Xplore! Science Discovery Centre and Your Space

Xplore! Science Discovery Centre partnered with Your Space, a Wrexham-based charity that supports children with Autism.

Who did you work with?

Xplore! Science Discovery Centre partnered with Your Space, a Wrexham-based charity that supports children with Autism and their families through activities and clubs, as part of the Explore Your Universe programme phase C.

Had you worked together before?

A series of weekly engagements with the Expressive Arts Friday evening group at Your Space started early 2020 as part of phase B of Explore Your Universe but were cut short by Covid-19. During the restrictions of summer 2020, Xplore! was able to support Your Space with science resource packs for their families and pre-recorded science demo clips.

What goals, values or priorities did you share with your partner?

The staff at Xplore! and Your Space are all passionate about finding activities and approaches that best meet the learning needs of young people with autism. It was great to see flexibility and adaptability within the partnership, alongside a willingness from staff to share their expertise with each other’s organisation.

The Friday evening Expressive Arts group members have potentially had a stressful week within mainstream school; the Your Space staff aim to provide a fun and supportive safe space, where children have the freedom to be themselves to play with friends and staff. Xplore! staff quickly understood why the children’s well-being and enjoyment took priority over any specific activities or science learning. These sessions were refreshing and enjoyable shift to work, and Xplore! staff valued putting experimental play at the core of the activities.

"My son loved all your science activities, we’ve been making volcanoes and slime at home”


Can you summarise the aims of your project delivery in 2 (ish) sentences?

Our phase C delivery with Your Space aimed to build on the Friday night sessions from 2020, by once again running regular sessions with the young people whilst incorporating more input from the families and promoting Your Space staff/volunteer involvement in the science-based activities.

We also worked with Claire Schmidlin, who is completing a Masters degree in Inclusion specialising in Autism, to find simple ways to make our science discovery centre more accessible and inclusive for people with autism.


How co-produced was your programme?

  1. Information shared (the offer is decided and provided by you as the lead partner and people join to hear information)
  2. Consultation (the community partner/participants choose from a range of options, involving listening, feedback and discussion, but broader project objectives and delivery are led by you)
  3. Deciding together (community partners/participants support the creation and design phase, bringing new options and joint decision-making. Delivery and evaluation/reporting is led by you as the lead partner)
  4. Acting together (involvement of community partner/participant at each stage - from the planning and design, to the delivery and evaluation – with shared decision-making that forms a partnership to carry out the full programme)
  5. Supporting independent community interest (supporting partner agency, including offered funding, advice, and support to develop the independent ideas and agendas of the community partner).
Your Space 7.jpg

Can you note down some of the benefits and challenges to working this way?

Xplore! staff naively set out to support Your Space staff/volunteers and young people to develop their own interests and ideas linked to science. However, we quickly realised that communicating with the young people with autism was more of a challenge than we had anticipated, and the Your Space staff and volunteers were 1:1 with the young people during the sessions rather than being able to concentrate on collaborating with Xplore! staff to carry out the activities.

We found the children mostly had limited attention spans and their verbal and written communication skills were often a barrier to discussing ideas for future sessions. Instead Xplore! staff observed how the children responded to the activities - participation and enjoyment from the children was the biggest indicator for feedback.

The benefit of the weekly Expressive Arts sessions in the summer term 2021 and the three consecutive days of holiday club sessions in the summer holidays, with the same staff working each engagement, was the ability to decide together at the end of each session as to what had worked well and which activities had not been so well received, so Your Space staff could be consulted on options to try in the next session.

Working with Claire Schmidlin to decide on new approaches for the science centre was very beneficial and we are still working together to carry out and test new ideas with visitors who have autism. It is a lengthier process than simply asking for consultation, however the benefit of having independent specialist advice means we are confident that we are working on a programme of changes that are certain to make a positive difference.

“This is fantastic, are you coming back every week?”

Child and practitioner

What was the science link?

For the Expressive Arts groups, we decided to focus primarily on the sensory and explorative needs of the group, with each session providing a sensory activity and a problem-solving task which would lend itself to team or independent work depending on the participant’s preference. The science link was then discussed with the children by Xplore! staff on a 1:1 basis, these included use of computer programming with LEGO and robots in everyday life and space exploration, changing states of matter when playing with sensory slime/sand, and bicarb volcanoes.

For the holiday club sessions, we again focused on interactive, tactile science activities with a link to STFC research including material science and space exploration.


