Dragon LNG has taken community engagement to another level by servicing the real education needs of young people across Pembrokeshire.
- 11 Pembrokeshire areas feature in the top 30 per cent of the 573 Welsh deprived areas
- Research and proactive engagement with education experts identified a clear gap in youth development and training within Pembrokeshire
- Objective: to engage pupils, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, and increase aspiration in STEM
- 150 events take place every year, involving over 3,500 pupils and teachers. through which, more than 35,000 students have been reached.
- A 2015 survey of A Level students shows that it increased desire to study STEM further
Pembrokeshire, Wales. The lifestyle may look idyllic from the outside; home to a wealth of surfing beaches and a stunning landscape, a tight-knit county which is a hot spot for adventure-seeking holidaymakers.
But look a little closer, and you’ll see that for all its splendour, it is a place with its challenges. With a population of around 120,000, this small rural county has no university, high youth under-employment and 11 Pembrokeshire areas feature in the top 30 per cent of the 573 Welsh deprived areas.
More than 10 per cent of primary schools are within Communities First areas - the most deprived areas in Wales - and 35 per cent of the nine secondary and 61 primary schools have above average free school meals (FSM).
One of Dragon LNG’s business principles is to be a caring neighbour to local communities. Standard Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practice in the County’s energy sectors is to support numerous local projects with moderate sponsorship. Dragon LNG felt that a revolutionary approach would help set the project apart, focusing on a flagship, long-term project that would use the majority of the CSR budget.
Mind the youth development gap
Based on research and proactive engagement with education experts, it was clear that there was a gap in youth development and training within Pembrokeshire – particularly around Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills.
Teaming up with the Darwin Centre – a local charity with a proven track record in STEM engagement – Dragon LNG wanted to get students passionate about STEM and role model STEM learning for future generations.
Enter the firm’s Darwin Experience programme, delivering free field trips and workshops on themes from energy production and marine litter to rocky shore studies and river sampling. The key aim: to engage pupils, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, and increase aspiration in STEM.
“ Having engaged with over 35,000 young people in a rural deprived County, our team has witnessed enthusiasm, excitement and aspiration around STEM field trips and workshops. ”
This experience is a pivotal milestone in STEM learning, creating and strengthening a passion for STEM and thereby solidifying the skills of pupils today and the workforce tomorrow. Importantly, the approach is based on learning by doing, aligned with the latest global research on most impactful teaching methodologies.
“The bottom line is strengthening long term relationships with our community and developing future generations. This flagship project makes STEM exciting to young people, encouraging and inspiring them into STEM careers through apprenticeships or further and higher education,” says Karen Wood, Dragon’s PR manager.
All Pembrokeshire schools have free access to the experience, including transport, with extra field trips for those schools within 10 miles of Dragon LNG that have an above average FSM. Some 150 events take place every year, involving over 3,500 pupils and teachers. The initiative has so far touched the lives of more than 35,000 students.
Going on for over a decade now, Dragon receives consistently outstanding strong from schools, the Local Education Authority, Pembrokeshire College and the young people involved. Its own people and their families participate in at least one session a year, helping to boost pride in the programme and support community involvement.
Fostering a passion for STEM
An impressive 100 per cent of headteachers in the county say that the project has enriched learning experiences, increased pupils’ interest and achievements in STEM and improved the teaching of STEM at their schools, according to independent surveys. More potently, Milford Haven Juniors’ Headteacher said, “Our school would be a poorer place without the project.”
Dragon LNG’s community involvement is having a genuine impact in this corner of Wales. “Having engaged with over 35,000 young people in a rural deprived County, our team has witnessed enthusiasm, excitement and aspiration around STEM field trips and workshops,” says Maria Pena, Dragon’s Managing Drector.
And the effects continue several years after pupils have experienced the programme; a 2015 survey of A Level students shows that it increased desire to study STEM further and impacted career direction. That inspiration has continued even to University level. “A lecture by Dragon LNG Darwin Experience inspired me to change my focus to study optometry; I have now found my calling,” says James Brawn, a third-year PhD student at Cardiff University.
“Fostering a passion for STEM ultimately leads to stronger industrial skillsets in the region,” says Pena. “This is a long-term benefit of the project which directly impacts Dragon LNG, in terms of becoming a future employer of choice.” And increasing the pool of talent supports the company’s aim to recruit locally. Now, 150 people on average apply for each Dragon LNG STEM job, which it believes is in part thanks to a raised profile from the programme.
No wonder that a new three-year contract for the programme was signed in January 2017. This case study of the programme aims to raise year 6 pupils’ science levels by 20 per cent, whilst assisting development of the new Welsh curriculum.