What world leaders can learn from our fantastic Norwich Science Festival

Picture of a young girl at a previous Norwich Science Festival event

The Norwich Science Festival has an abundance of activities for the city’s young people to get involved with - Credit: UEA

About six years ago I had a visit from a gentleman named Stuart Hobday who wanted to talk to us about a new Norfolk event that was in the early stages of planning.
Over the course of the next half an hour he outlined the vision for what we now know as the Norwich Science Festival.
It was hoped the festival would start relatively small and become one of the biggest annual events on Norwich and Norfolk’s calendar.
I remember thinking at the time that was some lofty ambition given the plethora of major annual events the county already hosts.

Jess French and Theo Blossom peeping out from a tipi

An event at Norwich Science Festival - Credit: Norwich Science Festival

Six years later, Stuart himself may have moved onto a different role, but the vision that was outlined that day has already been realised.
Over half-term thousands of people flocked to the numerous venues that now host science festival events to learn about a vast array of subjects including dinosaurs, evolution, climate change and even the contents of an animal's bowel movement!
The eight-day event has even stretched outside of the city and as far as Gresham’s in Holt.
In just a few years it has become something all of those involved in it can be incredibly proud of.

A talk being given at a previous Norwich Science Festival event

An event at Norwich Science Festival - Credit: UEA

My youngest son (five) and my wife took part in a rocket making session at the festival, spending an hour designing his creation and then watching with wonder as it was set off into the air at the event itself.
When he returned home his enthusiasm was palpable and great to witness.
From the reaction I’ve seen on social media it would appear many people, young and old, have been similarly engaged.
And this got me thinking about another big event taking place right now (though granted on an even bigger scale than this one), which seems to be struggling to garner quite the same enthusiasm from from the general public.
I’m referring to COP 26 and the Boris Johnson-fronted attempt to get world leaders (and indeed the world as a whole) seriously engaged in the subject of climate change.
As has been outlined so many times in the last few days, by a whole range of public figures, we now to act now, not tomorrow, to protect this fragile earth.
The message has been stark and that we must all get involved and do our bit.
Yet still it doesn’t seem to be hitting home with the masses.
Is it possible, therefore, that our world leaders could learn a thing or two about how to engage with people on such a serious subject from our humble city’s own science festival?

Guardians of the Gut interactive display as part of Norwich Science Festival at the Forum.Picture: A

An event at Norwich Science Festival - Credit: Archant

And perhaps what we need to convince people to make changes to their lives. isn’t just person after person taking to a lecture to preach the message, but a more hands-on, creative approach.
Of course I’m not talking about one massive climate change festival - that couldn’t possibly be attended by enough people to make a difference.
But maybe we need events like Norwich Science Festival, with a strong climate change flavour, to spring up in towns and cities all over the country.
And if our government is serious about affecting change, perhaps they need to somehow stump up the cash to make that happen.
It wouldn’t be the only solution of course.
We need climate change and the environment to be at the forefront of the school curriculum.

Ben Garrod,Picture: Norwich Science Festival

An event at Norwich Science Festival - Credit: Norwich Science Festival

We need politicians at every level to step up and ensure protection of the planet is at the heart of all of the decisions they make and policies they outline.
And then every single one of us needs to step up and realise we can make a difference, even if we only represent the smallest percentage of the planet’s population.
But if communities up and down the land can be as motivated to show the same level of enthusiasm those behind Norwich Science Festival have in the last five years, perhaps it isn’t too late to save the planet after all.

(Editor’s note: Stuart is now chief executive of Diss Corn Hall and while I know he wasn’t the only one behind the initial vision outlined that day, he and others can be very proud of what they have begun.)

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