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Aberdeen Science Centre chief Bryan Snelling on ‘Inspiring the next generation’ after Covid challenges

The chief executive of Aberdeen Science Centre and former Gordon Highlanders Museum boss spoke about how ASC has bounced back after the pandemic.
Neil Drysdale
Bryan Snelling, Aberdeen Science Centre chief executive.
Bryan Snelling, the chief executive of Aberdeen Science Centre, is excited about the future.

Bryan Snelling isn’t fazed by challenges or adversity.

When he was in charge of the Gordon Highlanders Museum during a sharp downturn in the local economy, he poured his own boundless reserves of energy into sparking a revival and was the driving force behind the creation of a First World War trench.

Then, when he moved to Aberdeen Science Centre, just a few months before the Covid outbreak, he and his colleagues produced a series of virtual films for people in the north-east, which ended up piquing the interest of viewers all around the world.

His cv sums up the can-do attitude of the peripatetic fellow who grew up in Wales before heading to Portsmouth University to do a civil engineering degree, as the prelude to working in London and relocating to Aberdeen University Students’ Association.

His arrival in the Granite City might have happened more than 20 years ago, but Bryan has fallen in love with the region, whether excelling in history or science.

Bryan Snelling
Bryan Snelling is the chief executive of Aberdeen Science Centre.

He told me: “I learned a lot from being chief executive of the museum, not least how to ensure a visitor attraction can achieve and, just as importantly, remain a five-star VisitScotland attraction.

“I remained at the museum for almost six years and, in that time, worked with some amazing staff and volunteers (there were more than 150 of the latter) to continue to give a voice to the history of the north east’s ‘world famous’ regiment.

“It also allowed me to develop the idea for and introduce the fantastic First World War replica trench which now stands in the grounds for all visitors to see.

A new challenge came calling

“I moved onto Aberdeen Science Centre at the end of November in 2019. Knowing about the plans for the £6million redevelopment project, which created an extra floor and doubled the space for brand new, interactive exhibits across six new zones, it was an opportunity which I couldn’t pass up and I was pleased to be offered the job.

“But little did I know what was just around the corner for us all in 2020.”

Bryan Snelling in the Moffat trench
Bryan Snelling, the former chief executive of the Gordon Highlanders Museum, in the Moffat Trench.

Having left a military-themed venue, the lights went out not just all over Europe, but the whole planet, when Covid cast its grim cloud into all our lives.

Yet, while it was a traumatic period, with virtually every cultural building closed for months, staff furloughed, and financial pressures weighting on every CEO’s mind, Bryan is one of those rare individuals who can chart a course through a minefield without taking his eye off the minutiae of day-to-day details. So he rose to the occasion.

It was an ‘interesting’ time

He recalled: “Starting any new role is difficult. Getting used to the way things work at any new organisation will always take time, but when that is coupled with a transformational redevelopment of the building, things really got ‘interesting’.

“Ironically, this became the least of my worries, of course, as we had to close down the temporary venue we had for ASC on George Street due to the pandemic.

Astronomer-Royal Catherine Heymans opened the new Aberdeen Science Centre in November 2020.

“Along with this, the construction at our building on Constitution Street also came to a stop a mere six weeks or so, before we would have had the building handed back to us.

“As with many others at the time, we thought this would only go on for a few weeks, a month or two at most; it wasn’t until August that the construction restarted and, as with many others, we had to furlough all the staff who were eligible until September.

Some normality has returned

“But we were proud to be able to re-open the newly redeveloped Science Centre in November 2020, despite the restrictions. It was tricky at first, especially with a forced reduction in visitor numbers due to social distancing, but the reception and feedback we got (and are still getting) from our visitors about the new centre, was brilliant.

“We recognise that we were one of the lucky ones to have emerged from the pandemic with only a few scars, especially compared with other [places] but the old adage: ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ is certainly something I ascribe to.

“And, over the last 12 months, we have seen a return to some sort of normality. Visitor figures have increased, schools have returned and our community and outreach work is once again flourishing. However, if nothing else, the pandemic experience showed how quickly things can change and how we need to be ready for that change.”

Bryan Snelling
Aberdeen Science Centre marked its 35th birthday last month, Bryan is pictured at the award winning attraction. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Bryan is in his element in planning new initiatives and mixing innovation with dedication to encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to walk through the door and ask him questions. And if he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll go and find it.

As he said: “Aberdeen Science Centre is the oldest science centre in Scotland. We have been doing what we do since 1988 and celebrated our 35th birthday last month.

Something for everyone in store

“The aims back then are very similar to now; inspiring the next generation has always been our forte, but doing it in a way that is hands-on and fun is key to achieving that.

“Being based in Aberdeen, we are privileged to be able to work closely with industry partners on educating the public about the energy transition and the renewable energy opportunities that are both here now and those of the future.

“But life sciences, engineering, new technologies such as VR [virtual reality], coding and supporting mental health are all areas we will be looking to develop further.”

Aberdeen Science Centre is now the second attraction in Aberdeen to hold the prestigious award. Pic: Paul Glendell

With the festive season in full swing, Bryan has taken steps to attract what he describes as “kids of all ages” to the centre with the help of a certain annual package tourist.

And, once again, it’s a venture which highlights the imagination behind the scenes.

He explained: “Santa is coming to do science at the centre in December. ‘Science with Santa’ started last year and was hugely popular, so we managed to persuade the man in red to come back and help out with more science fun. This is a booking-only event, which can be done on our website. []

Bringing five-star fun to Aberdeen

“However, our commitment to science never stops and we will be open throughout the festive period to bring loads of fun and games, once the novelty of the Christmas presents have worn off, or if visitors feel the need to get out and stretch their legs.

“Aberdeen Science Centre is a charity and we can only continue to deliver these amazing opportunities with the generosity of our industry partners, the visitors coming through the door, and the amazing staff and volunteers we have here.

“We are proud to be a five-star visitor attraction [with VisitScotland], one of only two in the Aberdeen City area, and we have worked hard to achieve this.

“So if you want a great day out that’s on your doorstep, why not come along?”

Why not, indeed? There’s no end to the story in this idiosyncratic life of Bryan.

Bryan Snelling at Aberdeen Science Centre
Bryan Snelling joined Aberdeen Science Centre a few months before the pandemic. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson


What book are you reading? Condor’s Fury by Clive Cussler.

Who is your hero/heroine? Those who work in the NHS. My parents both worked in the NHS and the recent pandemic showed what a fantastic institution it is.

Do you speak any foreign languages? Not a ‘foreign’ language but I learnt Welsh at school. One of my regrets was not continuing with it.

What’s your favourite music/band? Anything from the 60s to the 90s, especially if it has a good electric guitar riff.

What’s your most treasured possession? My great uncle Oliver Snelling’s First World War medals.