The Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society and Ashfield District Council have been working together for some time on the highly publicised and much anticipated plans for the new Planetarium and Visitor Centre. The exciting new facility will be based at the existing Sherwood Observatory and its adjacent disused underground Victorian Reservoir. The Planetarium is tipped to be an unrivalled science, technology, engineering and maths educational centre and much welcomed visitor attraction.
For Steve and the rest of the Sherwood Observatory team, their extraordinary vision is now close to reality with the news that they are close to reaching their funding target, with just over £600k to still achieve, and they now have construction earmarked to start at the end of August 2023.
Further to the confirmation that they would benefit from £2.25m from the £62.6m Towns Fund Pot in 2021 and a further injection of £3.1m from the Levelling Up Fund earlier this year, the Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society have been working hard to secure additional funding and sponsorship. They have received essential funds and pledges from both private supporters and local businesses and are now appealing for a final push to meet their required target. The team also hope to receive heritage funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), having recently put in an application for £250k. It is hoped that this will be accepted as they have met heritage requirements by pledging to retain specific heritage features of the existing reservoir.
“We are so lucky that so many people have been inspired by our vision for the site and have donated or shown support in a variety of ways that we never thought possible”, smiles Steve.
“We are now almost at the end of this part of the journey and with over 90% of the funding already raised, we are hoping that businesses will recognise the potential that our new centre has to inspire their future employees to follow STEM career paths and therefore help us to reach our target.”
The project has certainly come a long way from its conceptual planning over five years’ ago. “People from all over the industry would look at me incredulously whenever I mentioned our idea”, Steve laughs, “and it truly is remarkable that we have got this far, but with belief, a sustainable business model, and a great set of dedicated people, we are now able to transform this beautiful heritage building into something that will continue to delight in the future.”
The new Planetarium and visitor centre will play a key role in education within the STEM core subjects and offer a valuable insight into opportunities a STEM career can unlock. It will also provide a fascinating way for people, in particular families and schoolchildren, to discover space and learn about our galaxy and beyond.
The existing disused underground Victorian Reservoir will form the core of the new facility with the architectural team keen to ensure that many of its features are retained with the space, which will also include some exhibits of its machinery to remain on display. The site is a remarkable reminder of Victorian times and tremendous engineering and this will be referenced and celebrated within the new design for the Planetarium.
“We want to make sure that we retain interest in the reservoir’s original purpose as much as possible and have worked the existing building into the new development as prominent design features. We will also have a historical board on display and will be restoring pump valves and a ladder”, Steve explained. “Discussions are underway also to donate one item to Mansfield Town Museum”.
The new Planetarium is anticipated to be a huge tourism hub and is being designed to accommodate visits from schools and interest groups. It will include an exhibition hall, classrooms, meeting and conference rooms, and of course space displays and plenty of telescopes. A stunning Planetarium will sit on the existing reservoir roof, accommodating 60 people at a time for specific shows and events.
It is a gigantic leap for the existing Sherwood Observatory which continues to welcome new members to its existing and much-loved building, and its team are busy holding open days and special event evenings throughout the summer giving families and individuals to use its telescopes and enjoy specific learning topics. There are also a number of telescope training sessions for budding stargazers who might wish to bring their own equipment or use those on offer at the observatory.
On membership and visits, Steve said “We are always keen to welcome new members or visitors, and if you are interested in doing something different with the kids, or perhaps looking for a new hobby yourself, come along to one of our open events. Our team of volunteers love what they do and love showing people how to discover the stars and many other galactical interests”, adding “It’s a great time to join, with a packed calendar of activities for the summer, and a chance to witness the new Planetarium in its infancy as construction begins.”
As attention excitedly turns to clearing the site and preparing for construction to begin, there is still some funding to be secured to ensure the project is fully achieved, and the Sherwood Observatory team are hopeful that further supporters will come forward to give the project that final all-important push.
“We are incredibly grateful to those who have got us this far, without which none of this would be possible, but we do now need to appeal once again, please for a final round of support.” Steve explains.
“We would be really interested in speaking with businesses in the area about our sponsorship opportunities which include financial contributions, donation of materials or work in kind.
“There are many items we desperately need for both the exterior and interior of the site, and we have further information on these available if businesses or individuals would like to make contact with us.”
Sherwood Observatory will continue to operate as per usual with a fun-packed calendar of events this year. You can visit their website for further details on what’s on or follow their social media channels for all the latest news on both the observatory and exciting updates on the new Planetarium. Annual memberships are priced at just £48 and include many benefits not available to general visitors, such as a monthly guest lecture, monthly magazine, an active social programme, and use of the facilities as a 'club house'.
On a final note, Steve was keen to add “It is with tremendous pride that a relatively small organisation like ours is going to be able to make such a difference to so many people at varying educational or interest levels.
“And it is this pride that is embedded in this project and enriches our ambition. We hope to see many of you, the Madeinn readers, here at the Observatory and at our future Planetarium.”
Watch this space…
Coxmoor Road, Sutton-in-Ashfield,
Notts, NG17 5LF
Businesses who are interested in supporting the project can contact Steve by e-mail at:
or personal donations can be made directly by going to: totalgiving.co.uk/appeal/sciencediscoverycentre