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Love that's out of this world

14th February 2020

by Richard Jinman

Senior Creative Editor

National Lottery players helped create a romance that's out of this world at the National Space Centre

Most first dates take place in restaurants, bars and cinemas. Katie Jowett and Tom Stone chose The National Space Centre in Leicester for their first face-to-face rendezvous and the couple reckon the vast display of rockets, spacecraft and space rocks was the perfect venue to overcome nerves and get to know someone new.

“I’ve been a budding astronomer from an early age, so it was perfect for me,” says Katie, a 30-year-old lab technician from Birmingham who met Tom online in 2017. “I couldn’t have chosen a better place.”

“Sitting in the cinema can be a bit passive and having dinner can be a bit too formal. We wandered around [the Space Centre] and there was constantly stuff to look at and constant conversation. It was a great place to find out that we got on really well.”

Tom, 31, a self-confessed sci-fi geek from Leeds, feels the same way. “The only regret I have from the day is that I didn’t take many photographs because we were both a bit nervous,” he says. “That’s why it’s brilliant that we come back every year.”

Each year on 28 October – the anniversary of that first momentous first date - the couple return to the National Space Centre. This year’s visit was their first since they got engaged, a decision they made earlier this year before a trip to Florida where, naturally, they paid a visit to The Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

The next step is marriage and Katie and Tom are hoping to tie the knot at the National Space Centre on a date as close to 28 October 2020 as possible.

What will their friends think of the unusual venue? “Oh, they’ll just think that’s very us,” laughs Tom. “We’re a bit quirky.”

The National Space Centre, which is home to six interactive galleries, the UK’s largest Planetarium and the iconic 42-metre high rocket tower, was created with the help of money from The National Lottery. A grant of £26 million awarded by the Millennium Commission in 1998 got the project – the brainchild of the University of Leicester and its Space Research Centre - off the ground. Additional money was obtained from the private sector and the Centre opened to the public in June 2001.

Chas Bishop, Chief Executive at the National Space Centre, said: “The creation of the National Space Centre was a complex project that turned the University of Leicester’s vision for a world class visitor centre into a reality. The funds required meant that it simply wasn’t possible without National Lottery support.

“We’re delighted that the Centre continues to make such a huge impact on people’s lives. In Katie and Tom’s case we’re thrilled to be such a major part of their story as a couple. We wish them all the best, especially with their upcoming wedding. We look forward to welcoming them back for a wedding show-round.”

Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community.

Katie and Tom say the displays at the Centre are frequently updated which makes return visits rewarding. They also enjoy special events such as this month’s Steampunks in Space weekend. “It’s been great to see how the place has changed and grown,” says Katie.

“My favourite part is the planets – the section that identifies and explains all the individual planets in the solar system,” she adds. “There’s an interactive board that lets you press a button and learn about temperatures, pressures and the way each planet rotates around the Sun. It’s wonderfully immersive.”

Tom nominates the Planetarium as his highlight. “You go in, sit down and get lost in it,” he says. “It’s brilliant. It’s quiet and everyone’s watching. There are no distractions.”

The couple hope they can exchange vows in the place that has played such an important role in their relationship. Says Katie: “We’re hoping to get married here because that would be such a lovely way to round it all off.”