A charity which inspires youngsters to enjoy science and engineering has won a national award.

The REACT Foundation, set up in 2004, has been given The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award given to UK volunteer groups, equivalent to an MBE.

Pete Woolaghan, co-founder and chairman of the foundation, said: “This award is about the volunteers. They are the people who give the REACT Foundation life. It’s their creativity, their ingenuity, their energy, which keeps it fresh.”

The charity runs an extensive, targeted programme of events for young people including annual science shows sponsored by E.on and the University of Cumbria, and led by outreach developers from the national Science Museum in London.

The foundation’s science shows have grown to now reach 7,500 young people in Cumbria each year and more than 84,000 students since they began.

The foundation was set up to help mark REACT Engineering's 10th anniversary.

Pete added: “We didn’t just want to have a cake and a party.

“I want the REACT Foundation to open young people’s eyes to what opportunities are out there so they can make informed decisions.

"I don’t want one young person in Cumbria growing up not knowing about engineering and science. It may not be for them. But I want to make sure no child grows up without knowing it’s an option, and therefore doesn’t miss out on opportunities.”

The charity also runs ICanToo programmes with local schools, a midweek REACTioneers evening club for young children in the community which was last year visited by Princess Anne, and held a groundbreaking Infinity science festival in Cumbria attended by Professor Brian Cox.

All the activities are run by volunteers, including visits to science events around the UK.

One of those inspiring volunteers, and a trustee of the foundation, Kayleigh Daniels, 31, said: “The foundation raises young people’s aspirations. They can see that the whole world opens up for them. It encourages young people to be the best they can be.”

Luke Todd was inspired by REACT Foundation trips to Manchester and London and subsequently won a Sixth Form Award bursary with the foundation and is studying mechanical engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Luke, 19, of Maryport, who has just completed his first year at university, said: “It was the REACT Foundation which helped me realise my true potential by showcasing what a future in engineering might look like.”

Irene McMillan, who has volunteered for the REACT Foundation since it started, has been responsible for forging productive, long-lasting partnerships with parents, children, schools, colleges and businesses, and organising fellow volunteers for its events.

Irene said: “I do get a lump in my throat when I see all the smiles on the faces of everyone - children, parents, and teachers - on our annual awards night.

"There’s a real feel-good factor. It is those moments when you realise the impact we are having and that together we have made this happen.”

Volunteer Lauren Rowlands said: “Everyone involved in the foundation wants to see young people succeed and reach their full potential. Seeing the difference it makes, and seeing the children grow in confidence, is fantastic.”

Phil Redfern, managing director of REACT Engineering which supports the REACT Foundation with both time and financial backing, is full of praise for all the charity’s volunteers.

Phil said: “We support the REACT Foundation because it’s the right thing to do and we fundamentally believe in what it is trying to do.

“For us it’s in our DNA as an organisation, and in the DNA of our people, that we want to help others.

“As a company we will certainly be continuing to support the Foundation and look forward to seeing what direction the volunteers take it in, and what new ideas they come up with.”

Pat Graham, chief executive of Copeland Council, who nominated the REACT Foundation for the award, said: “We have seen first-hand the inspiration and excitement and the opportunities they bring for young people in Cumbria. It’s a real feather in Cumbria’s cap to have an organisation like the REACT Foundation being recognised in this way and receiving The Queen’s Award.”