UK Science Festivals Network seeks new Engagement Officer

The British Science Association is looking to recruit a talented and organised Engagement Officer to help us implement our vision and strategy.

The Association has a reputation for high-profile science engagement events including British Science Week and the British Science Festival. This role will support the Festivals Engagement team to co-ordinate the UK Sciences Festivals Network, and related projects, and deliver the British Science Festival.

The successful candidate will sit within the Festivals Engagement team, but work with colleagues from across the organisation. This role would suit someone with an interest in public engagement with science, co-ordination and administration experience and experience of working with festivals and/or events, in either a voluntary or paid capacity.

Based: Our Head Office is based in London, but we have an agile working policy enabling people to work at another UK location up to 4 days/week for those who are office based. Requests for permanent, fully remote working will be considered and we welcome applications from people based in other parts of the UK.

Terms: Full-time (35 hours per week), permanent. Requests for part-time or flexible working will be considered.

Salary: £24,432 – £29,583 per annum (pro rata for part time)

Deadline for applications is 17.00 on the 28 February.

Further details, including the application process can be found on the BSA website: https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/engagement-officer-2022

UK Science Festivals Network Conference 22’ reflections

Written by Hannah Lawrence, Engagement Officer, British Science Association

 

The UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN) kicked off 2022 with our fifth annual conference!

Over 100 science festival organisers from across the UK (and beyond) convened online to share ideas, explore opportunities for the future, and get inspired. We bring you the highlights.

In the past year, the science festival sector has continued to face an unpredictable COVID-19 landscape. With a growing focus on conversations around climate, and evolving ways of engaging audiences, it felt important for UKSFN22 to take stock, celebrate some of the sector’s remarkable achievements, and look to the road ahead.

Attendees also tackled the subject of digital engagement, gained practical insights into co-production and learnt about new approaches to working closer with communities.

The day was filled with uplifting discussions, opportunities to connect with colleagues, and chances to relax and unwind through drawing, yoga and an assistance dog puppy cam!

You can also search the #UKSFN22 hashtag over on Twitter to follow what attendees had to say throughout the day.

State of the sector

Welcome: Maggie Aderin-Pocock (President of the British Science Association)

Panel: Antonio Benitez (Chair of UKSFN), Amanda Tyndall (Edinburgh Science Festival), Heather King (King’s College London)

Maggie Aderin-Pocock kicked off the day by celebrating the resiliency and innovation demonstrated across the sector in recent months.

Using data collected from festivals across the UK, Maggie, Amanda, Heather and Antonio reflected on patterns in the festival landscape since the onset of the pandemic. Audience sizes, as well as the numbers of events, volunteers, and researchers involved in events have all been significantly impacted – but the data points to a recovering sector.

Touching on personal experience and research findings, the panel raised some important considerations for organisers to bear in mind as we step into 2022. For instance, the inclusion of those that have limited access to internet, and continuing to listen to and to work more closely with our audiences.

The panel provided an in-depth discussion on the return to in-person events while continuing to tap into the new opportunities presented by digital engagement.

 

 

 

People, the pandemic and the rise of digital engagement 

Adam Koszary (The Audience Agency)

This session tackled the question on all of our minds: how has the pandemic influenced the way audiences think and act?

Adam Koszary explored this using two years’ worth of data on the public’s physical, digital and participatory engagement with culture, collected as part of The Audience Agency’s COVID Cultural Participation Monitor and Indigo Act Two Survey. Findings revealed a significant rally in overall (in-person and digital) engagement in 2021, though online cultural engagement declined throughout the pandemic.

Despite this, new audiences have become engaged with digital content since 2020 and demonstrate an appetite for continued engagement. This does hinge, however, on online offerings providing both quality content and a unique selling point!

Adam concluded that it’s vital to ensure digital content is accessible (e.g. through captioning and audio description) and can be used to bring a unique and complementary element to in-person engagement.

 

Emerging technologies, evolving audiences

Tracy Harwood (De Montfort University)

The Art-AI Festival aims to engage people with the roles and potentials of artificial intelligence (AI) through an art festival that takes place entirely in the public realm. This has taken shape as a ten-month, international programme of striking art installations, alongside an online programme of talks from leading artists – generating hundreds of thousands of engagements per month.

In this session Festival Director, Tracy Harwood, delved into the world of emerging technologies within ‘smart cities’ She explored how this creates novel opportunities within creative practice to place artists at the forefront of innovations. As technologies continue to evolve rapidly, Tracy emphasised the importance of keeping people and places in the loop, so that we are empowering the audiences we seek to engage.

 

A guide to greener events

Teresa Moore (A Greener Festival)

Many organisers of science events are keenly aware of keenly aware of the importance of sustainable practices in response to the climate crisis, especially following on from COP26 at the end of last year. We knew it was important to include a session in the programme tailored to those looking to make sustainability an integral part of their operations.

Drawing on her experience as director of a non-profit dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of festivals and events, Teresa Moore’s short guide to greener events provided an abundance of practical tools and insights for attendees.

Careful planning ties into everything. From venue selection to procurement, and food waste to methods of promoting events – all of which tie into an event’s environmental impact. Teresa highlighted the importance of policy in ensuring sustainability being embedded into the heart of our work.

We often assume that digital events have a lower environmental impact than in person. Teresa brought this session to a close by considering whether or not this is actually the case…

 

Co-production 101

Bonnie Chiu and Lucía Urrieta Chávez (The Social Investment Consultancy)

These sessions acted as practical workshops exploring the fundamental principles of co-production. Attendees came ready to challenge assumptions about existing ways of working, exploring the what, why and how of truly including users in our festivals and events.

Bonnie and Lucía explored ideas for working collaboratively on a level playing field to make decisions that included everyone. It was fantastic to see participants reflecting on key barriers to co-production, including physical, attitudinal and communicational. There was a focus on how these obstacles can be overcome through utilising available technology, considering access needs, relying on participatory research methods and increasing our own self-awareness as organisers of festivals and events.

Co-production 101 provided a valuable, practical framework for organisers looking to shift the power from themselves to their project and event participants.

 

Unprecedented times: responding to an evolving events space

Ellie Harris (Greenwich & Docklands International Festival)

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has created much uncertainty for organisers of in-person events across the sector, Greenwich & Docklands International Festival (GDIF) made bold strides as one of the first festivals to pioneer an in-person event after the start of the pandemic.

