As British Science Week approaches next month, the UK’s longest-established science discovery centre is about to welcome a new Chief Executive, taking over the reins from its current incumbent who is due to retire at the end of March.

Lesley Kirkpatrick is retiring from her role as CEO of Techniquest. She has led the charity for eight years, meeting the enormous challenges of the pandemic and its associated lockdowns head on, and making transformational changes within the organisation in response to significant cuts to its government grant — which had previously been a mainstay of its funding model. Part of that change involved delivering the £5.5million Science Capital project that enabled Techniquest to expand its physical footprint by over 60% and create a new space for a wider and more diverse audience to explore.

Karen Harris, Chair of the Board at Techniquest shared her thoughts on Lesley’s time at the iconic science discovery centre: “Lesley led the Science Capital project from the very start, securing the funding and building relationships with funders that included Moondance and Garfield Weston. Construction began in May 2019 and was due to be completed by May 2020 — but of course, Covid changed all of that! The delayed full re-opening finally happened in May 2021. Since then, more than 420,000 people have experienced our bright new space, enjoying innovative exhibits as well as old favourites.

Lesley Kirkpatrick and Professor Amanda Kirby, 2018

“The ability for our charity to reach so many young people over those years, sharing our passion for STEM with them in such impactful ways, would simply not have been possible without Lesley’s vision for the organisation and an incredible amount of hard work, both from her and from the team she has led. Everyone at Techniquest knows how big an attainment gap there is in Wales when it comes to STEM subjects. Being able to play our part in bridging that gap, by inspiring young people through informal learning experiences, is at the heart of what we do.

“As so many organisations in Wales, including ours, are once again having to respond to dramatic reductions in government funding, we know just how tough that environment can be to operate in: having to reposition any organisation to make it sustainable in the face of swathing cuts is no mean feat. But, through the initial adversity that first impacted us in 2016, Lesley and her team managed to create something new and exciting without losing sight of the original vision for Techniquest, and that’s an achievement she can always be immensely proud of.”

Lesley added: “It won’t be easy to leave all of this behind, especially saying goodbye to the people I’ve worked with so closely during my time here; but I feel the time is right now to usher in a new chapter.”

Through Lesley’s leadership, Techniquest has moved on from being a largely government-funded entity to becoming a far more streamlined organisation that now operates on a commercially minded footing. When not open to the public or to schools, the space can be hired for everything from business conferences to wedding parties and partnerships with businesses and other organisations have enabled new exhibits to be created and installed at the science discovery centre. The charity still depends on fundraising for a variety of projects, particularly those that involve working directly with schools or with the community. Revenue from ticket sales from visitors are a vital factor in helping young people to experience science, many of whom wouldn’t be able to visit otherwise.

“Customers are always front of mind now in whatever we decide to do,” said Lesley. “We listen to their feedback constantly, making changes where we can to improve their experience with us. It’s probably one of the things I’ll miss the most as I head into retirement, just being able to pop out onto the exhibition floor and watch our visitors enjoying their time with us so much.”

Announcing the appointment of Sue Wardle as Lesley’s successor, Karen said: “It’s a time of conflicting emotions for both the staff and for Board Members at Techniquest, as we are sad to be losing Lesley to a well-deserved retirement; she will be missed by us all. Her tenure has been marked by many outstanding achievements, including the establishment of the Science Capital and being the inspiration and drive behind so many projects. From the start, she recognised the need for substantial change in the charity’s outlook and operating model in the face of uncertain funding levels, and managed that change in direction very successfully. Lesley has steered this particular ship through some very stormy waters, setting us on a firm and fair course for the future.

“At the same time, the board are delighted to have appointed Sue Wardle to take over from her. As a former Techniquest Board Member herself, Sue is familiar with the challenges the charity has faced over the years, and we have every confidence that she will continue to take Techniquest in a positive direction with her extensive experience, vision and passion.”

Lesley and unofficial ambassador Kadii Hamilton, 2023

Sue has previously held senior positions in several Welsh organisations spanning the charity, arts and private sectors. Her early career began in finance with Lloyds TSB before moving into the voluntary sector with the Prince’s Trust Cymru. Her experience in the arts includes working with Wales Millennium Centre and with Theatre Iolo, where she remains a board member. More recently, Sue worked as Client & Communications Director at Capital Law, and she has also run her own business.

Sue said: “I am really proud to be joining the Techniquest team. I’ve long been a supporter of the company, both as a science centre and a charity. Techniquest has been at the forefront of bringing science, technology, engineering and maths to life for almost 40 years and is one of Wales’s most important educational assets. Lesley will be a hard act to follow, but I’m looking forward to building on her success, continuing to develop Techniquest and inspiring budding scientists, young and old.”

Sue will start in April 2024.