Coachlines - December 2020

03.12.20 Past Master Group Captain Marcus Wills CVO OBE, Honorary Assistant John Blauth

The Saturday Science and Engineering Club, Kingston University

 Pictured above: The Saturday Engineering Club visit to Mercedes-Benz World

Most Coachmakers know about our support for the Kingston University Saturday Science and Engineering Club; many may not know exactly what that support does to encourage youngsters to explore the world of STEM. The Club provides a free 16-week course aimed at disadvantaged 14-16 year-olds. It encourages them to meet science and engineering in a fun and informal university environment, and to learn with some of the country’s leading practitioners and academics. The goal is to increase the number and diversity of students taking up STEM subjects at A level and university.

Our charitable funds have encouraged this initiative from the outset seven years ago. They have widened the horizons of more than 200 young people and have also supported a programme to encourage other universities to follow the blueprint and launch their own clubs. This year, our support has made an even greater difference, offering both aspiration and inspiration during the difficult and isolating experience of lockdown.

The 2020 Club at Kingston

This year, 33 youngsters were selected from 62 applicants attending 13 local target schools. “Target schools” are those in and around the local Kingston area with high numbers of students who don’t traditionally go to university; they are ‘first generation’ (their parents did not attend university); are from a low participation postcode, with a disability, or receive free school meals. 65% were female and 41% were in the ‘first generation’ category.
The theme for the year allowed these young students to witness engineering across a wide range of sectors and industries. They used equipment and facilities on the university campus until March and then, from May onwards, participated in an extended term of interactive, remote learning.

Highlights included:
• Discovering disciplines from engineering and aerospace to forensic anthropology and nutrition.
• Participating in the ecology of a wild habitat and learning how it can be managed and preserved, in a session organised by the Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group.
• Design, construction, decoration and testing of their own water rockets (a highly popular session much enjoyed by those Liverymen who also attended).
• Nutrition, with academics and volunteer nutrition students.
• A tour of Mercedes-Benz World and Brooklands Transport Museum
• During virtual sessions in the final term, the challenge of designing a Time Capsule to be constructed as soon as a return to campus will allow. It will be buried in Kingston for the next 75 years.

The Club during Covid

Despite difficult circumstances, Kingston provided an extended 11-week remote Club programme with positive and heart-warming results during the ‘lockdowns’. The team designed and delivered resource packs and experiment apparatus to every student’s home, and feedback reported a rare respite and a positive, interactive experience during a time when their learning was really suffering and they felt that they were missing out on so much. ‘Digital poverty’ was a limiting factor too for many young people of school age and the university is looking carefully at how they can even better address this barrier in 2021.

As well as the educational content, remote sessions were support-focused: a chance to discuss feelings about what was going on around them and how it would impact their futures. “Will this ruin my chances of going to university?” was a common question.

Evie, a young engineer, takes part in a practical challenge, building a bridge that can hold a can of baked beans, at home












In one ‘Engineering from Home’ online session, Tim Lucas, Director at Price & Myers and Lecturer in Structural Design, joined young engineers to tell them about structural engineering and to set them a masterclass brief.

After explaining how bridges are engineered and constructed and showing some of his own projects, such as the Millennium Bridge in Dublin, Tim challenged the young engineers to build their own 2-metre-long bridges from recycled materials at home.

Overall, there is a massive catalogue of encouraging feedback from students and parents alike, but from a long list – too long to include here – one student comment in particular sums up many: that through Saturday Club they had all “found a purpose on a Saturday”.

Ongoing Coachmaker support

There is strong synergy associated with all our Coachmaker outreach activities: our support for specific single projects – such as the Kingston Saturday Club – has a sometimes unforeseen beneficial effect over a much wider area. One example at Kingston is how the ‘Student Ambassadors’ – STEM undergraduates and postgraduates who act as teachers and diverse role models for the Club members – gain valuable employability experience from their time running the Club. Their duties provide excellent material for their CVs, give them greater self-confidence, and inspire them to pursue their own STEM careers.

Outreach is one of the most at-risk areas of Kingston University’s work in the current climate, and the Coachmakers is currently the Saturday Club’s principal donor. It would be a tragedy if all these young would-be engineers were to miss out on such golden opportunities, especially given the impact of Covid measures widening the gap between privileged and disadvantaged young people. It is therefore particularly good news that our Charity Committee has recently approved a further grant of £15,000 to support the Club in the current academic year.

Tutor Chère Read-Edwards

The university is working hard to ensure, whatever face-to-face or online tuition is allowed as various lockdowns are imposed, that they are as prepared as possible to continue this excellent work with young people. Field trips may well be limited for the time being but Chère Reade-Edwards, the Club’s principal tutor and organiser of the Club, and her team remain determined that these young engineers can continue to enjoy a wide spectrum of STEM disciplines.

Student ambassadors, too, will not be forgotten. They are critical to the successful delivery of the Saturday Engineering Club and to inspiring and motivating the pupils. In most cases this is their first graduate-level job and the challenging, diverse nature of their duties gives them confidence and practice to go on to excel in STEM careers. It is crucial that they be paid for their work as so many of them can only fund their studies through working. The experience offers a powerful dual benefit to them and to the young engineers they teach and inspire.

The University also hopes this year to offer free meals, free transport (and free field trips, if they can happen) to ensure that all these benefits are truly accessible to students from the most disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. The free meals concept is important for two main reasons: to encourage maximum concentration from the children; and to secure attendance among a population facing multiple additional stresses during these troubled times.

…and finally
It is a privilege to represent the Coachmakers in what we consider to be one of our most important and effective areas of charitable support. It has a synergy unmatched by our more traditional individual awards, important as the latter are. We very much hope, as lockdown conditions improve in the New Year, that more Coachmakers will come to visit these Saturday morning sessions and experience the atmosphere and opportunities which the Coachmakers is helping to generate for these grateful teenagers.