Ellie Harris shared learnings from planning to delivering, all whilst in the midst of fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions, including:

  • Using audience messaging to convey a shared responsibility for keeping everyone safe.
  • Consulting with external health and safety advisors and behavioural psychologists.
  • Ticketing events, rather than using walk-in options.

Echoing the sentiments expressed by other speakers such as Adam Koszary, Ellie reflected on the use of digital tools to enhance live events and promote accessibility.

She used the example of GDIF’s Lullaby, a poignant and moving British Sign Language Film produced to accompany a participatory piece of artwork. The artwork celebrated ‘bedtime’ through an illuminated, surround sound night-time bike ride. Producing the complementary digital offering enabled deaf and hard-of-hearing communities to explore these themes.

 

Community FM

Dean Veall (University of Bath)

This fascinating case study showcased an exciting project within FUTURES: European Researchers’ Night, a festival of discovery that equips researchers with public engagement skills while bringing them into spaces where the public are.

Dean shared how the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the FUTURES Team to massively rethink their formats in 2020-2021. They made a conscious decision to combat digital exclusion while continuing to connect researches and communities in meaningful and relevant ways. The solution: community radio!

Working with a number of community radio stations, FUTURES on Air worked closely with users to identify their priorities and interests in relation to research. By matching these groups with appropriate researchers and working with trusted intermediaries including producers and community radio practitioners, the team enabled the cocreation of radio shows that were important to them.

CHECK OUT SOME AUDIO CLIPS FROM THE SHOW.

 

Case study: Designing with communities

Emma Slater (Imperial College London)

In this session, Emma Slater shared a compelling case study from her experience of growing and developing a meaningful partnership with the North Paddington Youth Club over a period of several years.

Emma reflected on the importance of making yourself available, prioritising flexibility and most importantly – listening and responding to the community group. Over the last two years, this collaboration has empowered young people to co-develop numerous projects, designing and developing projects from trainers to e-scooters, alongside artists, engineers and researchers.

The significant impact of these projects on participants’ perspectives of science and researchers showcased the vital importance of relationship building when working with communities. It may not always be without it’s challenges but, as Emma so rightly put it, “the relationship is the project”.

To find out more about how Emma and the team from Imperial and the Great Exhibition Road Festival have worked with NPYC, check out this blog post she wrote reflecting on her 2020 UKSFN-funded making connections project.

 

Reflections from UKSFN22 and the road ahead

Chair: Katherine Mathieson (British Science Association)

Panel: Eduardo Carvalho (Exhibitions curator & Chevening Clore Leadership Fellow 19/21) and Steve Williams (Oasis Community Centre & Gardens)

Before it was time to click “leave meeting”, Eduardo and Steve shared their experiences of curating science exhibitions and bringing together science with communities in the final UKSFN22 session of the day.

In this discussion, chaired by Katherine Mathieson, the panel accepted that COVID-19, the climate crisis and advancements in the technological and digital spaces are likely to continue to be key themes, and significantly impact the world of science engagement. Steve reflected on the value of cocreation and role that engaging underrepresented communities with science has in bringing people together and paving the way for scientific legacies – which is crucial in challenging times!

This session highlighted the importance of optimism as we move forward with our own festivals, events and projects. Despite the challenges of recent months, innovations in the ways we engage audiences are opening new avenues to reach new audiences, and champion inclusivity.

The conference concluded with a strong sentiment of excitement to be an integral part of these upcoming developments, paving the way for the future of the science engagement sector.

 

The wealth of insight and experience from across the science engagement sector is staggering.

It’s incredible to be able to connect, and reflect on the topics that are currently front of mind for many of us.

Until next year, here’s to continuing to learn from current global challenges, perfecting the balancing act of digital and in-person events and developing accessible and inclusive content to radically shift the power to our audiences.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE UK SCIENCE FESTIVAL NETWORK HERE.

Related blogs:

UKSFN learning curves #6: building bridges between engineers and communities

Since 2017, the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN), with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has supported science festival practitioners to bring underserved audiences and researchers together.

To aid reflection amongst UKSFN members and the wider engagement sector, over the past two years, we have shared learnings from these projects in a series of blogs.

The sixth blog in our ‘UKSFN learning curves’ series is written by Irina Jarrett-Thorpe, director at Engineering Minds.

“GIRLS’ IMPACT ON ENGINEERING” – A pilot project

At Engineering Minds, we aim to help young people become the next generation of scientists and engineers by harnessing their knowledge and creativity – and have lots of Eureka moments along the way!

With support from UKRI and UKSFN, we were able to take our work in an entirely new direction by working with young people of secondary school age, and also developing new partnerships by engaging with external engineers and researchers.

This pilot project ‘Girls’ Impact on Engineering’ aimed to inspire interest in a career in engineering for 15 girls aged between 11-14 from underrepresented groups in Greenwich, London.

Being a new direction of work for us, naturally, we were all nervous at the start but by the end of it, there was an overwhelming enthusiasm across the board to run similar projects in the future. Let’s start from the beginning…

Behind the scenes

Girls’ Impact on Engineering ran from July to November 2021, with the first three months being allocated to planning sessions that would be delivered from October – November.

We started by partnering with local community groups that work with families from an ethnic minority background – Afyah organisation, The Greenwich Somali Community, and The Greenwich Turkish Community. Engaging with young people through these partnerships was one of the project’s strengths and key success factors, as it allowed us to better understand their needs, and supported them to trust our project.

We also engaged with two researchers and six engineers who volunteered from the very beginning of the project, taking part in preparatory meetings to explore the most suitable ways to engage with the young people.

The topics for each session chosen to reflect local engineering projects that the girls could relate to, as many didn’t feel that engineering impacted their lives directly. We based the sessions on delving into some of the challenges local communities in Greenwich are affected by and explored why gender balanced teams of engineers could be more effective in tackling them through more creative approaches. An important learned lesson was to help the girls explore topics that directly reflect their lives, engineering projects that they could directly relate to. Once the girls understood the impact of civil engineering projects on their own communities, they could relate to topics that directly affected their lives and their immediate environment. And so, we could see a significant increase in their interest in engineering and how it truly makes a difference to people’s lives.

The first session – cutting out the jargon

The first session ran in October, which aimed to introduce engineering and the role played by research in engineering.

One of the challenges we faced was bringing the context of engineering and research to girls who had no previous knowledge or experience of engineering, It became clear that we needed to avoid all technical jargon and stick to bitesize presentations of no more than 5 minutes.

We discussed topics from a local perspective and used numerous hands-on and interactive activities.

