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Telescope under a starry sky

Step-by-step: stargazing and space fundraiser

Want an event that's truly out of this world? A space evening makes a great event for the whole family, and it's reassuringly educational too. Add in a stargazing element, and it's a way to get outside in the darker months.

Step-by-step

Three months before:

Agree on a date with the school. As it will be an after-school event, ensure a keyholder will be on site.

Book the facilities and people who will make up your event. If it's a planetarium, make sure you have room for it, or call in some experts to speak about space.

Source any equipment you may need, such as telescopes.

Two months before:

Plan the activities you're going to have at your event - seek inspiration from Pinterest. If they involve recycled materials, set up collection points and appeal to parents to donate their recycling.

One month before:

Publicise the event on posters, noticeboards and newsletters. Sell tickets via your usual channels. If you have hired a planetarium, allocate visitors time slots to experience it.

Appeal for volunteers: you'll need a few volunteers to check tickets on arrival, help set up and clear away, and to organise activities for the children. If you're providing food and refreshments, a few volunteers will be needed to serve them.

Two weeks before:

Prepare an information sheet for the participants. You might want to include a map of the school showing where activities are located and including timings of talks and demonstrations.

One week before:

Run your final appeal for volunteers and ensure there are enough people for each job.

On the day:

Supervise erection of the planetarium. Set up any activities and resources.

After the event:

Hold a post-event debrief to discuss what worked well and what needs tweaking for next time. Thank your volunteers and ask for feedback. Tell your community how much was raised and how it will be spent.

Tips and advice

Date

To stargaze, it needs to be dark early enough for children to attend, which makes it an ideal event for October to mid-March - your event can only last from sunset until bedtime. If you'd rather hold it at a different time of year or earlier in the day, you could focus the event around the planetarium and space-themed activities and remove the stargazing element.

Speaker

Most importantly you'll need an expert. If you don't have a suitable volunteer, then contact the Federation of Astronomical Societies, who have details of groups across the UK (fedastro.org.uk/fas). Work with your expert to understand what equipment is required and who will provide it. Check your PTA insurance summary to see what is covered. Where other organisations (paid or otherwise) are bringing equipment, they must have their own insurance cover in place. Ask them to provide a copy of this prior to the event.

Activities

Supplementary activities will givevisitors more to do, especially little ones who won't want to stare at the sky in the cold for too long. It's also a good back up in case it's too cloudy to do any stargazing. Activities may include experiments, craft or junk modelling activities, demonstrations, space quizzes, or even a space-themed treasure hunt in the dark.

Attendees

When you send out letters promoting the event, provide a list of items for guests to bring, such as torches and folding chairs. Make it clear that anyone bringing their own telescopes or binoculars does so at their own risk. Have some red cellophane on hand to stick over torches, minimising light pollution. Make it clear to parents that they're responsible for their children and that they shouldn't be left unsupervised.

Make it clear what will be on sale at the event so that people know whether to bring their own refreshments or enough cash to buy what you have on offer.

Refreshments

Decide what refreshments to offer: hot chocolate will be especially welcome on a cold evening. If you want to sell mulled wine, remember that a TEN licence will be required. Are you providing food? Keep it simple with hotdogs, or continue your astronomical theme with star-shaped biscuits.

Boost profits

Raffles and prize draws are a good way to make extra money.

'Our space evening raised over £800'

'We had previously held a "Star Night", where families took part in space-themed activities and used telescopes to observe the night sky. The event sold out, so it seemed a good idea to run something similar this year - only bigger and better!

We applied for a grant from the Institute of Physics, and were awarded £600 to cover the cost of the event, which we christened "Mars and the Stars", held from 5:30 to 8:30pm one evening in March. One of our committee members is a Doctor of astrophysics, so she did the majority of the planning and preparation.

The grant enabled us to hire a pop-up planetarium for the event from Creative Space (creative-space.org.uk), which came complete with a very knowledgeable lady who gave six half-hour presentations about the solar system. We also ran some drop-in activities: to make a Martian atmosphere in a bottle; create a Mars lander out of recycling; and make a rocket to launch on the playground. We set up a planets treasure hunt, and a local astronomy enthusiast came along to talk about observing the night sky (it was too cloudy to actually see the stars, sadly).

Mars and the Stars was publicised on our PTA Facebook group, using posters on the school driveway and in a letter sent home with the children. Tickets were sold in advance, and when people booked they nominated which time they wanted to attend the planetarium show. Space in the planetarium was limited to 30 people per session. We charged £5 per head for tickets, for adults and children alike.

On the afternoon of the event, Creative Space set up the planetarium in the KS1 hall, while our volunteer helpers setup the experiments and activities. On arrival, participants were given wristbands showing their planetarium timeslot, and an information sheet showing where the activities were located.

We sold glowsticks, and hot and cold drinks, and raised a total of £826.41. We received some amazing feedback from parents, many of whom commented that there was so much to see and do, they had to tear their kids away at bedtime.'

Sarah Everson, secretary, Friends of Halsford Park Primary, East Grinstead, West Sussex (415 pupils)


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