Festival 13

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The North West Astronomy Festival 2013

The North West Astronomy Festival took place on Saturday and Sunday the 26th and 27th of October 2013 at The Heath in Runcorn. The first event of its kind in the North of England can, without doubt, claim to have been a great success. With a wide variety of activities, stalls and displays, there was something for all ages, interests and experiences, turning The Heath into a spectacle of stars, planets and space!

The thing that was so great about NWAF was the diverse age range of people attending, all brought together by one common passion - their love of astronomy.

Runcorn is an excellent location being equidistant from Manchester, Liverpool and Chester and is a neutral position in the centre of the North West area of regional clubs. With a plentiful supply of hotels close to the event venue and in easy reach of the motorway and rail network, it is an ideal location for a regional event. Some feedback suggested that being in a more public area in a town centre would be beneficial to attract passing visitors. However, this must be balanced with the ease of accessibility of an out of town location.

  • Thank you to #NWAF2013 for a superbly organised, brilliant start to what will evolve in to an amazing event... 
  • Having an absolute blast at @NWAstroFest2013! Have met so many lovely people. Really looking forward to tonight's social event!

The Heath as a festival venue received impressive feedback, from traders, presenters and visitors; there was a unanimously positive response with particular reference made to the space, light, layout and facilities. Particularly important was the extensive free parking – something in seriously short supply at many events and conferences in city centres.  The events hall, lecture theatre and additional smaller rooms meant that we were able to create individual activity zones, which added to the experience for visitors.  Foodini restaurant provided a space to escape and refuel and the sofas were a popular with tired visitors. The disabled facilities were good and access was commented upon favourably.

North West Astronomy Festival Scopes
I just wanted to say a couple of things about the festival this weekend. Firstly a huge thank you for organising this event, it really was amazing considering this was the first, hopefully the first of many more to come  Secondly, it was brilliant to engage with so many people about a subject we are all passionate about and hope that others enjoyed it as much as we did.

The Presentations

The presentations were the talking point of the event with so many people mentioning the variety, the quality and particularly how accessible they were for all. Sheila Kanini launched the festival and sessions in the lecture theatre in style, with a hugely popular presentation ‘A Solar System Family Portrait’. Mark Thomson increased his fan club with his wonderful talk ‘A Down to Earth Guide to the Cosmos’ and after the presentation, Mark signed many copies of his book of the same name, for delighted visitors. Mark also took part in Astronomers Question Time, alongside the other presenters, chaired very ably by Dr Joanna Jarvis from the Open University, not an easy job with such an enthusiastic and talkative panel and audience!

Home after a fabulous two days at the North West Astronomy Festival - many thanks to everyone who contributed to make our first Festival brilliant!

 

Nick Howes shared his incredible comet knowledge and enthusiasm in ‘A Tail of Two Comets’ - a story with actions! As an added bonus, Nick presented the very latest data on Comet ISON and followed up his presentation with a mini comet workshop. A practical demonstration of making a comet by Andrew during Nick's presentation, made a great double act! We had a fascinating and emotional account of his visit to the VLT and Atacama Desert by Gary Fildes Director of the Kielder Observatory.

A fantastic line up of speakers from all walks of life, brought talks full to the top with knowledge and brimming over with inspiration, and also provided the chance to ask questions in a non pressured environment which was an awesome achievement.

Andy Newsam from JMLU was his usual very entertaining self with an educational talk about the National Schools Observatory and their work. His fascinating presentation ‘Exploring the Dynamic Universe’ concluded the presentation sessions at this year’s festival.

 Traders

The traders were delighted with the amount of space and the variety of trade stands and the layout of the events hall. From telescopes to NASA memorabilia and space T shirts and mugs to books and magazines, there was something for everyone!

The stands in the main hall from a wide range of organisations, meant there was something for any astronomer, meteorite hunter or collector to enjoy, a place for any questions to be answered, to meet people and the atmosphere was just incredible.

Whilst we may not have had the number of visitors we would have liked, traders reported a real advantage in having time to talk to customers, spend time advising and discussing what they were looking for and building ongoing relationships with those people buying astronomy equipment.

