The very first Somerscience Festival! Save the day: Monday May 1 2023

All images courtesy of the festival

Colleen Bower has a mission. With her background in education, she is concerned that young people in South Somerset – a largely rural population – are missing out on experience of, and access to, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM subjects). Over time, she has got together with local councillors and many organisations and businesses – 65 and rising – to tackle this issue.

She kicks off her mission with a family science festival on 1 May in centres in Bruton and Castle Cary, at 12 venues across the two towns. Free shuttle buses will run continuously, throughout the day, between these sites. The festival is aimed at the whole family, from young children (start them early!) through the school years and including accompanying adults and students. There will be something for everyone.

Youngsters who wish to further their interest in science will usually find that this involves travelling to Bath, Bristol or other large cities. Without access to the sort of resources and experiences afforded to children in cities, it is hard for rural kids to be inspired and to see the relevance of STEM in their lives.

Colleen’s one-day event has a packed programme, with 65 organisations currently involved, providing 85 different activities. These fall into 5 groups:

  • Hands-on workshops. Options include making and coding your own robot, designing and building a balloon powered car, and learning how the brain combines science and art – culminating in making your own piece of string art.
  • Free shows. Among other options: help Juanita the clown towards a plastic-free world, in hilarious and ridiculous ways – no need to book, just turn up.
  • Talks by experts in their field include ‘A Day in the Life of a Vet’ and ‘How Whales Lost their Legs’.
  • The Science Dome includes ‘Incredible Oceans’, ‘Operation Earth’ and ‘Hack your Brain’.
  • The Health Hub. Here you can play doctors and nurses with professional diagnostic equipment and explore all the other jobs there are within the NHS.

There is so much more from which to choose, including many that will have more appeal for older visitors. All the events are free, and most do not need to be booked in advance, though some will be first-come-first-served.

In 2022 the British Science Association reported that South Somerset has a gap in the provision of STEM engagement opportunities, which puts it in the bottom 10 of 387 local authority areas nationally. Given that 30 per cent of this area’s business activity is STEM-related it is no surprise that local employers are reporting that there is a skills gap. Young people are not being switched on early enough to the possibilities of careers in the sciences. Maybe they don’t see scientists and engineers as being cool? There is a pressing need to promote the real life opportunities for employment in these areas at as young an age as possible, as well as to demonstrate the possibilities for fun.

Somerscience Festival is planned as an annual event and other local STEM organisations are already waiting to join in with the 2024 event. For more information, visit the Somerscience website where you will find useful links including ‘Steps into STEM’ which covers materials and opportunities to keep the story alive. You can also visit the Somerscience Facebook page for helpful links and information.

The team: L to R: Colleen Bower, Darren Wilson, Mark Ebdon and Eve Anderton