Sometimes places that might appear to have little going for them are actually housing a gem or two that would make a visit well worthwhile. As I recently flipped through one of the many Yorkshire brochures scattered throughout our room scanning for potential “field trips”, I noticed a Science Adventure Park that looked interesting. The thing about it that surprised me, though, was that it was in Rotherham. To put that in perspective for those unfamiliar with the area, there’s Sheffield, a thriving multicultural university city full of diversity, great little pubs, and interesting people (like Kim and Toby). And then there’s Rotherham. Which, as far I was aware, is just a place on the outskirts of Sheffield. I didn’t know there was anything there. In my head, I picture it gray.
Anyway, we decide to give the place a try, and depart at 9:30 on Friday morning en route to Magna, accompanied by our three lovely children and their whiny “but I hate museums” type comments. It is clear this day could go either way.
When we arrive, we sign up for the steel guide tour which starts immediately. This is a tour of the shop floor of the building, which used to be Templeborough Steelworks, one of the biggest steel recycling plants in the world. At its peak, it was a mile long, employed well over 10,000 people, and was producing 1.8 million tonnes of steel per year. Our tour guide is John, a very knowledgable semi-retired former employee of the steelworks. Needless to say, he is well qualified to show us around!
After that, we have four pavilions to explore on our own – Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, each full of interactive, hands-on science experiments for the kids (and us). We go from wind tunnels and fire tornados, to water wheels and rock demolition.
All in all, it was a great experience. (If you go in the winter, though, be warned – it is very cold. Wear your winter woolies!) The kids loved it. Each pavilion was better than the last, and five hours later, after a quick run around outside in “the best playground in the world” while we warmed up the car, we were on our way home. This time, all I heard from the back of the car was, “Thank you for taking us to Magna – it was awesome!”
I have a new respect for Rotherham now, and the whole experience has reminded me how ridiculous it is to assume that just because a place may not have the best reputation, it has nothing to offer. I listened to John speak with pride about how the melting shop is actually in the Guinness Book of Records for having recycled the most steel in one day, and how it provided shells for World War I, and parts for Rolls Royce cars and jet engines. It turns out, Rotherham itself has a history that dates back to medieval times when it was a thriving market town, and it even had a college that supposedly rivaled Oxford and Cambridge! It was the place to be in the 16th century too until Edward VI stripped its assets and left it a destitute den of vice…but that’s probably a story for another time.
Anyway, now it is a work in progress – an urban regeneration project. And it is home to 250,000 people. That’s more people than there are in my entire province.
Perhaps Rotherham is just a victim of circumstance, one of the many industrialized British towns crippled by the demise of heavy industry and one financial crisis after another. And at least it has done something productive with its abandoned steelworks.
Lesson learned. If you judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story!