a focus on naked eye observing – a skill that participants can pick up very quickly and so take away and use themselves and share with others.
When choosing venues, logistics are more important than the darkness of the sky. There are many factors that need to come together when fitting a programme into a venue for local participants.