Queen’s Award winning REACT Foundation receives high praise for volunteers who inspire “light bulb moments” in young people
LIKE seeing a line of little light bulbs go on, is how one volunteer describes the inspirational effect The Queen’s Award winning REACT Foundation has on young people’s lives.
The REACT Foundation charity was today (June 2) awarded The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award given to UK volunteer groups, equivalent to an MBE.
Pete Woolaghan, co-founder and chairman of the REACT Foundation, which inspires young people across Cumbria to enjoy science and engineering, said the award was recognition for the amazing job done by the group’s volunteers.
Pete, who set up the Foundation along with pioneering business REACT Engineering’s co-founders more than 15 years ago, said: “This award is about the volunteers. They are the people who give the REACT Foundation life. It’s their creativity, their ingenuity, their energy, which keeps it fresh.”
One of those inspiring volunteers, and a trustee of the Foundation, Kayleigh Daniels, said: “The Foundation raises young people’s aspirations. They can see that the whole world opens up for them. It encourages young people to be the best they can be.”
The Foundation was set up in 2004 when forward-thinking REACT Engineering wanted to mark its 10th anniversary in a meaningful way. “We didn’t just want to have a cake and a party,” said Pete.
“I want the REACT Foundation to open young people’s eyes to what opportunities are out there so they can make informed decisions. I don’t want one young person in Cumbria growing up not knowing about engineering and science. It may not be for them. But I want to make sure no child grows up without knowing it’s an option, and therefore doesn’t miss out on opportunities.”
The charity runs an extensive, targeted programme of events for young people including annual Science Shows sponsored by E.ON and the University of Cumbria, and led by outreach developers from the national Science Museum in London.
The Foundation’s Science Shows have grown to now reach 7,500 young people in Cumbria each year and more than 84,000 students since they began.
The charity also runs ICanToo programmes with local schools, a midweek REACTioneers evening club for young children in the community which was last year visited by Princess Anne, and held a groundbreaking Infinity science festival in Cumbria attended by Professor Brian Cox.
All the activities are run by volunteers, including visits to science events around the UK.
Volunteer and trustee Kayleigh, 31, said: “When I returned to West Cumbria (after university and starting my career in the south) there were lots of opportunities for me, but it was the opportunity to work with REACT Engineering and to volunteer for the REACT Foundation which really grabbed me.
“Growing up in this area, you see how tough some people have it growing up, and I wanted to help people from all backgrounds. The REACT Foundation gives me an opportunity to make a difference. And to me, giving young people in this area these opportunities is the best thing I can do.”
Kayleigh remembers one particular week, in which the group went on two separate trips to Manchester and London, when she could see first-hand the impact the Foundation has, just by looking at the children’s faces.
“As part of the ICanToo Programme we went to Manchester to the Town Hall - which the young people thought looked like a cathedral to science with all these paintings dedicated to science around the walls, almost like where you have the paintings of the stations of the cross in a church, but here they told the stages of scientific discovery.
“At the entrance was a statue of John Dalton, who literally changed the world by introducing atomic theory to chemistry, and came from Eaglesfield near Cockermouth.
“So there were around 20 kids from these rural towns and villages, looking at this shrine to science and when they saw where he was from, so close to where they all lived, you could see all the little light bulbs go on.
“You could see their brains whirring and they realised if he could achieve these great things, so could they, you don’t have to grow up in a big city to change the world.
“The weekend after we took 20 kids from Cumbria to a presentation by Professor Brian Cox in London.
“Professor Cox asked a question and this young lad from Whitehaven stood up and said: “There’s a hell of a lot more jobs out there than I thought there were!”
“Everyone loved it. It shows that our children are just as switched on as kids from anywhere else, they just need to be encouraged and inspired to have confidence and to find their voice.
“We want to show them what’s out there. There’s a whole world of opportunity for them and we want to inspire them to go out and find it for themselves and be the best they can be.”
One of those children who was on those trips was Luke Todd, who went on to win a Sixth Form Award bursary with the REACT Foundation and is studying Mechanical Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Luke, 19, from Maryport, who has just completed his first year at university, said: “It was the REACT Foundation which helped me realise my true potential by showcasing what a future in engineering might look like.”
Kyle Hannah, 26, is further down the career path, working as a consultant engineer for REACT Engineering and volunteering for the REACT Foundation, including running activities for young children at the weekly REACTioneers club.
Kyle said: “I have learned a lot through volunteering, from the science point of view, but also from the students we work with. The way they approach things and the knowledge they have is amazing. It has opened my eyes to the potential they have and the importance of helping them reach it through the work of the Foundation.”
The REACTioneers is a child-led group and gives young children the opportunity to learn as much, or as little, science as they want in a fun environment.
Kayleigh said: “One of the children wanted to build an alarm. And with Kyle Hannah - one of our volunteers - helping them, a group of kids from as young as five were able to have fun learning all about electricity and building an alarm themselves.
“We want young people to have a go at what they might think are difficult things. We want them to see that they can do things which they didn’t think were possible at first, and to see that science and engineering is fun.
“As well as learning about science it’s also about being creative, which is an important part of engineering and problem solving. Not everyone appreciates that, but the REACT Foundation really nurtures that creative side.”
