Last weekend saw the latest instalment of Leeds University’s ‘Be Curious’ event, a day festival which invites attendees to ‘find out, explore and investigate’.
What is particularly interesting about this event is that it is aimed to those who are not academics or students, and aims to entice those locally onto campus to learn about the University’s research and achievements. Last year saw more than 1,000 people attend the event, a testament both to the university’s investment in the local community, and also to the curiosity of people in the local area.The festival boasted an extensive programme of workshops, talks and demonstrations, with their focus ranging from history and science to culture and the arts.
Dr Charlotte Haigh, academic lead for public engagement at the university, said: “Be Curious is about inviting people to have fun and find out more about the world-leading research happening at the university. This year we’re focusing the relevance of our research to people across the world, with events for people of all ages”.
Whilst Dr Haigh emphasis the worldwide relevance of the event, it is worth noticing the sense of locality which underpinned much of the festival programme.
One workshop paid attention to the impact of Brexit on the community relations in Northern towns, paying special attention to how the vote could damage inter-ethnic relations, a second talk examined the current air quality in Leeds and how individuals and companies could make a concerted effort to improve it, and elsewhere it was highlighted how investments in cycling infrastructure could improve the city. Whilst the event did have a global outlook, the relevance of these world-changing ideas were contextualised for West Yorkshire. The ‘Be Curious’ event is very important in the current climate for two important reasons.
Firstly, only through educating those who live in Leeds will we see change across the city. The progression of our society may be orchestrated often by those in government in academia but it requires the choice of local individuals to execute this. It’s all well and good showing that a change in cycling infrastructure could help reduce emissions, but unless this is conveyed to someone who drives a short distance to work each day, then it is pointless. Secondly, we are currently living in troubling times for academia. With the rise of the Trump administration and the ‘fake news’ phenomenon it brings, as well as the spreading of misinformation through social media channels, there is a rising disdain for academics and academia. Events like this can work to restore the trust of the public.
* Reece Parker, Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University.