Thousands log in for digital Cheltenham Science Festival @ Home

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42,000 people logged on to Cheltenham Science Festival @ Home last week, enjoying free virtual events exploring the wonders of everyday science. The six-day festival took place on Cheltenham Festivals YouTube channel from 2-7 June and is available for 30 days until 7 July. During the first 7 days the Festival was viewed 115,000 times.

Appearing at the Festival were leading scientists and thinkers including Brian Cox, Liz Bonnin, GCHQ Director, Jeremy Fleming, Brian Greene, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Jim Al-Khalili, Helen Czerski, Martin Rees and many more, who took part in more than 50 talks, workshops and live Q&A sessions.

Delivering the Festival posed a logistical challenge to the Cheltenham Science Festival team. Just as the full programme had been finalised and put to bed, the announcement came that the country would go into lockdown. The team quickly arranged to record talks and discussions by the speakers from their homes, and around 60 hours of footage was edited into six day-long streams.

“We wanted to turn the situation into a positive and reach a new audience. With a digital festival there’s no physical or financial barrier: you don’t have to be in Cheltenham and you don’t have to buy a ticket. We are very grateful to our partners for their support and to everyone who continues to donate to our Crowdfunder appeal so that we can come back next year.”

Marieke Navin, Head of Programming

The Family Shows streamed at 10am were particularly popular, reaching 1,500 viewers at their peak. Daily talks on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals hosted by BBC presenter Greg Foot attracted engaged debate on the live chat, with many people coming back each day to hear more from UK Research and Innovation experts about how UK science is making a difference in tackling global challenges. 7,600 people watched Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw live.

Greg Foot hosted the UK final of the international science communication competition, FameLab, live from his home studio. Rebecca Ellis, a student at Swansea University scooped the overall title and the audience prize with a powerful and engaging spoken-word poem about autism. Rebecca, who is autistic herself, researches care pathways for children with the condition for her PhD.

Appreciation for the Festival was expressed on social media and YouTube. One live chat comment said: “Thanks [for] globalizing free scientific content. Love to Cheltenham’s Science Fest from Nepal.” An audience member commented: ““We are loving the Science @ Home program so far – chocolate, sweets and the science of smell! Disability has prevented me attending events with my kids in past years but this morning we have experienced much appreciated equality of access. Thank you!”

Donors have pledged £6,700 via Crowdfunder and the Festival is hopeful of exceeding its target of £10,000 when the appeal ends on 7 July.

Stories from the Festival made the national news including Jeremy Fleming’s comments on cyber attacks on the NHS; Suzi Gage highlighting the dangers of vaping from hazardous bacteria; and the impact of Covid on conservation projects.