The arrival of coronavirus (Covid-19) on UK shores could not have happened at a more challenging time for the charity and the young people we serve. The inaugural UK Championship scheduled for the end of March in London’s Olympic Park intended to bring together thousands of young people, their teachers and mentors – to compete, collaborate and celebrate their accomplishments in designing and building robots to take on a global challenge.
Going pro in STEM
Every young person deserves to look up to opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) as they might a sporting event or music festival. Alongside educational content and role models from industry – inspirational events are a driving force in raising aspirations, promoting inclusion and enabling social mobility. These events rely on hundreds of volunteers drawn from UK business to deliver.
The uncertainty surrounding the spread of Covid-19 is having a wide socioeconomic impact – and is likely to encroach on many aspects of our lives and work. Schools are implementing measures to safeguard young people, whilst businesses are cancelling non-essential travel (including meetings, conferences and events). How the situation may evolve is unclear and is unlikely to improve in the immediate near-term.
Sadly, we now find ourselves choosing between hosting an event, which we desperately want to deliver but which is subject to an unacceptable and constantly changing degree of risk or, not proceeding and disappointing thousands of young people and their supporters. 80% of teachers surveyed in the last 24 hours have expressed some degree of concern over attending. Our volunteering pool has been depleted by more than 70% as employers impose travel restrictions to safeguard their global workforce. Whilst the UK Government has yet to issue formal guidance on large scale public gatherings indications suggest that such guidance may be imminent.
We must put the safety of young people, teachers, volunteers, staff and the public first. Given the ongoing uncertainty, coupled with travel restrictions imposed or implied, it would be irresponsible of us to expose participants to an unquantifiable risk – health, financial, reputational or otherwise. Procrastination on our behalf would only exacerbate concerns without a realistic prospect that the event can safely proceed.
Having taken on board the concerns of teachers, parents, volunteers – alongside advice from other external agencies – it is with regret that we are forced to cancel the UK Championship event. We considered a postponement and do not believe the situation is likely to improve sufficiently to commit to another event before the summer – a time at which authorities predict the virus may reach its peak.
Being More Than Robots
Whilst the physical event may be cancelled, we intend to recognise the efforts of teams and maintain the positive momentum achieved by the nationwide community that exemplifies what it means to be More Than Robots. We will be practising what we advocate and using technology to overcome adversity by hosting a virtual event on Friday 27 March 2020 which will see teams across the UK present their efforts to industry panels to win awards and STEM grants for their schools.
We are devastated and feel deep empathy for all who have invested time, energy and passion in the programme. The dedication of teams has not gone unnoticed and we are truly proud of every young person who has persevered and developed as a result of their tenacity and hard work. Having planned for the event for over a year our sense of loss is acute and we offer our sympathies to teams who will be as disappointed as we are. We can only hope the experience will make us and the young people we serve stronger and more resilient to future challenges – reinforcing the ethos that together, we’re More Than Robots.
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Visit our championship FAQ page for more information about recovering costs and the virtual event.