Fire simulations to LEGO cars

The next sessions covered what it’s like working as a fire engineer. The girls were shown a fire simulation in Blackwall Tunnel, one of the busiest tunnels in South-East London, and reflected on how fire risks could be minimised in tunnels and public buildings. The girls also conducted afire risk assessment for the community building we were identifying possible hazards and coming up with solutions for keeping everyone safe. The group then put what they learnt to the test with a hands on activity dedicated to building a LEGO tunnel that would comply with all the fire safety requirements.  The girls embraced this challenge with enthusiasm and built tunnels that had escape routes, fans to dissipate the smoke, alarms systems, adequate lighting and clear signing.

Other sessions included exploring the advantages and disadvantages of car-free areas and how electric cars work, how to create a High-Speed Rail from Greenwich, alongside the different routes into engineering and the opportunities in international engineering careers.

It was truly fascinating to see how seriously the girls took each challenge and how much thought and consideration they gave to each step of every project.

Next steps

The final evaluation of the project showed that out of 15 participants, 10 said they found the project very interesting and feel more connected with engineering and science. The enthusiasm and energy displayed by the girls showed us that they were really inspired by these eight sessions and we hope some of them will consider a career in engineering or research.

Following the success of this pilot project, Engineering Minds will aim to extend this model and engage with a few secondary schools from Greenwich, including Eltham Hill Secondary School for Girls, who has expressed a strong interest for bringing engineering opportunities to their students.

One of the challenges we expect to face is finding enthusiastic engineers and researchers who would have the time to visit the schools, work directly with the girls and come up with ideas for hands-on engineering activities that could become local projects.

The new curriculum “Girls’ Impact on Engineering” will continue to be used and improved to encourage teenage girls to explore a career in engineering and research.

Inspiring girls who might have never contemplated becoming engineers is not an easy task, but without any doubt is one of the most rewarding projects that our organisation has run so far.

If you are interested in science festivals, events or activities, join us for our upcoming UK Science Festivals Network Conference on 25 January 2022. This will be a great chance to meet others from the sector, such as some of the authors from the ‘UKSFN learning curves’ blog series, and delve into inspiring sessions tackling sustainability, coproduction, the rise of digital engagement, and more.

More in the ‘UKSFN learning curves’ series’: 

Tickets available for the UKSFN Conference on 25 January 2022!

We are excited to announce that tickets are now available for #UKSFN22, where we will we convene online to discuss all things science festivals and events. Join us online for the fifth UK Science Festivals Network conference on 25 January 2022 from 8.55 to 16.45.

Click here for tickets and to view the programme

Join us for a day packed full of fantastic content with speakers from across and beyond the science engagement sector, where we will be discussing:

*     How festivals and others from the science engagement community have been learning and responding to the ever-changing UK landscape, and what this means for the road ahead.

*     Practical advice for placing co-production and sustainability at the heart of events and projects

*     Challenging insights into audience behaviours and the future of digital and hybrid engagement.

*     Plenty of other topics…there’s something for everyone!

We will hear thought-provoking discussions, have opportunities to network with colleagues and leave feeling equipped and inspired to take the next step in our science festival and event journeys.

We’re Hopin you’ll join us in January! And, if you’re tweeting, don’t forget to use #UKSFN22.

Do contact info@sciencefestivals.uk if you have any questions

UKSFN learning curves #5: Exploring nature on a level playing field

Since 2017, the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN), with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has supported science festival practitioners to bring underserved audiences and researchers together.

To aid reflection amongst UKSFN members and the wider engagement sector, over the past two years, we have shared learnings from these projects in a series of blogs.

The fifth blog in our UKSFN learning curves series is written by Ellie Turner-Wallace, Programmes Officer at The Natural History Consortium/Festival of Nature.

Exploring how to tackle ecological and climate emergencies, together

The Making Connections project has brought together local community groups and researchers to share their environmental expertise and personal stories of connecting with nature.

As the Making Connections Photography Exhibition opens in venues across Bristol, our team at the Natural History Consortium has been reflecting on our Making Connections Project in collaboration with the Black Seeds Network.

Over a series of workshops, designed to spark creative collaboration and challenging conversations, ten different voices came together to explore their various paths to working with nature – either in their professional, volunteering, or academic lives.

Half of the group were working in academic research, ranging in topics from bioengineering to waste management and photosynthesis to physiotherapy. The other half were community leaders involved in social projects built around connecting communities.

Inspired and informed by these discussions, the group shared their stories through photography as a visual medium, creating a photo exhibition that is now being showcased across the city, from local community centres to city centre museums.

One of the strengths of the project has been the close partnership and collaboration with the Black Seeds Network, from writing the original bid through to the evaluation process. The Network provides a platform for environmentalists of colour to socialise, gain support, seek opportunities, innovate and develop knowledge and expertise on environmental issues.

The partnership has been invaluable. It has enabled the project to work with community leaders through a trusted partner, and broker important conversations about inequality and exclusion.

An equal playing ground

One of the key discussions early on in the planning process asked how we could ensure that the community partners and researchers were entering the project on an equal footing, as experts in their respective fields.

Careful consideration was given to mitigate any perceived power imbalance during the workshops, supporting researchers to step out of their usual environment and appreciate the trust offered by communities welcoming them into their space.

The decision was made to hold the workshops in-person, in a space familiar to the community leaders. As a result, we were lucky enough to be invited into the spectacular home of the Bristol Rainforest at St Philips Nursery School. After much discussion, we were able to craft an invitation to researchers that attracted those with a keen interest in both learning from others and social justice. We found that this created a positive social dynamic within the group that allowed space for some difficult but important discussions.

An indoor rainforest always makes things better

It has been such a joy delivering in-person workshops, especially in the inspiring, relaxing setting of an indoor rainforest! Physically coming together enabled community leaders and researchers to get the opportunity to share their stories and expertise, learn together, and get to know one another.

 

However, holding the workshops in person has not been without its challenges! Fixing suitable dates for busy community leaders and researchers was difficult at times, and led to a workshop being postponed. To enable involvement in the project, particularly for those who were ill or isolating, we created opportunities for participants to join remotely and add their photographs into the final photography exhibition.

The primary output of the project was a Making Connections photography exhibition. Participants were encouraged to share their stories and experiences with a wider audience through photography. We have been astounded by the quality of the photographs!

 

We’ve been delighted by the response from organisations expressing an interest in hosting the exhibition. Our two-week planned tour has evolved into a month-long exhibition showcased by three partner organisations across multiple venues. By offering a digital version, we have been able to show the exhibition in even more venues across the city (without spending the entire project budget on printing costs!).

