Linda Conlon

Member Article

‘The future of science is in our hands’ from Linda Conlon, Chief Executive, Centre for Life and Chair, NewcastleScienceFest

If this doesn’t get kids switched onto Science, then I don’t know what will!“ This unbridled enthusiasm wasn’t prompted by the latest television series from Brian Cox, but by a North East initiative that’s grown from small beginnings in 2003 to a nationally recognised festival. This year’s Newcastle ScienceFest proved to be the most successful to date with over 60,000 people taking part in the six day event, breaking attendance records at main venues and giving a clear indication of the public’s appetite for science.

“Not so very long ago, Newcastle was synonymous with coal mining, shipbuilding, and heavy engineering. The demise of these traditional industries left painful scars as the region struggled to find a new future. Almost 50 years later, Newcastle has emerged as a city of science with a world-class reputation. The world’s first human embryo was cloned here and the city’s research is regularly published in international science journals,” explains Linda Conlon.

“Science is part of our culture and our path to a brighter future for the region. However, to maintain this momentum, it is essential to engage our next generation, to nurture talent and to showcase the opportunities and careers that science can offer up.”

NewcastleScienceFest does this. It seeks to foster a culture where science is celebrated, to increase scientific literacy and to encourage the next generation to consider a science-related career and encourage the local population to become part of the city’s continued scientific achievement.

In the last three years, 160,000 people of all ages, backgrounds and interests have taken part in ScienceFest. The statistics are compelling: 86% of all attendees plan to talk about the event or the subject explored to friends, family or colleagues; 78% of all participants would like to attend similar events in the future and 43% plan to actively research the subject topic online as a result of attending a festival event. 1616 people gained accredited skills which would help them in future employment, (this includes over 200 volunteers who assisted in the delivery of the programme) and 62 businesses also actively benefited.

But beyond the facts and figures, ScienceFest offers a valuable opportunity to put a spotlight on science in a very special way: creating an event which is innovative, playful, creative and celebratory; a festival which brings together thousands of people. To quote another attendee, “Newcastle is a better place for ScienceFest.”

The headline event of the 2011 festival was the third UK Maker Faire. This celebration of the Do-It-Yourself movement has its roots in the United States with Newcastle being the only European venue. Maker Faire has become a highlight in the national events calendar attracting 14,000 visitors, 300 exhibiting makers (who showcased their creative innovations – including robotics, electronics, 3d printing, craft, smart-textiles etc.) and bringing significant numbers of overnight city break visitors to Newcastle.

We have been lucky enough to have substantial support from the Regional Development Agency over the last eight years but sadly this funding has come to an end.

Ironically, at a time when the response to the festival has been overwhelming, there is now a question mark over its future. However, the thousands of people who attended and the feedback we have received gives a clear message – people are very keen to find out more about science and technology if information is presented to them in an accessible and exciting way. This is what ScienceFest, and especially Maker Faire, is all about.

Newcastle is now widely accepted as a city that has been able to reinvent itself. A city of Science needs a science festival.

Linda Conlon ( is chief executive of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne and Chair of NewcastleScienceFest

Newcastle ScienceFest is delivered in partnership with the Centre for Life, The Wellcome Trust, Tyne and Wear Museums, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, Newcastle City Council, Newcastle NE1 (Business Improvement Company), Beacon North East, Newcastle Science City and NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s world-class programme of festivals and events.

NB: If you would like to help NewcastleScienceFest continue, please get in touch. Partnership and collaboration have always been central to ScienceFest’s success. Without it, a festival that is contributing greatly to the region economically, socially and culturally, will be consigned to history. Please contact Sheela Joy, Project Co-ordinator, Life Science Centre. Tel (0191) 243 82 92 or email

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Linda Conlon .

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