Chris Abbott

Support for play based discovery for life at UNE

That play is good for children’s development is widely acknowledged, and donor Chris Abbott wants to ensure that regional NSW children and their families are able to access a great opportunity to play with meaning.

Chris is the Chair of The Abbott Foundation, and previously co-funded funds management company Maple-Brown Abbott Limited in 1984. Three subsequent biotech businesses listed on the stock exchange later,
and his investment in personal wellbeing extends far beyond medical and health companies.

The Abbott Foundation has pledged $3.5million toward the construction of a children’s discovery space at the University of New England in Armidale; in the old UNE Boilerhouse on the hill.

The striking brutalist building has in recent months undergone somewhat of a makeover in preparation for its transformation into a joyful and welcoming space; an iconic destination for playful experiences and encounters with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM).

It is highly appropriate that a boilerhouse will fuel curiosity. From 1948 until 1999 the architectural award-winning building delivered hot water heating across campus in Armidale’s cold winters through a coal fired reticulated heating system.

It has been decommissioned and anticipation is building for its new life as an all-day, all-weather discovery space featuring up to 10 special experiential spaces, a café and function space, a children’s workshop area (for parties too!), amenities, administration and landscaped outdoor play areas.

“Positive play is doing something instead of looking at something” Chris muses. When we visit museums we typically look at something, but in a discovery space we do something. Museums have exhibits, discovery spaces have experiences. In doing so, we hope to encourage the attributes of Creativity, Curiosity Collaboration, Confidence and a Can-do attitude. The Five Cs. “There are plenty of other Cs but that’s enough to get on with”.

Chris has been on the road to Damascus a number of times in his journey to the discovery space concept, but it all started with the brain.

In 2002 I met Professor Max Bennett at Sydney University. His discipline was neuroscience. He took me into his laboratory and I looked through his microscope at human neurons to the detail of axons and dendrites. I was hooked.

Seeing where the action took place during childhood development led Chris to serve on the Board of the Brain and Mind Foundation for 8 years. It was here that he developed a determination to direct his foundation’s funds toward prevention rather than cure; prevention of many childhood and adult afflictions starts at birth with well supported early childhood development including healthy relationships and chances for unrestricted play.

Find out more about the UNE Boilerhouse Discovery Space.