You can see some of the photography featured in the exhibition below:

Credit: Amrish Pandya

Credit: Hilary McCarthy


Credit: Huan Doan

Credit: Judit Davies


Credit: Gulid Mohamed

Credit: Olivia Reddy

 

To find out more about the Making Connections Exhibition and the organisations involved, visit: https://www.bnhc.org.uk/making-connections-photography-exhibition/

More in the ‘UKSFN learning curves’ series’: 

 

UKSFN learning curves #4: Developing a fluid and responsive project

Since 2017, the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN), with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has supported science festival practitioners to bring underserved audiences together with researchers.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic meant science festival organisers had to completely re-think their approaches. This resulted in a diverse mix of projects from digital game development to virtual dance workshops and other (government-guideline friendly) activities. To aid reflection amongst UKSFN members and the wider engagement sector, we shared the learnings from these projects in a series of blogs:

With lockdown restrictions lifted and a transition to a new ‘normal’ underway, for this year’s round of UKRI funding we aim to our support UKSFN members to focus on making connections; bringing underserved audiences together with researchers through community partnerships – with a mixture of digital, hybrid and in-person projects.

The fourth blog in our ‘UKSFN learning curves’ series is written by Lucy Cheesman, Project Manager at AlgoMech Festival.

Combining flamenco dance, weaving and live-coded music

In 2019, the AlgoMech Festival received funding from UKSFN to deliver drop-in live-coding music and visuals workshops as part of the Rotherham Show Diversity Festival.

This year, we are working with Roma community groups in Sheffield to deliver a series of workshops for young people, exploring algorithmic patterns through flamenco dancing, weaving and live-coded music.

We want the young people participating to influence the structure of the workshops and take the techniques in their own direction. To achieve this, I’ve collaborated with two researchers, Alex McLean and Rosemary Cisneros, to come up with new ways of working together to support the development of flexible, yet engaging and coherent workshops.

The difficulty in maintaining a fluid approach is balancing that flexibility with coherency across our disciplines, so we don’t end up working on flamenco dance, weaving and live-coded music in isolation!

Meeting for the first time

Alex, Rosa and I got together in person for the time ever last week to think through our approach. For all of us, there was a little awkwardness determining comfort levels working in the same space. It’s been such a long time since collaborating in real-life space – it took a bit of getting used to. Having said that, it was fantastic to feel that energy, and I’m so excited to be working with Rosa and Alex on this project.

We met in a large and beautiful meeting space attached to Alex’s lab at Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield. Our aim for the session was to bring together our three disciplines and find a way to share ideas about rhythms and patterns that are common across the three art forms. We wanted everything to make sense to the young people, while avoiding being too prescriptive with how we structure the workshop. It’s important to all of us to respect the agency and intentions of the young people we work with, and allow them to guide and shape the work we do.

We spent our time looking at areas of commonality, focusing on tempo, rhythm, sound and pattern. We decided to use a common tempo to create cohesion between our activities. We are aiming to keep the overall sound of the workshop very simple -the sounds of clapping, movement of the body, and the sounds of the loom. All of which will be re-sampled and used as part of the music workshops. And of course, there will be the sounds of our voices in the space. We expect there will be a lot of energy in the room and things will get noisy, so we’re trying to think of ways to incorporate that into our workshop design… however, it’s impossible to predict how that feels until we’re in the room on the day!

We also wanted to come up with some activities for people who might feel intimidated or overwhelmed – setting up a corner with videos, worksheets and artefacts to explore in peace or with headphones on for those who need a bit of time out.

Just the beginning

For a final addition to the plan, we’re hoping our partners at Greentop Circus will be able to incorporate juggling patterns into the workshop using the same notation system and structure, touching on skills already familiar to the participants.

In all, it feels really exciting to be making progress on such a varied project, working in new ways and really thinking through how best to engage the young people in what we’re doing. I’m really looking forward to seeing what direction the participants take the skills in and what we can learn from them in return.

Read the next blog in the ‘UKSFN learning curves’ series:
UKSFN Learning curves #5: Exploring nature on a level playing field

Looking back at UKSFN21

On 19 January, organisers of science festivals and science events convened on Hopin, an online events platform, for the fourth UK Science Festivals Network conference.

Following a chaotic year, in which COVID-19 brought the sector face-to-face with extraordinary challenges, it’s never felt more important to get together (albeit virtually) to share experiences and spark inspiration in one another.

While we missed being able to gather in person, our first endeavour into the world of online conferencing provided the opportunity to welcome more people than ever before – from 11 different countries around the world! Being mindful of “Zoom fatigue”, we were determined to carve out opportunities for attendees to continue the conversation with speakers and other attendees informally, as well as engaging in a few fun and light-hearted activities. We hosted desk-based yoga sessions and even a virtual petting zoo with some very cute goats.

It also enabled attendees to easily engage with as much of the content as suited their needs, building their conference experience around caring responsibilities and the inevitable Wi-Fi glitches!

In terms of content, the effects of a global pandemic on festivals were (unsurprisingly) high on the agenda – particularly with the rise of remote culture and combatting misinformation. Conversations also considered
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) journeys and listening to communities.

Here are some reflections and take-home messages from each session. You can also check out #UKSFN21 to see what attendees were saying on Twitter throughout the day!

SOS: state of the sector

Panel: Laura Melissa Williams (Designer), Kathrine Bancroft (UK Research and Innovation) and Farrah Nazir (Wellcome TrustChair: Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou (UK Science Festivals Network/British Science Association)

It felt important to kick off the day on an optimistic and hopeful note, by celebrating what festivals across the Network have achieved throughout 2020, despite so much uncertainty, as shown in the infographic below.

The panellists considered where we, as science festivals, find ourselves at the beginning of a new year and how organisers of such events can move forward.

  • Laura Melissa Williams explored the challenges and opportunities for science festivals that she observed whilst exploring what the sector might look like in 2030. She challenged attendees to think carefully about their role in bridging the gap between research and the general public in an age of misinformation.
  • Kathrine Bancroft provided a perspective from a major funder of science engagement activities, reflecting on the opportunities to innovate and reach audiences in new, creative and community-led ways.
  • Farrah Nazir considered the likely national and global crises we are likely to face in a post-COVID world, reflecting that “our ability to build and maintain trust in this new world is what’s going to be our saviour.” The key to gaining this trust will lie in relevancy, adaptability and accountability.

