How we got started

I’m Rachel, Patient and Public Engagement Officer at HDR UK, and I was proud to lead HDR UK into their first science festival. Some might think that science festivals aren’t reaching disengaged, or underrepresented communities. However – likely in response to this – many science festivals are branching out and aiming to target these very communities.

Rachel Edwards looks on as two children take part in drawing actvity at the Humber Science FestivalIn a workshop earlier this year, I spoke to 24 HDR UK Voices public contributors about our draft public engagement strategy. There, we received feedback that we were London-centric and should provide more engagement opportunities across the four nations. After suggesting the idea of attending science festivals to the group, and later to our Public Advisory Board, it was agreed that we would pilot attendance to at least one festival across each nation, ensuring the English festival is held outside London.

After that, we set to work identifying festivals and activities we could attend in 2023. We put lots of ideas in front of our Public Advisory Board. They helped us shortlist our first festival location and the activities we’d take with us. We settled on the Humber Science Festival, thanks to Hull’s diverse community and the festival’s target to reach families who don’t usually engage with science.

Creating the activities

So, which activities did we create? We developed five, including a drawing activity inviting children to draw what they thought health data looked like, whilst we had a chat about health data with their parents and guardians. We also had a task for our adult audience too. We invited them to think about ‘What data is being collected about you right now?’.

Child tosses ring on to ring toss activityOur other three activities were targeted at everyone in the family! First, was our ‘Lego data sorting’ activity, where two competitors raced against the clock to sort our Lego by either colour, shape, or size. The fastest time each day won a Lego Hospital set.  Our ‘Guess How Many’ activity invited participants to guess how many cases of a health condition were represented in our pebble jar, with a chance to win one of three science prizes. Finally, we teamed up with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) by borrowing their Ring Toss. We tasked attendees with tossing rings onto coloured pegs to try and cure a heart condition.

On the day

The September weekend was absolutely glorious. I felt guilty for keeping our fantastic team inside. That didn’t stop them from getting stuck in though. We were worried that the weather would deter people from setting foot in our well-planned room, but we were very wrong! So many attended, despite the good weather, unfortunately, they were met with a lack of suitable ventilation. The heat hadn’t been anticipated in the risk assessment by us or the organisers. We did request a fan, however, due to a power outage elsewhere the organisers had their hands full. After some quick thinking, two of our team members scoured Hull and managed to find us a fan for Sunday. It had great impact too, with an attendee on Sunday saying, ‘This is the best room because it has a fan!’

Child plays with Lego in activity to sort the Lego fastestOver 3,000 people attended the festival as a whole and over 100 people entered our competitions. The feedback on our activities was phenomenal. The Lego was a firm favourite, with the Ring Toss a close second. Not all activities were as popular. Our ‘What data is being collected about you right now?’ activity was disengaging some people. We dropped the activity for Sunday and the day ran much smoother after that.

Despite some minor challenges, we had a great time! The supporting team, from across HDR UK, were enthusiastic, optimistic, and always had a smile on their face no matter what tasks they were faced with.

What’s next?

Couple compete against each other to toss rings on to the ring toss gameWe’ve completed a full review of the festival, including what worked, what didn’t, and why? How can we improve next time? We’re heading to the Northern Ireland (NI) Science Festival in next and we’re working with our close colleagues at HDR Northern Ireland. We aim to learn from our last festival and make it even better. If you’d like to meet up with us in Northern Ireland, we’ll be in Belfast from the 15th – 19th February. Won’t catch us there? Don’t worry, we plan on attending science festivals in Wales and Scotland too. We haven’t pinned down where we’ll be in Wales yet, but we’ll be at the Orkney International Science Festival in September 2024.

Get in touch

If you’d like to work with us, or just meet for a chat, please email us at You can also get in touch if you’d like to hear more about what we learned. We’re more than happy to work with others, share ideas and learn together!

Finally, at our festivals we also shared HDR UK Voices. It’s our growing network of people who want to use their voice to influence and shape our work. If you’re a member of the public, you can join the network using the link below. If you’d like to share involvement opportunities with our network, please email

Join HDR UK Voices