Festival 15

North West Astronomy Festival 2015

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Early trials and tribulations

Festival 2015 faced considerable challenges, from the very beginning. We announced the dates hot on the heels of the 2014 festival and booked in our presenters and supporters for our usual early October dates. However, we were to discover just a few weeks later, that another major astronomy event in the UK was changing its dates to the same weekend. After consultation with traders, ambassadors, presenters and loyal supporters, we felt strongly that we did not want our event to run in competition and that we should move to June. This gave the astro world supporters a better spread of activities throughout the year and avoid conflicts for traders and supporters who would usually attend both events.

Whilst we felt that a summer event could be beneficial to the festival and would open up opportunities for promoting solar observing, the downside was that it left us just 7 months to organise the event and we lost some key players, who already had holiday commitments.

Not to be deterred, we contacted presenters and started to draw our programme together. We were left with insufficient time to have a fully developed programme before the launch at the European AstroFest in London so we opened online bookings with the Saturday and weekend VIP tickets. This was something of potluck for those early buyers who did not know who or what they would get to see when they bought their ticket! However, their faith in what we would produce was astounding and we sold more VIP tickets than the previous 2 years! We would like to thank all of you who supported us so admirably in what could have been a truly terrible time but was turned to our advantage.

Presenters

What an awesome crew with their 3 year support for our event and being the underpinning base for a brilliant festival for our visitors. This year we really did have a great time with incredible presentations from the delightful Will Gater, People’s Astronomer Mark Thompson, astro-photographer extraordinaire Damien Peach, loyal and ever popular Nick Howes and a special guest appearance from BBC Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott. Chris particularly wanted to present this year but is unable to commit to dates because of his BBC demands. When he knew that he was able to come we added him to the programme for our loyal VIP ticket holders, as an added extra as a thank you for their support.

Clubs and Societies

We were especially pleased to see so many of our local clubs and societies present at this year’s festival. With our own RAW (Runcorn & Widnes) astronomers, Mid Cheshire, Liverpool, Blackpool, Edington, Macclesfield, Central Lancashire and Shropshire providing hands on help, advice and support to old, new and budding astronomers. We were delighted with the increase in number of clubs and especially happy that we are now truly representing the North West astronomy world.

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Trade

We have unfortunately lost Astronomia from our line up of traders, sad for us as Neil and Adele provided an excellent Astro beginner, free presentation series. However Neil and Co from Tring Astronomy and John from Peak 2 Valley generously provided an exceptional cross section and selection of both equipment and help and advice. We are truly grateful for their continued support.

Space Collective have supported each and every one of our events and we welcomed them back this year and are deeply grateful to the Astronomy Now magazine team for their support, publicity and presence at the festival.

In addition, we were able to offer book signings (very pleased to have Mark Thomson’s brand new book) and our regulars - the Astrodome Star Show kindly provided by STFC, meteorites galore with BIMS and stunning astro jewellery from Dianne at Dark Skies Jewellery.

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Our Visitors

We achieved broadly the same number of ticket sales this year, although sold many more online VIP tickets which is excellent news for the festivals future. The feedback we have received has been staggering and people seem to be having a really great time – we think that the atmosphere and the balance of activities is just the right blend.

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Gifts galore

The presenters were absolutely delighted with their miniature hand crafted (by local RAW astronomer) telescopes – truly ‘unique’ in addition the presenters received Astrofarm vouchers, also given to our amazing Ambassadors who keep the whole show running. We were utterly thrilled with our painting of our Wigg Island Centre, whose keys we had just returned after a wonderful year and a half enjoying its fantastic position and facilities. Tough time to stay dry eyed!

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The young people

The highlight for us this year was being able to present our young people with their Diplomas in Living and Life Skills. The Northwest Astronomy Festival has provided additional funding for our programme for disengaged young people from Halton and it was with great delight that we were able to share their success with guests in the lecture theatre in a short video followed by certificate presentations from Chris Lintott. They also thoroughly enjoyed the evening supper and behaved beautifully.

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Clubs and Societies

We were especially pleased to see so many of our local clubs and societies present at this year’s festival. With our own RAW (Runcorn & Widnes) astronomers, Mid Cheshire, Liverpool, Blackpool, Edington, Macclesfield, Central Lancashire and Shropshire providing hands on help, advice and support to old, new and budding astronomers. We were delighted with the increase in number of clubs and especially happy that we are now truly representing the North West astronomy world.

Other Hilights

The new summer dates now provide a wide range of opportunities to take the festival outside and get visitors involved and the weather treated us kindly with our solar observing expert Gary Palmer able to share his awesome images with the public. Astro4fun, Nigel Marshall from Mickledore publishing and Nicholas Mee among our loyal support network with new faces Peter Clarke and ‘Solarsphere’ who are presenting a music and astronomy extravaganza in Wales in August and and a first visit by the World Museums Liverpool Planetarium Team.

UKWIAN, now being admirably run by Mary Spicer, provided an incredible display of photographs from women astronomers around the UK and our ‘unique’ raffle was again a huge success; as was breakfast/brunch meet up on Sunday morning in Foodini.

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Onwards and Upwards

First of all Andrew and Sue would like to allay all fears that 2015 would be the last festival. Rumours were circulating that there would be no more NWAF as 2 days after this year’s event; we set off for France to start work on TKO FR Astrofarm! However, nothing could be further from the truth. All the systems, processes, website, ticket sales etc are now in place and so we will still be coordinating activities from France. We took the opportunity at the festival to propose to the clubs, societies, traders, VIP ticket holders and our regular supporters, that the festival becomes a community event and many more people become involved with the on the ground pre-festival organising and marketing and publicity. We have proposed that the festival become a ‘stand-alone not for profit’ event with all monies being put back in to grow the event in the future, whilst still being organised by The Knowledge Observatory. The propositions were received very positively and it is widely felt that a greater variety of traders and activities to encourage families, along with localised and coordinated publicity will help to draw in many more new visitors. We were delighted with positive response and the feeling that many people were on board and keen to make the festival even better.

2016

Plans are already underway for next year’s festival to include many more hands-on science and space activities, workshops and talks especially for all the family. 2016 will be a 3 day event on the 1st 2nd and 3rd of July with the Friday of the event being a conference in partnership with LJMU, Saturday our presentations day and Sunday the family activity day. We will also launch the first art and photography competition to be judged by the Uk’s leading names in the world of astronomy. With both adult and under 16 categories, there will be something for everyone. Look out for details in local schools and clubs early next year. We are always open for ideas and suggestions for next year and will be asking for your input at regular intervals over the next few months. We will use our Facebook page to post and interact and will also be delighted with email/twitter ideas which we will then share.

Andrew and Sue July 20