Hindsight is 2020: running a festival in a pandemic       

Debbie McNeill (Glasgow Science Festival) and Maddie Smart (ArtReachChair: Julie Fooshee (University of Edinburgh)

Julie kicked off this session by asking “So, what happened!? to festival organisers at the forefront of rolling out large-scale events during the pandemic.

Debbie took us on Glasgow Science Festival’s journey of transforming their initial programme into an exciting digital offering (in only seven weeks!). ‘Science on the Sofa’ comprised 650 activities including live-streamed events, as well as self-directed content for audiences to experience at their leisure. Similarly, Maddie Smart explained how arts festival Journeys Festival International went ahead as a 21-day-long online extravaganza, working with 60 artists to showcase performances and artworks.

Both considered the challenges of having to digitally rethink ways of working in community spaces and facilitating safe, yet sometimes polarising, conversations. Another recurring theme was the heart-warming, overwhelmingly positive response from partners when re-invited to take part in a totally different programme, despite grappling with their own pandemic woes!

Looking ahead to the coming months, an interesting challenge for large-scale events will be how to make the return to live events, whilst making the most of the digital upskilling and learnings from 2020.

Stories of grassroots engagement

Speakers: Arun Bector (BME Housing Consortium) and Marsha Fisher (Sutton African and Caribbean Cultural OrganisationChair: Anna Woolman (British Science Association)

Throughout the pandemic, grassroots organisations have played a vital and resourceful role in responding to the immediate needs of their users. In 2020, the BSA partnered with UKRI to enable community groups to run projects in the latter half of the year, trialling new approaches to engage their audiences with science.

  • Sutton African and Caribbean Cultural Organisation’s project inspired their users with an intergenerational, hands-on, family learning workshop focussed on Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, and her journey of overcoming adversity to achieve her dreams. By sending out fun-filled activity packs to users, audiences were able to join in whilst safe at home.
  • BME Housing Consortium set out to engage their users, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, refugees, people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties with their project ‘SARS WARS’, which aimed to combat COVID-19 misinformation in these communities.

Both Marsha and Arun reflected on novel opportunities to increase the reach of their projects through creative methods of remote engagement, The established trust that both groups held within these communities afforded them an open dialogue with users when discussing sensitive issues such as COVID-19.

Many of the points raised in this session focus on the importance of building relationships with communities, further explored in the later session ‘What should we be talking about today?’

A workplace inclusion journey

Speakers: Katherine Mathieson (British Science Association) and Tinu Cornish (SEA-Change Consultancy)

The BSA has undertaken an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) journey over the last few years, with support from SEA-Change Consultancy.

The road to becoming an organisation that listens to diverse voices both internally and externally has come with varied successes and challenges. Tinu and Katherine’s reflections from this process include:

  • Borrow and adapt resources wherever you can, crediting the source – there is so much work to be done, why reinvent to the wheel?
  • There is no finish line or endpoint, we evolve and our challenges change as we move forwards.
  • Collaborate with and create bodies who offer the right balance of support and challenge (e.g. consultants, boards)
  • Tackling difficult and emotionally charged conversations in a professional context isn’t always easy but it’s valuable. As Tinu puts it, “we need to understand that, because of unconscious bias, we can be part of systems that are oppressive, and wanting to talk about this doesn’t make us bad people.”

The shift to remote culture 

Speaker: Matt Locke (Storythings)

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the way we consume content, prompting a shift towards rich, immersive video experiences that can be consumed from our living rooms (Tiger King, anyone?). Many organisations have been quick to develop digital content over the last year with varying degrees of success, but has this approach really been the best way forward?

Matt Locke delved into the rise of remote culture, which stretches far beyond the digital world even though it doesn’t always seem that way. Matt rightly explained that replicating a physical experience online shouldn’t necessarily be the goal – we should instead begin designing formats by considering where our audiences are, how they consume content and what they are doing with their time. It’s about getting creative within the constraints!

COP26: Who’s doing what?

Speaker: Penny Fidler (Association of Science and Discovery Centres) and Emma Woodham (Glasgow Science Centre)

This session invited attendees to share their own organisation’s ideas and plans for COP26. A range of exciting plans are already in motion across the science engagement sector!

If you didn’t attend this session but are keen to get involved, find out more here or get in touch with COP26info@cabinetoffice.gov.uk for more information.

How to approach diversity & inclusion strategically

Speaker: Lenna Cumberbatch (Diversity and Inclusion Strategist)

With a strong practical focus, this session provided a space for attendees to explore questions about their own approaches to EDI, drawing on Lenna’s expertise.

A key theme was that communication is critical throughout our journeys. From open discussions with relevant stakeholders from the outset, alongside bring the right people into the room, it becomes possible to set realistic goals and identify missteps quickly. We need to be conscious of power dynamics, setting clear boundaries around communicating respectfully when involving others in conversations. To learn and move forward, we shouldn’t hesitate to acknowledge our mistakes and apologise, whilst also being quick to forgive.

Lenna reinforced that seeing a change requires goal setting and a commitment to the legwork. Change should be driven by data to understand where the gaps are in existing strategies.

Remember that there are major differences between positive discrimination (illegal) and positive action (legal), which can be a valuable tool on your journey.

How design changed my mindset

Speakers: Savita Willmott (Bristol Natural History Consortium), Elisa Valarani (Design Council)

In 2020, Bristol Festival of Nature’s undertook a project to build design thinking onto their practice as part of a partnership between the UKSFN and the Design council.

Some of their biggest takeaways from this process included:

  • Spend time asking big questions to get to the heart of what you are trying to solve.
  • Authentic audience insights are well worth the time and investment and putting the legwork into going out and conducting interviews usually pays off.
  • Festival organisers are creatives at heart but often end up spending time on operations and admin. The design process can give those creative muscles a much-needed stretch!

Some tools and techniques that were particularly valuable throughout the process included Padlet and Rose, thorn, bud. (We would also recommend Miro!)

Introducing the Ideas Fund

Speaker: Chris Manion (British Science Association)

Attendees at this session had a sneak preview into The Ideas Fund, a novel, Wellcome-funded grants programme that will provide funding and, crucially, support to communities to explore ideas around mental wellbeing by working with researchers.

Chris took us through this exciting new programme, from its inception through a rigorous co-design progress, all the way to the launch. This opportunity is currently open to groups operating within communities in Hull, Oldham, North West Northern Ireland and the Highlands & Islands of Scotland. To find out if you’re eligible or for more information about this innovative new programme, check out The Ideas Fund website.

