Plans for £5m planetarium at Sherwood Observatory move a step closer

How the Sherwood Observatory would look

An ambitious project to build a state-of-the-art £5.25m planetarium and science discovery centre in Nottinghamshire has moved a step closer after funding was secured and a contractor appointed.

The team at Sherwood Observatory, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, has secured support via the Towns Fund programme for the scheme that aims to inspire interest in STEM learning and careers.

They have also appointed a local contractor, Robert Woodhead, to carry out the building work, procured through SCAPE, one of the UK’s leading procurement authorities.

A planning application will be submitted in early 2022, with work on the development due to start later next year. The project has been accelerated through SCAPE Construction, a direct award framework designed to drive collaboration, efficiency, time and cost savings.

Planetarium project manager Steve Wallace said: “The new centre will create a unique visitor attraction and help raise the profile of our area significantly.

“It will focus on delivering STEM content in an exciting and hands-on way, to raise awareness of the opportunities that STEM careers can unlock an important aspect of future jobs creation in our region.”

Leo Woodhead, director of Robert Woodhead, said: “We are so pleased to have been appointed to build the new centre through the SCAPE. It means we can bring our construction expertise in delivering exceptional visitor attractions at the earliest possible stage.

“This early engagement has a multitude of benefits to the project, one being how we can get people involved in discovering STEM during the design and construction phases to deliver exceptional social value.”

Mark Robinson, group chief executive at SCAPE, said: “This project is a great example of how government funding can be channelled to breathe new life into local communities. Not only will it stimulate the local visitor economy but also inspire children and develop much needed interest in STEM-based careers.

“We’re extremely proud to have helped accelerate the project through procurement and, in turn, ensure Sherwood Observatory will be supported by a best-in-class local delivery team.”

The project aims to turn a disused underground Victorian reservoir on the site of the Sherwood Observatory into a state-of-the-art tourist attraction and education centre. The reservoir will be repurposed to house a multi-functional exhibition area and teaching spaces while preserving the existing architectural heritage features.

The striking designs have been drawn up by Nottinghamshire architects, Player Roberts Bell. HSP Consulting Engineers, based in Eastwood, will form part of the experienced design team.

A 10m diameter planetarium, accommodating approximately 60 people per show, will sit on the reservoir’s roof. The planetarium is being designed though a partnership of RSA Cosmos and ST Engineering Antycip, global leaders in digital planetariums and visual displays. The area around the planetarium will serve as a viewing platform for portable telescopes.

It is set to become one of just a handful of UK destinations to combine a planetarium with an observatory – and has the potential to attract at least 20,000 visitors a year to support the local visitor economy.

The plans were presented to an audience of business and community leaders at the head office of local business Total Integrated Solutions on the 24th November, along with a call for more local businesses to back the project and provide the outstanding funding required to bring it to fruition.

It is hoped that the education and outreach activities it carries out will help create a pipeline of talented and motivated people interested in STEM, which will support prosperity in the area and develop the skills needed by local businesses.

To progress the project further, it needs to secure a further £3m of matched funding. If funding is confirmed, the site could open in early 2024.