What happened?

At the start of the first session Your Space staff told us to not expect one of the children to engage with us at all; “He likes to stay in the sensory room and do his own thing.” It was such a fantastic surprise when he suddenly appeared next to us in the main space and excitedly took part in programming the robots, chatting to us about how much he loved science. He remained engaged with all the activities sharing his knowledge and asking questions. At the end of the session Your Space staff were so happy that he had not only spoken to us but had also interacted with the other children in the group. His interest in science had helped him to overcome his social barriers.

When the whole group played with the bubbles together, they shared equipment, which for some is normally a huge challenge. They helped each other to create giant bubbles with people inside and when parents came to pick them up, they explained what to do and wanted to put their parent inside the bubbles too! The Your Space staff commented how lovely and rare it was to see all the children participate in a group activity and share/celebrate in each other’s achievements.

At the end of the structured engagements, Your Space arranged a visit to Xplore! (with exclusive use of the centre to avoid additional stresses of being in a strange environment with additional worry of lots of new people around) for the young people and their families. It was lovely to see both familiar faces from the club sessions and new young people who had not previously engaged with Xplore!. Having the families present added another dimension to the programme, enabling Xplore! to explain first-hand the aims to the parents and collect further data to aid evaluation of the distance travelled by the participants. During the evening Xplore! was able to present Your Space with gifts of equipment they had particularly enjoyed during the sessions, including a bubble machine and light-up boards for the young people to draw their responses to evaluation questions on.

“I found myself stepping away from the science activities and playing games like dodgeball and ribbon dancing with the children because they had accepted us into their group and wanted to include us in their play, I felt very honoured.”

What challenges might lie in wait for someone wanting to replicate this project?

Working with young people who are non-verbal with short attention spans requires a lot of patience and adaptability. However, it gave the partnership added purpose as Xplore! staff were totally reliant on Your Space staff for cues about what the young people were getting out of the sessions and what they would like to do next. Consideration needs to be given to the variation in attention span and emotional needs of individuals. We organised tasks to allow free flow between them as often the children needed to engage for a short while, do something else and then return. Try to make activities accessible for the whole session time as some might not wish to engage whilst others are taking part or may wish to see others doing it first. Have more equipment/plans than you need, keep explanations short, allow time and scope for independent exploration, and build on their responses.

Were there any surprises?

Our staff were told that some of the young people in the Expressive Arts sessions would be unlikely to engage with the science activities. Next moment, those same young people were at our elbows getting stuck in! What a wonderful endorsement of the activities on offer!

Amy, Science Communicator: “I found myself stepping away from the science activities and playing games like dodgeball and ribbon dancing with the children because they had accepted us into their group and wanted to include us in their play, I felt very honoured.”

Where possible during the science activities we played and explored alongside the children, this not only helped build our relationships, but it gave us a better understanding of the children's personalities and abilities. Instead of just passing on science knowledge, we focused on sparking a sense of wonder and enjoyment of science through independent exploration, which I don’t believe would have occurred had we not broken away from the more traditional roles of educator and student.

How did you capture/measure the impact for this project?

Discussion with children and staff at the start helped form the baseline for evaluating the programme. Observation of engagement and participation from children and staff was recorded throughout. Images of sessions were taken, and the children were asked to point or highlight what they enjoyed. The number of families wanting to attend the visit to Xplore! centre shows the impact of the programme in building a partnership between the organisations. An expression of interest form was created by Lucy at Your Space for those wanting to come on the visit, asked questions relating to previous interest/experience in visiting a science centre. We then compared this to the sticker evaluations carried out during the evening visit, where families could place a coloured sticker next to their opinion e.g. I would visit a science centre again: yes, maybe, no. Lots of families have returned to visit our centre and even purchased Annual Passes since this visit. The feedback from Your Space staff and the enthusiasm to continue working together on future projects captures the wonderful impact of the programme.

“I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up”


Where is the long-lasting change?

Lucy from Your Space has been to Xplore! to deliver a training session with all staff about autism and how we can support people on the autistic spectrum in the centre. The collaborative approach with Claire Schmidlin to making changes in our science centre to make it more welcoming to people is continuing. Easy wins were implemented straight away and have been well received by everyone accessing the centre, not just those with autism.

To imbed the partnership further, Xplore! would like to work more widely with the staff and volunteers of Your Space without the young people present, to give them the chance to engage with the activities themselves and have more opportunities to develop their own, independent ideas.