What should we be talking about today?

Speakers: Daniel Aguirre (Science Festival Accelerator), Ben Wiehe (US Science Festival Alliance)

When was the last time you attended a meeting that started with this genuine invitation? To be fully authentic, totally present and listen sincerely as we practice community engagement, we must be prepared to put our agendas to one side.

Ben and Daniel openly and frankly shared their reflections from the Science Festival Alliance’s Community Listening project. This initiative set out to amplify community voices, creating a brave and safe space to understand their on-the-ground realities and priorities. This challenging session drove home the huge importance of meeting communities where they are, and building trust so that science event organisers can be invited into community spaces, rather than expecting communities to engage first.

There were so many profound and insightful take-home messages from this session. Many reflections from attendees can be seen on Twitter using #UKSFN21 (a few are copied here). We encourage you to find out more about this project by listening to the project recordings, which can be found in the previous link.

Relational meetings 101

Speaker: Froi Legaspi (CitizensUK)

This session provided a brilliant introduction to this powerful tool for community organising. By demoing a one-on-one meeting with the BSA’s own Anna Woolman, attendees gained solid, practical guidance on building a public relationship based on mutual interests.

These meetings are designed to be intentional, focussed on interests, a two-way conversation (not a therapy session!) and last about as long as it takes a cup of tea to get cold. As Froi brilliantly summarised, the only rule is to be curious about the person in front of you and ask open questions!

COVID and conspiracy theories

Speaker: Joe Pierre (University of California, Los Angeles)

This session challenged science festival and event organisers to consider our roles and responsibilities towards tackling the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’. ‘Fake news’ surrounding the pandemic can seem overwhelming at times, but Joe Pierre’s research focusses on why these theories are so incredibly prevalent, and how the divide between science and conspiracy theories can be bridged.

When toxic divisiveness is endemic in society, Joe reflects that a considerate, nuanced approach to engagement is crucial as we advocate for trust in scientific knowledge going forward.

Check out Joe’s blog for a deep dive into these and other questions.

YARA + DAVINA: our artistic response to 2020

Speakers: Yara El-Sherbini and Davina Drummond (YARA + DAVINA)

Wrapping up the conference on a positive and thought-provoking note, artistic duo YARA + DAVINA discussed learnings from their interactive artwork, Arrivals + Departures, and how they responded to COVID-19 as creative problem solvers.

The installation, based on the familiar imagery of travel departure and arrival boards, was intended to provide a site to acknowledge meaningful moments and significant people. The artwork has been proven to be adaptable, not just to changing government guidance and regulations, but also to the needs of the public. It also facilitated an outlet for grief as people weren’t as able to mourn death in typical ways.

YARA + DAVINA’s work also touches on politics and the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020 the public started to consciously name the unnamed, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, whilst also deciding to end the historic memorialisation of some controversial figures by toppling statues. Arrivals + Departures gives everyone the power to decide who gets commemorated.

YARA + DAVINA concluded that art provides a vital function to help people deal with lockdowns and the aftermath of a global pandemic, as well as highlighting longstanding questions around social and climate justice. There is a significant need for art to act as a catalyst for these conversations that are equally relevant to anyone who works to engage the public with science.

There was so much inspiration to be gained from #UKSFN21, arguably, the biggest take away for many was the sense of pride in being a part of a community that has continued to listen to and innovate for our audiences, during the most challenging of times.

A huge thanks from the UKSFN team and to everyone who joined us on the day, both speakers and delegates. We can’t wait to come back together next year, whether online or face-to-face, to once again celebrate a sector that is going from strength to strength and shows no signs of stopping.

UKSFN learning curves #3: How can we help?

By Emma Slater, Public Engagement Producer, Imperial College London

It’s the beginning of February 2021 and I’ve just hit ‘leave meeting’. I’m making the face I make when something I’ve just been a part of feels so meaningful that I might burst. We’ve just finished our first workshop with 10 of the most vulnerable young people in our local community. One young person, who has chatted with a researcher for 45 minutes says “I think about things like this all the time, but don’t have anyone to talk to about them with”. Heart full – it’s all worth it.

Rewind to December 2020 and we’ve just changed, replanned and postponed our ‘UKRI/UKSFN: Bringing young people and researchers together’ project for about the third time. The events of the past year have exhausted our community partner who is trying to make sure his young people have enough food to eat. He’s worried about the rise in the number of mental health-related issues he’s seeing in his group.

Rewind even further. It’s the Summer of 2020 and we’re about to get our planned series of music-based workshops rolling. Over a series of sessions, we’ll be exploring ‘futures’ with young people, Imperial College London researchers and rapper, Consensus. We’re excited about this creative melting pot and celebrating what had been created with everyone involved at the end.

Sadly, our music project didn’t happen in the way we had planned over the autumn. Our main challenge was an (understandable) reluctance from young people for online participation in any format, which worsened over time. Our community partner reported that their group felt self-conscious and fed up.

We caught up with our community partner on the phone regularly, just to chat about this and that. Aside from finding it really useful to understand how youth clubs work and their challenges, I wanted them to understand that we really cared, and that we’d still want to chat even if we weren’t actively running a project.

It was in one of these chats that they mentioned an art session they’d recently run for some of their most vulnerable young people. This was a version of a young person led, entrepreneurial project we’d talked about a while before: young people working with local artists, to design, customise and then re-sell trainers. The project was being cut for financial reasons, but they wanted to continue it to help those struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Our aim was always for our commitment to these young people to be long term, and it was important that we were there to help when it was needed. Together we came up with a way to run the project and remotely include Imperial researchers in these COVID-secure, in-person workshops. Now, throughout February, Imperial researchers will be chatting with the group about science, inspiring the creation of trainers customised with their work and conversations in mind. We’re only one session in, and I’m sure there will be unexpected challenges and things we might need to change, but I’m still really proud that we’ve managed to get this off the ground.

I’m really grateful for the British Science Association’s support throughout this fairly dramatic (and last minute!) pivot in another direction. As a result, 20-30 of the most vulnerable young people in our community are joining us for conversations and creativity with researchers, and our community partners are better able to support their user’s mental health.

So, back to the end of that first session I mentioned at the start. That ‘heart full’ moment was an accumulation of important reminders: how important it is to work with underrepresented and underserved young people, how resilient and joyful our community is, how essential it is to take the time and have a chat, and for me personally, why I do this job.

