It’s full steam ahead for science and arts

Project manager Elizabeth Griffiths with daughter and volunteer Bethan Griffiths at Wigan STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics)
Project manager Elizabeth Griffiths with daughter and volunteer Bethan Griffiths at Wigan STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics)

A community group using the arts to get young Wiganers interested in science is full steam ahead for expansion as it launches a new hub.

Wigan Steam will officially open its town centre venue on Library Street and plans to make the place a haven for all things cultural and creative.

The group, which boosts interest in science, technology, engineering and maths using artistic and creative activities, has transformed the former wallpaper supplies shop into an art gallery, workshops, cinema venue and desk space for freelancers and start-up businesses.

The group was founded in October 2015 and is delighted to have its own permanent base, having previously worked around Wigan on a pop-up basis.

Project manager Elizabeth Griffiths, 44, said: “We’ve now got our own dedicated workshop space, a maker space with equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters being installed and art studio. It’s a base for other creative organisations too.

“It’s really important for us to be in the town centre so people don’t have to travel too far and we’re easy to find. Coaches can park up and unload pupils for school visits too.

“It’s been a huge job to transform it into a hub and a lot of hard work. It’s a blank canvas so giving it character has been difficult but I think we’re nearly there now.

“We’ve also got a small art gallery, which we want to be largely for local artists to share their work. We want to give them a platform because we always used to moan about having nowhere to exhibit. Now we can do that here.”

Wigan Steam’s initiatives include Wigan Small Cinema, a series of themed events combining screenings of classic or cult movies with science or engineering-related activities for young people. Elizabeth, who is a potter by trade, has moved her workshop to the hub and hopes to run sessions passing on her skills to the next generation. The group also runs high-tech events such as a coding club for young people and sessions enabling adults to improve their software and programming knowledge, run in close collaboration with the Leigh Hackspace.

Wigan Steam also has links with Get Loud in Libraries, a nationwide organisation which arranges gigs for top bands and artists in unusual venues in towns they would not normally visit on tour.

Elizabeth and co-director Hayley Trowbridge’s six-strong staff is helped out by young people in the Steam Team, and the organisations hopes the new hub will increase the amount of work experience and qualifications in the creative industries which can be offered to Wiganers.

Elizabeth said: “It’s so difficult to break into creative careers without experience, so having young people working with us is a big part of the project. We can connect them to working at gigs, doing social media and PR and artist liaison roles and we’ve got a team making films about our projects and running our website. They also do Arts Awards, which is a recognised qualification people can do as an extra-curricular activity.”

The new hub will be officially launched later this month.

Wigan Council leader Lord Smith said: “This is a fantastic local project and we are glad we’ve been able to support it. Wigan Steam received Big Ideas funding in the Deal for Communities Investment Fund round three and their work is a great example of how communities can help our borough to continue to be innovative, creative and enrich lives.”