Meet the Team- Helen Bell
We’d like to introduce you to Helen, our Managing Director at STEAMWORKS. Find our how she steered us through a lockdown, what it’s like to work with our fantastic team of STEM enthusiasts, and just how hard it is to make 150 pots of slime in a field.
Pick a job at STEAMWORKS and, chances are, Helen does it. Helen is our administrator, bookings manager, point of contact for schools and parents, hiring manager, logistics director and brilliant colleague all rolled into one. She’s been with us at STEAMWORKS since 2017 and has been our Managing Director since 2020.
We asked her what it’s like to run such a hands-on company, especially when, over the past 18 months, the pandemic made being hands-on impossible.
Following her Communication Studies degree and a PGCE, Helen has had 20 years of experience in teaching. After working as a senior product manager for an education company from 2013-2017, she decided to do something a bit different.
Helen said: “I decided to do another a couple of terms in a primary school working with Jacki [who went on to become our senior consultant and all-round activities master!].
“That’s when I found my job at STEAMWORKS. I knew Alison, the founder, and she always said we should work together. That’s when we went for it! We started as the Discovery Project before becoming STEAMWORKS. When Alison decided to move on and do other stuff, I became director in 2020″
Ever since, Helen has managed all aspects of the company, from hiring and training promising new activity officers to negotiating with schools, local councils and initiatives. STEAMWORKS is all about raising the profile of STEM subjects in primary schools, something Helen passionately believes in.
Helen said: “Our workshops always stick to the national science curriculum. They cover key science skills like observations, testing and predicting. Our workshops will always link to those key skills, or to the specific science subjects taught in that school”
“We’ve done enrichment days or hook days [a day at the beginning of teaching a new topic to get students enthusiastic and excited about it]. Sometimes we’re asked to do a simple fun STEM day, which is about getting them to engage with STEM and have a good day doing it. The whole point is to get students thinking about STEM leaning, which might be a struggle without enrichment workshops like ours.
“Young Science Ambassadors in particular is about raising engagement and the profile of science in schools. It’s giving students as science ambassadors more power and autonomy over the amount of science taught in their school. The whole point is to raise the significance of science in an entire primary school and hundreds of students just by training a small group of kids.”
Steering STEAMWORKS through the pandemic
When we asked Helen for any highlights from her time at STEAMWORKS, she gave us a surprising answer.
She said: “A bit of a weird one, but the pandemic was. There was an absolutely massive, instant impact. We were doing our normal thing when, all of a sudden, schools started to cancel all after-school sessions. That’s when it started to get worrying. Then, when they did shut, we didn’t know what to do!”
But that didn’t stop Helen. As soon as the pandemic hit she was experimenting with ways to keep STEAMWORKS going and keep kids engaged with science and making. Amongst them were our virtual FabLab kits, where we sent equipment to students so they could join our STEM workshops from home.
“This time last year that’s all I was doing- packing up little boxes of stuff posting them,” Helen said.
“By doing virtual FabLab packs and similar, it really helped the business manage to keep it going all the way through the pandemic. For me, I think the ideas we came up, which helped us manage over lockdown, have been quite an achievement- to just keep going over such a hard time. “
After lockdown, STEAMWORKS has begun to return to normal. All of our furloughed staff have returned to work. Our workshop bookings are running at near pre-pandemic levels. We asked Helen how she feels when she thinks back to the very first lockdown.
“Looking back now, it was so much work but it kept kids interested and it kept the business going. I think that was particularly heart warming- that everyone still supported us, carried on booking and gave us brilliant feedback.
“There were parts of the covid journey which were really challenging, so I’m extremely proud of how the staff got through it and of how supportive the parents were.”
Working with students and activities officers again
So, after a particular grueling year and a half, we asked Helen what it’s like to finally be back in schools.
“It was amazing! Students are amazing”, Helen said. “Schools have done their best all the way through the pandemic, but kids still haven’t had the afterschool clubs they’ve been missing for over a year now. As soon as we advertised the workshops again they were booked up really, really quickly. We’re still oversubscribed now.
“I was at a school recently for a STEM workshop, you can tell everyone had an amazing time. They were really engaged all the way through. It’s nice to do something a bit different that they might not do in their normal lessons that’s still relevant to their science learning.
And what about finally seeing activity officer colleagues after an entire year?
Helen said: “They’ve all been really excited to get started again. We had several people on furlough over the pandemic so they’ve been extremely happy to finally get back
“I get to work with a real range of different people. The kids are getting a really different experience with everyone they work with, they meet engineers, scientists, ex-teachers. Everyone comes from a different background.
“We’ve just welcomed new starters from the University of Sheffield and the standard of applicants has been amazing. Their experience and qualifications are so impressive considering some of them are only 21 or younger. “
What have you been up to recently?
We don’t exaggerate when we say there is never a quiet day working for STEAMWORKS. That’s why we also asked Helen which workshops she’s been to recently.
Helen said: “We did Halloween slime outdoors on Manor Park last month, we must have made 150 pots of glow-in-the-dark slime. It was crazy! I thought because the weather was so bad it might be quite quiet, I was very wrong!
“We were absolutely run off our feet, it was windy and our gazebo kept flying off the ground. It was one of those crazy, surreal times that was stressful in the moment but we could have a good laugh about afterwards. That was a weird highlight.
“We ran out of everything in the end, and because it was so windy slime went everywhere. PVA flew everywhere, across the kids. Across me. All the way through I had this witch’s hat on that kept falling off!”