A six-year Engagement (journey)

In the second of her reflections as our (outgoing) Head of Engagement, Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou highlights the incredible progress made as a result of the partnerships between community groups and the British Science Association. Using science as a tool to engage, stimulate and encourage people across the UK is at the core of the BSA’s purpose, mission and values. Here, she writes of just some of the projects that have been part of her journey.

This week I will be leaving the BSA and, as is to be expected, I have been doing some reflecting on the things I am most proud of. Having written about the UK Science Festivals Network, I now turn my attention to our community engagement portfolio, which the Engagement team has had the pleasure of building and leading over the last six years.

How it came about

What began as a pilot to enable more people to run events in British Science Week has grown into a programme of work that now supports hundreds of community groups each year, and underpins our approach to community partnerships. Since 2015, we have given out over 800 microgrants to community groups, supported by UK Research and Innovation.

The heart of our approach is “getting out of the way” and letting communities decide how best to structure, develop, and execute their engagement with science. We provide support, signposting and access to our networks if they want it, but we believe that people, who may also have no formal science background, can and should be in the driving seat.

This work also made us look at ourselves, as an organisation, differently. If this approach was to succeed, we had to start handing over control to communities, whether around content, brand or voice. Any organisation that wants to follow this example will need to accept that this is part of the process.

Implementing the community-first approach

I’m not going to pretend it was easy, it was tough at the start; these communities didn’t know us, and we hadn’t earnt their trust yet. How many organisations have helicoptered into their communities with promises only to leave after the project is over? Back at the start, a lot of our conversations were around breaking down the stereotypes around science and showing local people we were ultimately interested in supporting their long-term ambitions for their community, rather than them producing a one-off event for our benefit. But as the old saying goes, “don’t tell me, show me”. This work took time and it was well worth it; here are some great case studies highlighting some of the fantastic work from the communities we have had the pleasure of working with along the way.

The next question for our community engagement work was, how do we go beyond a transactional relationship? Sure, giving out grants is nice, but could we be doing more? Our community grant recipients led us to create our Community Leaders programme and we were lucky enough to work with some brilliant and inspiring people. If you’d like to connect with your local community partners, the Community Leaders programme page includes a list of superstars who have taught me so much over the years.

Earlier this year we partnered with the Local Trust. We listened to community groups in Boston, Lincolnshire – an area of the UK we had identified as one with little traditional science engagement provision – asking what we could do to support science engagement in their town. They said the biggest barrier was language, so we created British Science Week activity packs in Polish and Russian.

Listening to our communities further, we noticed there was some hesitancy around contacting researchers directly. The most memorable bit of feedback I heard was, “they are solving cancer, why would they want to come and speak to us?” Considering such comments, we rebuilt Science Live to begin to help broker those connections on a local level.

Finding a scientist online is all well and good, but how do we create lasting human relationships between researchers and communities? So was born our Community Buddies scheme and, working with Froi Legaspi from Citizens UK, we were able to borrow community organising tools to help. This programme is a work in progress but I’m a big believer of showing the working out. Watch this space.

We also wanted to begin to address power imbalances in science engagement; could we create a new format to help people solve real-world problems in their communities using research skills? Working in partnership with FoAM Kernow, we created AccessLab – from a kernel of an idea, through to an academic paper.

Applying “community-first” to existing BSA work

We were eager to embed this community engagement approach in some of our other programmes, so we launched the British Science Festival Community Grants which allowed us to work more closely with communities in the Festival’s host city. This enabled us to meet some truly talented people, and also allowed them to feel part of the Festival on their own terms. For example, Christine Eade who shared her contacts with us so generously in Coventry and opened up new partnerships in the city, through to the team at The Warren in Hull who are doing brilliant work with young people and who we were lucky enough to partner with.

And what about COVID-19? When the pandemic struck, a lot of the communities we work with switched to frontline services. Some turned themselves into food banks, some were supporting migrant parents who had to become teachers overnight, and some were rallying together to provide social contact for the lonely. We listened, and tried to respond, without jumping to a solution straight away. During the early days of the pandemic, I would regularly ask myself, “are we just trying to carry on doing our job, or are we actually trying to help?” This allowed us to stay honest and on course with supporting communities in the ways they needed. We rolled out a series of Community Innovation Grants to support through this time and here are a series of blogs about the stellar achievements from communities around the UK.

I have spent a lot of my time at the BSA travelling around the UK and meeting different communities, which I have loved. From Penzance to Orkney, and Belfast to Eastbourne, there are incredible people doing the hard work to bring about real change. Of course, they are not always driven by the science content; they care about their communities and they go to work every day to tackle a host of challenges like social isolation, improving literacy or just to give young people something to do. But they have taught me that science engagement can have a role to play, if done in true partnership.

If you represent a community-based group or organisation that works directly with audiences who are traditionally underrepresented in science, please do join our Community Engagement Network.

Building back stronger – the outlook for science festivals

As part of her role as Head of Engagement and Director of the British Science Festival, Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou has chaired the UK Science Festivals Network since 2014. Over the past six years the UKSFN has grown to become the voice, and bold advocate, of supporting the sector. As she prepares to leave her role, Ivvet shares her thoughts on the core strengths and future opportunities for science festivals, despite the challenges of 2020.

Another pillar of the UKSFN’s work is their annual conference. This will take place 19 January 2021. For more details, visit the event website.

The UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN) is a community of practice which aims to improve and expand the science festival landscape in the UK. At the end of 2019, the UKSFN, with support from Wellcome, began a strategic journey to explore what the science festival sector could look like in 10 years. We wanted to embrace the design methodology we had been encouraging festivals to use in their work to take a closer look at the purpose and value we bring to the communities we serve. I was personally excited at the prospect of this work as festival organisers often have little opportunity to reflect or develop their practice due to the cyclical nature of planning festivals.

How we carried out the work

We sought the help of a professional speculative designer, Laura Melissa Williams, whose role was to ask hard questions, share insights from other sectors and help us to articulate how the UKSFN could further support festivals. Laura’s energy, focus and experience has been instrumental in the success of this project.

And so, with all the pieces in place, our first task was to understand how people view festivals and the work being done in towns and cities across the country. We kicked off by carrying out interviews with our festival community, stakeholders, funders, community leaders and wider cultural practitioners from beyond our sector. But of course, 2020 had other plans.

The pandemic left festivals, like most events and arts organisations, in chaos. We paused to ask ourselves – was this the right time to be thinking about festivals of the future when there were more pressing, immediate needs? The focus for many was simply survival, not their long-term strategy. However, we saw this as an opportunity.