Irene McMillan, who has volunteered for the REACT Foundation ever since it first started in 2004, has been responsible for forging productive, long-lasting partnerships with parents, children, schools, colleges and businesses, and organising fellow volunteers for its events.
Irene said: “We owe our success to so many people, and so many organisations, too many to mention individually, who have all been so supportive of the work of the Foundation and it’s wonderful to be recognised in this way.
“I do get a lump in my throat when I see all the smiles on the faces of everyone - children, parents, and teachers - on our annual awards night. There’s a real feel-good factor.
“It really is those moments when you realise the impact we are having and that together we have made this happen.”
Volunteer Lauren Rowlands, mentored as Irene’s successor in organising the logistics of the Foundation’s programme including outreach work in schools, said: “Everyone involved in the Foundation wants to see young people succeed and reach their full potential. Seeing the difference it makes, and seeing the children grow in confidence, is fantastic.”
Phil Redfern, managing director of REACT Engineering which supports the REACT Foundation with both time and financial backing, is full of praise for all the charity’s volunteers.
Phil said: “We support the REACT Foundation because it’s the right thing to do and we fundamentally believe in what it is trying to do.
“For us, supporting the foundation is not about ticking a box. It’s real. It’s in our DNA as an organisation, and in the DNA of our people, that we want to help others.
“I think it’s important to give volunteers the time to develop the Foundation. It’s an investment in our young people and the next generation. We want them to be the best they can be.
“And we want to achieve that in a smart way, by getting the maximum output from the minimum input so it gives something back to the community in a meaningful way to address inequalities.
“We don’t force people to get involved. But the people who do get involved get a lot out of it. You can see the skills they learn, the confidence it gives them.
“It prompts people to push themselves into uncomfortable places and discover things that they are capable of doing and that has a positive impact for them in other areas of life as well.
“As a company we will certainly be continuing to support the Foundation and look forward to seeing what direction the volunteers take it in, and what new ideas they come up with.”
Pat Graham, chief executive of Copeland Council, who nominated the REACT Foundation for the award said: “The work REACT Foundation does both excites and inspires, it has been established with a desire to help the community at its heart. That ethos is hardwired into the people involved in the organisation.
“Everyone involved has a passion to make a positive difference in our community. And they are doing it for all the right reasons, because they want to, not because they think they should.
“We have seen first-hand the inspiration and excitement and the opportunities they bring for young people in Cumbria. They have a genuine interest in science and making it fun.
“And for those young people who maybe don’t have the opportunity to go to other places, they go out of their way to bring those opportunities to them.
“The team are also very generous with their knowledge. They genuinely want to collaborate with businesses and other organisations to try to make things happen. It’s in their culture.
“I was very happy to nominate REACT for this award. They have been doing this work for a long time and absolutely deserve it.
“It’s a real feather in Cumbria’s cap to have an organisation like the REACT Foundation being recognised in this way and receiving The Queen’s Award.”
Caroline Hamilton, chief executive of the Safety Assessment Federation and member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, said: “The IMechE West Cumbria has a long-standing relationship with the REACT Foundation, regularly sharing STEM ambassadors for events. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am to REACT, and their commitment to deliver high quality STEM experiences in this rural community.”
Fran Ward, co-director of C-STEM, praised the work of the Foundation’s volunteers for the way they engage with thousands of young people through their range of events.
Fran said: “Always engaging and exciting, the REACT Foundation gives young Cumbrians experiences and opportunities which truly open their eyes.
“If you could put all the little light bulb moments together which have been inspired by these amazing volunteers you could power the National Grid from the REACT Foundation.”
A video about the REACT Foundation’s work is available on request. Please contact Jonathan Lee at 32West, 07444 022038, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pete Woolaghan, co-founder and chairman of the REACT Foundation
Phil Redfern, managing director of REACT Engineering which supports the REACT Foundation with volunteering time and financial backing
REACT Foundation volunteer and trustee Kayleigh Daniels
REACT Foundation volunteer Kyle Hannah
Fran Ward, co-director of C-STEM (left), with students at a REACT Foundation supported FIRST LEGO League finals event at the University of Cumbria Fusehill Campus in Carlisle
The REACT Foundation organises a whole range of inspiring activities for young people including its annual Science Shows which have reached 84,000 students since they began
Austin Friars School from Carlisle achieved success at the FIRST LEGO League England and Wales national finals earlier in 2020. The REACT Foundation supports the area finals across Cumbria
The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service logo
Celebrating its 16th year, The REACT Foundation offers bursaries to Year 11 and sixth form students who are going on to study STEM subjects at college or university. For further information about these opportunities and all the Foundation’s programme of events visit www.reactfoundation.org.uk or follow the REACT Foundation on social media
The REACT Foundation is supported by REACT Engineering, an innovative engineering and project management consultancy based in Cleator Moor in Cumbria. Built on providing smart solutions to some of industry’s toughest problems, the business is passionate about making things happen and enabling its people to be the best they can be, visit www.react-engineering.co.uk or follow REACT Engineering on social media
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on June 2, the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.
For more information on the award visit https://www.gov.uk/queens-award-for-voluntary-service Details on how to nominate are available https://qavs.culture.gov.uk/ Nominations for the 2021 awards close on September 25, 2020.
For further information or to set up interviews with REACT Foundation volunteers please contact Jonathan Lee at 32West, 07444 022038,