Summer 2017 round 2: STEAM, NUCLEUS, Film Festival and the Annual Gathering

It wasn’t just the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas happening over the summer – the Beltane Network has also been busy with the below!


Men and women sitting around white round tables looking at a large piece of paper

STEAM dialogue workshop in action

At the end of July, Beltane’s Heather Rea was in Greece, teaching on an intensive 10-day summer school in science communication. The summer school, STEAM, aims to incorporate the arts into the traditional science communication model – it puts the A in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths)!

STEAM puts a big focus on interactive activities, informal learning and creativity. Heather’s role has been to teach dialogue and deliberation theory and techniques, as well as introducing STEAM students to engagement through the medium of stand-up comedy via Bright Club. STEAM students come from all over Europe, including several each year from Edinburgh, and some grants are available to cover attendance.

The call to take part in STEAM 2018 – and apply for a grant – will be out this winter, so watch this space!

Soapbox Science 2017

On Saturday 22nd July, female scientific researchers from across Scotland took to their soapboxes on Edinburgh’s historic Mound, next to the National Galleries, to share their passion for science with the public. Part of the UK-wide Soapbox Science programme, the Edinburgh event was organised by Edinburgh Napier’s Dawn Smith and Clare Taylor, and featured a crocheted placenta, a cuddly sperm and a giant pill box!

Partnership with the Edinburgh International Film Festival

This summer was the third time that we worked with the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) on a programme of activities involving researchers. Once again, the programme was supported by funding the Film Festival had secured from the Wellcome Trust. The fivestrands of activity were:

  • Ideas Lab: An intensive networking event for 6 researchers and 6 comedy screenwriters
  • Youth Hub filmmaking challenge: Researchers provide content to inspire short films
  • Laugh Off learning event: A researcher worked with a presenter to explain the science behind laughter
  • What is Comedy For?: Panel discussion featuring an academic researcher

Additionally, throughout the year, the EIFF Screenwriter-in-Residence, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, met with researchers at Edinburgh’s universities to gain inspiration from their work, and will hopefully communicate some of it through her future screenplays. We’re delighted that a new resident screenwriter has now been announced – Nicole Taylor. There’ll be opportunities to meet with Nicole during 2017/18 – sign up to our mailing list to stay informed.

Woman holding up a piece of flipchart paper with another woman and a man looking on

NUCLEUS in Tbilisi, Georgia


Heather was in Malta and Georgia in June, getting their University’s senior staff on board for responsible research and innovation, using insights gained through work on the Beltane partnership in Edinburgh. This wider sharing of best practice is being encouraged by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement through, for example, its Watermark scheme.

Annual Gathering

Last but not least…

The Beltane Annual Gathering took place on Friday 9th June 2017. This event, which has taken place every year since 2009, has three purposes:

  • To celebrate the public engagement undertaken by Edinburgh’s universities
  • To share best practice in public engagement (by and with universities)
  • To inspire new public engagement activity

Neon fun at Chesser House

Historically, most of the Gathering events have focused on bringing university staff and research students together with key individuals from external organisations who already work with Edinburgh’s universities at an institutional level. In 2017, we wanted the Gathering to involve people who had never worked with universities in Edinburgh before.  With the revisitation of the Beltane partnership, we were keen to show that Edinburgh’s universities were friendly, accessible and ready to engage!

The event ran from 10am until 8pm. During the day, participants had a chance to attend free engagement skills workshops on subjects like working with Syrian families, creative thinking, schools engagement, poetry, storytelling and evidencing impact. During the evening, there was a chance to share work through informal show-and-tell formats, fuelled by excellent food from the Punjabi Junction social enterprise!

The unusual venue – Chesser House, a former Edinburgh Council office in the west of the city – was chosen for several reasons. First of all, we wanted to get as far away as possible from the traditional university setting; second, we wanted to try and engage community organisations working in and around Chesser House at that time; third, we wanted to show how, with a bit of flexibility, a space not designed for events could still work for engagement activities – a real-life challenge researchers may face. We worked in partnership with creative producer Lisa Thompson to dress the venue and make it an engaging place.

There was a great deal of interest in attending the event, and we believe we engaged some organisations with Edinburgh’s universities at an institutional level for the first time, including Big Hearts, the official charity of Heart of Midlothian F.C..