Driver is a director of Yorkshire Chemical Focus, which was launched to help chemical firms in the region. The organisation runs an initiative called Children Challenging Industry, which aims to get school children excited about the chemical business.
“The whole point is to tell children that chemicals are not going to give you two heads and make the world end,” says Driver. “They’re actually vital to getting through the day.”
Twice a year, Vickers Labs entertains two groups of around 15 children, taking them on a tour of the laboratories and doing fun experiments. The aim is to teach the kids that chemicals are a vital part of everyday life.
Driver explains: “One of the things we do with them is say, ‘Let’s see if we can describe how we’ll get through the day without using any chemicals. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night.’ The first thing they always say is, ‘I’ll clean my teeth’ and you tell them that they can’t because your toothpaste is made of chemicals. And so on. Eventually they manage to get to school wearing a sack. And that’s about as far as it goes! It really opens up their minds to the fact that chemicals are vital for civilisation.”
The company manufactures specialised, niche products for a host of international clients, from contact lens companies to Pinewood Studios; they created the chocolate lake in Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But does seeing this £2.43m-turnover company from the inside really inspire children to get into chemistry?
“Well,” says Driver. “ At the very least it’s good to make kids aware of what goes on in these nameless buildings. They come into the labs and they look at things and say, ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’”
The children see chemistry in action as the in-house technicians demonstrate wacky experiments. “We do the water into wine one,” says Driver. “You pour this colourless liquid into a container and it changes colour, then another container and it changes back and so forth.”
Kids even get to have a go themselves! “We give them a little thing to mix up where they make silly putty. It always ends up bouncing all over the place,” says Driver.
At the end of the day, the children come out, all hyped up and full of the joys of chemistry. But are they entirely converted?
Driver laughs. “That’s when I finally ask them the question, ‘What do you want to be when you leave school?’”
A scientist, for sure.
“Never,” says Driver. “Every one of them says, “Forklift truck driver!”
"That’s always the kids’ favourite thing on the tour: looking at the forklift trucks!"
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