The Science Art and Writing (SAW) Trust – from outreach to social enterprise

Dr Jenni Rant is transforming an outreach programme based at the John Innes Centre into a self-sustaining social enterprise.

The SAW Trust, founded in 2005 by Professor Anne Osbourn from the John Innes Centre, specialises in bringing together scientists, artists and writers to collaborate on science-themed projects delivered in schools.  Over 3500 children in the UK have participated in SAW projects, and demand is growing from both schools and academics.

SAW projects are also proving to be very popular internationally.  In the United States over 70 projects have taken place in the Boston area where the SAW methodology is taught to trainee teachers by Louise Swiniarski, a Professor of Education at Salem State University.

Jenni first became involved with SAW during her PhD and during her subsequent postdoctoral work began training other scientists and designing and coordinating SAW projects.   In June 2011 Jenni started working full time for SAW from an office in the Osbourn lab at the John Innes Centre.

“We have been through an exciting phase, moving from the design and delivery of SAW projects for adults and children to training other scientists to use the programmes,” said Jenni.

With development funding from the John Innes Foundation, BBSRC and the University of East Anglia, Jenni has set about turning the SAW project into a self-sustaining social enterprise company. This objective has been  supported by the John Innes Centre’s business development team, through mentoring and the “Startup Masterclass” funding through Ideaspace.

“The business and marketing plan have helped us to expand the SAW programme with offerings tailored to help universities and research centres with public engagement and knowledge exchange”, said Jenni. “We have seen a real growth in interest and are running many new events.”

As well as delivering children’s’ activities on the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture’s stand at the Royal Norfolk Show, SAW has worked with the 2Blades Foundation from the Sainsbury Laboratory supporting them in the design of a SAW project on stem rust disease in wheat that was delivered to children at Fairhaven primary school.

The scientists developed a game that enabled children to ‘be farmers’ and explore the benefits that plant disease resistance genes bring to protecting crops from pathogens. With the support of a SAW writer and artist the children wrote poetry inspired by images of wheat and the stem rust pathogen Puccinia and made sculptures using flour dough.

SAW supported a team of undergraduate students competing in iGEM, an international synthetic biology challenge, in the development of a SAW project on the theme of synthetic biology.  The iGEM SAW project enabled children aged 9 and 10 from a local primary school to explore the uses of synthetic biology as they were challenged to design modifications to enable plants to be more tolerant to drought.

Design of synthetic plants adapted for drought.
The children’s modification ideas included protective chemical, force field, suction cups for leaves, modified tap leaf, electric shield, super strong veins, modified water pipe root, spikes, legs to move, arms & shovel to dig for water, ability to create a storm, eats bumble bees, shooting vines, water tank in the plant, a wishing plant!

A training package has been developed for Higher Education Institutes to enable academics from different backgrounds to come together and develop their own projects to deliver in local schools.  The training covers many aspects of continual professional development such as communication skills, team working and project management whilst also giving academics opportunities to work in their local communities and build networks with people from different disciplines.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has reinforced its commitment to fostering public engagement by publishing the Concordat  for engaging the public with research to ensure that this activity is better valued, recognised and supported across the research and HE sector.  It is hoped that more researchers will be encouraged to explore outreach activities to promote the impact of their research and SAW provides a mechanism to make this happen.

These activities will also be extended to the business community for delivering Corporate and Social Responsibility targets.   The cross-disciplinary nature of SAW allows it to work with diverse partners providing shared training and engagement activities and to design novel, creative events to address any theme with any audience.

The first training workshops will take place in the autumn in Norwich at the JIC for members of the Norwich Research Park, and in Manchester to trial the model in a university. They will then be offered more widely across the UK.

If you would like to learn more about how SAW can help you with your outreach, why not come along to a SAW Training workshop this autumn.  For more info visit or contact

SAW is a registered charity, no 1113386.

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