They have also told us that it was the first time that they had actually had time to talk to other traders and have recognised a need to work together to provide a complimentary range of items, each taking a specific area of the market, rather than being in competition with each other. Indeed, so good were the building of relationships that they have formed a Traders Committee for the festival in 2014 and together will fund the national advertising and publicity campaign for the 2014 festival.

Amazing  event! You guys put a huge amount of effort into making it so good. Thank you for an amazing weekend!! Loved it! 🙂
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North West Astronomy Festival Main Hall

Education and Outreach

The education and outreach teams were kept very busy with a lively and enthusiastic audience.  STFC outreach counted 150 people in their Stardome on Saturday and a further 150 on the Sunday, with many young children getting their first experience of a dark night sky.

The children had a great afternoon! Made rockets, made Top Trumps cards, designed constellations, guessed the weight of a meteorite, and were blown away by the space lab planetarium! And learned about plasma, static, galaxies, how to find the North Star, and about sun telescopes. Wow! Thank you for organising what was a brilliant day!

JMLU outreach and UKSEDS had a fantastic time entertaining both young and old and the STEM students street science captivated many with their close-up, hands on experience of science. Women Rock Science and UKWIAN were hugely popular – wonderful to see so many young girls interested in astronomy – astronomers and astronauts of the future.

The talks were all fantastic - so interesting and educational. Having the presenters at the social event was lovely and getting the chance to meet Mark Thompson and Nick Howes was truly awesome.

And how popular were the meteorites? They fascinated both the children and adults alike and being able to actually see and touch stunning objects from space proved a big hit! Gerard Gilligan, Hon Secretary of Liverpool Astronomical Society represented the BAA Dark Skies Campaign, enlightening many visitors to the wonders of a truly dark sky and how we can all play a part in the campaign, along with Robert Ince from the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory showcasing an amazing dark sky site not so far from the North West of England.

We had wonderful stands from Astro for Fun and The Astronomy Centre, with Mid-Cheshire, Blackpool, Salford Astronomical Societies representing the local clubs and we were lucky enough for some breaks in the clouds to enjoy the awesome Solar Scope from Keele Observatory. And the raffle proved hugely popular with many staying until the end of Sunday to see who would win the meteorite – very pleased that it was won by a teacher from a local school who is hopefully going to share it with her pupils!

Very pleased to have won a pair of binoculars in the raffle - it's perfect timing for viewing comet Ison!

Tweetup was enjoyed by many people who regularly tweet and follow each other yet have never met. Both professional and amateurs were able to identify each other in the Tweetup Cafe and many have remarked how good it was to put a face to a twitter identity and to be able to talk face to face.

Summary

Over the two days around 400 people of all ages, enjoyed the festival both professional, expert, amateurs and beginner astronomers, with about 70 people enjoying the Saturday evening meal and entertainment and witnessing festival presenters and staff "Flash Mob" a rendition of Space Oddity, inspired by Chris Hadfield in the ISS.

Thanks for a wonderful weekend. I travelled down from Pitlochry, Perthshire, and it was definitely worth the 5 hour drive!! Looking forward to next year!

Perhaps for us, the greatest success comes from the relationships, collaborations and joint projects that have come out of the meetings that occurred at the festival. There are some very exciting discussions going on and it seems that the legacy from 2013 will still be seen well into next year.

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who gave their time and support to the festival. The presenters, our volunteers who worked tirelessly all weekend and students from the local schools, college and university – we could not have done this without you. The message for next year is loud and very clear – more of the same (and no... we do not have the energy to run it more than once a year - despite pleas from more than one visitor)!

An excellent event, brilliantly organised by Sue and Andrew (lovely to finally meet you!) best of luck for the future and thank you for an amazing weekend!

The main task for next year is to double the visitor numbers and on this point we have already started work in collaboration with a number of organisations and potential sponsors. We do not want to lose the atmosphere – something we have heard over and over again from everyone who took part in the festival. So the challenge is to keep it interesting and original and whilst recognising the pressures to grow bigger and better, we want to retain the ‘festival’ feel, the intimacy and personal feel that this year’s festival achieved.

"Now we can add the NW Astronomy Festival to our calendar and we are already looking forward to next year's event!"