While the pandemic meant we had to slow down and reflect, we would eventually be rebuilding, and this work could help frame what festivals focus on going forward. For me, this wasn’t just about rebuilding what we do; it supports how we think about change and how we learn to embrace that.

And so we continued, with an aim to highlight the good work already happening and act as a critical friend for festivals in their time of need, wherever they were on their journey to taking a more audience-first approach.

What we found

Our work found five key strengths and opportunity areas that festivals should continue to build on in a post-COVID world. Excelling at just one is not enough; the work at the intersection of all of these is what makes festivals relevant and enduring in their communities…

Place-based, space agnostic

This phrase was coined by Farrah Nazir, our partner at Wellcome, and it really resonated with us as one of the main strengths of festivals. Without large buildings to heat and run they can be fully responsive to their audiences, going where they are needed and where they have been invited. As we have seen, yet be really targeted with their approach, whether that is popping up in a city park, independent cinema or local hair salon.

How festivals integrate with other community initiatives will become increasingly important in a post-pandemic world. For example, how might festivals help a local council realise its ambitions for the city? Could they collaborate with the tourism board? By exploring these types of questions and building new partnerships in response, festivals can be more than a ‘nice to have’ event in the city calendar, instead beginning to meet local priorities and delivering lasting, audience-led outcomes.

Informational and educational

The most common response from attendees on why they visit festivals was their view that they are a trusted source of information, and provide educational benefits, to them and their families.

Exploring their reasons further, audiences also said that highlighting the various careers in STEM, complementing classroom learning and building confidence with science were a strength of festivals. This is brilliant for our existing audiences but what about those we don’t engage with?

Turning complex science into clear and engaging content is the bread and butter of science festivals, and in fact, most of the wider science communication sector. But what is the role of a science festival in a ‘fake news’ world, where it sometimes feels people are more interested in who is speaking rather than what they are saying? How might festivals build trust with new audiences, and help to question, challenge and navigate the vast array of information, given their credibility in communicating science? Trust is the key word here. It must be earned, and then maintained. There are some excellent examples of how festivals in the US are using listening as a basic entry point for building community trust, spearheaded by Daniel Aguirre.

Diverse and inclusive

These words come up a lot in our sector, and quite rightly so. But this isn’t just something we can achieve and then forget about it. It must always guide our practice, whether it is programming, partnership building or operations.

Festivals regularly champion the diversity within STEM, seeking out new role models and sharing their platforms to celebrate their work. But who makes these decisions? Who volunteers their time to help ‘backstage’? Who does the festival sector employ? We have to know who we are as a community if we want to hold ourselves accountable to the change we want to see. The UKSFN diversity survey for the sector will aim to answer these important questions, and act as a benchmark going forward.

The opportunities that a robust diversity and inclusion agenda provides is not just for existing festivals. We actively champion, and learn from, new science festivals established, and managed by the community. An excellent example is the Rochdale Science Extravaganza started by Mohammed Rahman because his son, Labib, asked why they always had to travel miles to engage with science. This type of community-driven science festival, as opposed to a university-led one, is on the rise and comes with an inherent degree of trust built in.

In order to be more inclusive in a post-COVID world, we as festivals must further develop our skills and resilience to enable us to have complex and sensitive science conversations with researchers and local people. Whether it’s vaccine hesitancy, climate change or the ethics of AI, we must resist taking the easy road and having conversations with the audiences who will readily seek us out. We must ask who is missing from the conversation and why? How are we failing science and society as a result? The risk of not answering these questions is too great. This is an opportunity to build something new that delivers even more benefit to our communities.

More than the sum of our parts

Festivals act as brokers between different communities and use their platform to bring them closer, whether it is artists, scientists, council members, community leaders or other cultural entities. But to what end? Yes, to develop excellent content and deliver a memorable event, but we can go far beyond this. By taking a hyperlocal approach, I believe festivals can – and do – have an important role to play in building community pride.

For example, in my role as the Director of the British Science Festival, which travels to a different city each year, I speak to various local stakeholders to really understand the city we are in to make sure our approach is co-developed, appropriate and inclusive. It was clear from the people I spoke to in Coventry (the host city in 2019) that they were incredibly proud of their history as a city of peace and reconciliation – how could our work celebrate that and reflect this back to the community?

We know that festivals provide an important platform for researchers to directly engage with the public. In 2019, UKSFN members worked with over 11,000 researchers and science communicators across the UK. However, we also know it’s not enough just to put researchers in a venue and wait for audiences to book tickets. We must leverage our existing networks and broker local partnerships in the co-design of these events, elevating the quality of the researcher interactions. A brilliant example of this is the bringing together of researchers and specific groups of young people to co-design festival events and activities which has been supported by UK Research and Innovation.

A sense of wonder and inspiration

Science has the power to inspire. It can connect to your emotions as well as your intellect, and the people we spoke to certainly believe festivals deliver this wonder and inspiration time after time, making science part of the cultural offering of a place.

The importance of inspiration is sometimes seen as a soft outcome, but it mustn’t be overlooked. As a child, the natural world inspired me in ways I can never fully explain. I don’t mean walking in the woods – as a child of immigrants we didn’t hike! I mean the power of volcanoes and storms, dinosaurs bigger than houses now reduced to bones, the burning beauty of the sun, the cold plains of the Antarctic, and plate tectonics that have the power to literally move mountains. This science fascinated me, and I think at its core was because it gave me perspective; here is something so much bigger than me. It was an escape from the mundane and daily struggles of growing up.

However, we need to make sure this inspiration stretches beyond the young person and into their social circle. My parents struggled to nurture this interest and they certainly didn’t know that there were careers in these sorts of fields, let alone how to support me to navigate the system. As the Science Capital work of Louise Archer and colleagues shows, we need to equip parents, grandparents, guardians, and wider society to encourage and cultivate that inspiration and wonder. Festivals are part of this scaffold in a young person’s life and must be supported in their efforts to deliver these benefits to their communities.

Festivals deliver amazing work across the country and they have had an incredibly difficult year. As we enter our third national lockdown they continue to persevere with a resilience and drive that should be recognised and celebrated.

I leave my role as Chair of the UKSFN in what is undoubtably a turbulent and uncertain time for festivals. However, I know that our members will continue to drive innovation in our sector through their commitment to their audiences, their passion for science and their motivation to make a difference in their community.

The UKSFN conference takes place on Tuesday 19 January and you can book your tickets here.

To find your nearest science festival, visit https://sciencefestivals.uk/festival/