Cambridge BRAINFest: A Free Public Festival of Brain Science
Type of event: Three-day public event
Group size: 3000 visitors
Venues: The Cambridge Corn Exchange, Babbage Lecture Theatre, University of Cambridge
BRAINFest, the University of Cambridge Neuroscience festival of brain science, was an ambitious three day public event, bringing together more than 170 neuroscientists to present their ground-breaking research through interactive exhibits, film, neurotheatre and talks. Over 18 months in the planning, the showcase was conceived by members of Cambridge Neuroscience, Dr Dervila Glynn with Professor Angela Roberts.
A free public event, it presented challenges in terms of venues and anticipated audience size. The organising team worked closely with Meet Cambridge
throughout the planning process to source suitable spaces and suppliers.
Dr Glynn says: “The long lead time was essential because the event involved more than 170 scientists showcasing the excellent research that is going on in Cambridge. It had the support of the Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury, who saw the festival as an excellent opportunity to increase visibility and communicate with the public. “Right from the start we knew that the ambitious programme had to be interactive to engage with the public, sponsors, the media, participating scientists and local schools. There needed to be a two-way exchange to create a mutual learning experience – and very importantly, we wanted an ongoing legacy from the event too. “Essentially we wanted it to be different – there needed to be a ‘wow’ factor which would pull people in and make them excited about the science. It was also crucial that we presented complicated scientific concepts in a way that was both interesting and understandable.
“Central to making the festival accessible to all was the choice of venue for the interactive thematic showcase. That’s why we used the Corn Exchange which was large, located in the centre of the city and importantly not a university venue so people felt comfortable walking in. It also offered us smaller spaces use for our Café Scientifique where 50 people could enjoy informal talks in a more intimate environment and the King’s Room where we set up our Secret Cinema, running a five-hour showreel loop of film about neuroscience.
“We also selected The Babbage Lecture Theatre on the New Museums Site for our Variety Showcase Opening Night which included public lectures, poetry and dance, and our ‘Brains & Mental Health’ public discussion. This proved to be a great venue, seating 470 people and with a new AV system and professional and friendly team.
“The interactive thematic showcase at the Corn Exchange was free, suitable for all ages and took visitors on a tour of the brain. Featuring 30 individual exhibits, it covered themes such as: ‘Development’, ‘Brain & Body’, ‘Pain & Pleasure’. ‘Perception & Imagination’ and ‘Learning & Forgetting’, spanning research from molecules to man. It included a Build A Brain Workshop and an exhibition of 200 pieces of artwork created by schoolchildren across Cambridge in our BRAINArt Competition.
“There were also satellite events including a historical neurotrail tour of Cambridge to discover quirky facts, as well as pop up exhibitions at Christ’s College library, the University Library, Whipple Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum.
“We tried to use local suppliers wherever possible, including the Cambridge Dining Company who catered for our private view event on the Saturday evening and served imaginative bowl food and the external staging company, Hawthorn with bases in Cambridge Leicestershire and London, who responded to our ambitious brief with exciting creative solutions. Most impressive was the fact that they got the concept totally from the start, and translated, into reality, the vision I held (in my head!) for BRAINFest, transforming the Corn Exchange into a scientific wonderland
“Throughout the planning, we had to be mindful about our limited budget, paring every item down to ensure we didn’t overspend but retained the ‘wow’ factor. I’d like thank all our suppliers who understood the spirit of what we were trying to achieve, within the overall financial challenge.
“Meet Cambridge provided outstanding support. Our relationship started several years ago with Judith Sloane helping to arrange venue visits, assisting with finding suppliers through their network or by accompanying us to national events such as Confex where we could source companies. Throughout, they were there at the end of the telephone, helping with contacts and meeting challenges as they occurred.”
Over the weekend, BRAINFest attracted more than 3,000 visitors – 1,000 on Saturday and 1,500 on Sunday with an additional 350 attending the Friday evening Showcase and 400 coming along to the Saturday evening event. Comments included: ‘Great informative events for all levels of knowledge', ‘Awesome, amazing, fantastic’, and ’Brilliant, the best!’ Visitors rated their overall experience an impressive 4.8 out of 5. Almost 50% came from central Cambridge postcodes, 24% outer Cambridge and 28% from outside the city altogether. More than 40% had never attended a University event before, and the largest group of visitors were families with children. Dervila concludes: “BRAINFest exceeded all our expectations and we were delighted with the results. Huge thanks go to our venues, sponsors, partners, suppliers, neuroscientists and all those people who attended. Going forward we would like to make this a bi-annual event”.
Image Credit: Cambridge Neuroscience
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