Tell you what I loved about the Big Bang Fair this year. Over the four days, not only did approximately 75,0000 kids, teachers and parents grace the NEC exhibition halls, but a good number of stakeholders, presenters and volunteers. Many of these volunteers gave of their time from studies or work, many without costs or expenses. How do we support these ones? Let me tell you what we tried this year.
I was working alongside Sarah Bearchell of Sarah’s Adventures In Science, an Oxford-based, award-winning freelance science communicator who specialises in workshops for schools and community groups. She had reimagined her ‘Mischievous Matter’ workshop to run in a noisy environment with timed groups. There was a large element of getting hands-on with the experience and using all our senses to observe as a scientist.
The narrative that linked this together would be delivered in front of the audience while volunteers would be enabling people to get close to the exhibits as well as ‘stage- managing’ and prepping the next elements.
Initially, only Sarah and myself were presenting the narrative and steering the audience through our “script-ish”. But volunteers are not just there to do the necessary, ancillary jobs. We made it clear to our volunteers that this was a chance for them to try something they had not done before.
After sharing in a few performances, undertaking supporting duties, they started to get a bit twitchy so it came as no surprise that Lucy asked if she could present one of the shows. We had no problems with this, it is exactly what I wanted them to do.
Lucy hadn’t done this sort of thing before, neither had Aimee. Speaking at an academic conference or as part of your studies is one thing, but this is slightly different. Rachel, as a member of Guild TV at the University of Birmingham had presented to camera before, but this was still a challenging environment. We need not have worried. We retired to the boundaries of our fenced off area and stepped into their supporting roles while they took control.
To see three, talented and enthusiastic people feel confident enough to leap out of their comfort zones and try something in front of a live audience in a challenging environment was heart-warming. We had created an opportunity for them to thrive. Once Lucy started, so followed Aimee and Rachel. Of course they had to have another go so that they could film each other, gathering their proof of their advancement. We did not underestimate just how much that meant.
By Friday night, the #BrumSciComm social was a perfect opportunity for them to meet science communicators, presenters, adventurers and funders from around the country. Once they had a rough idea about who they were about to approach, network they did!
As a result, by Saturday their volunteer passes became Access All Areas as they exhibited sufficient confidence, almost akin to Jedi powers, to stroll backstage of the main stage. More selfies and welcomes from the headliner presenters let them get a flavour of work on the big shows. A wander around the stage and an exchange of Twitter accounts was inevitable and only when they were ready were they expected back at our performance space.
I’ve met up with both Aimee and Rachel since the fair and I am delighted to see the confidence they tasted is still fresh in their mouths. I remember just how much these opportunities mean when starting out in science communication.
The very least we can do is extend the same and more to those who will follow us. It has taken me a number of days to express how I feel about what happened over that week and I’m proud to feel emotional about it. Well done to Lucy, Aimee and Rachel.
Special Thanks to Sarah and all who dropped by into our SciComm playpen or who were there for #BrumSciComm, including Blowfish, Marty, Dallas, Ginny, Poppy, Huw, Suzie, Hannah, Stefan, Jon and the Cambridge Science crew, Selina and Heidi from the Royal Society of Chemistry, Owain Williams and the TagS4C crew, plus all the usual people, Amy, Sarah C and Naomi for pulling us all into the same place. You were all EPIC!