Bloomsbury Festival 2013

Ideas Salon at The Bloomsbury Festival 2013

This case study outlines the learning from the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s contribution to the Bloomsbury festival.

The Bloomsbury Festival is an annual, free celebration taking place across Bloomsbury. It was a programme of over 200 cultural events and activities taking place over 6 days (15-20th October 2013).

The festival aimed to showcase art, music, dance and literature in order to celebrate the area’s unique cultural identity and creative history.

This was the first time a cohesive public engagement programme has been co-ordinated by the UCL Public Engagement Unit (PEU) within the Bloomsbury Festival. This case study identifies key findings from the activities and makes recommendations for future events.

Aims for the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s contribution to the Bloomsbury Festival in 2013:

  • Create specific opportunities for public engagement at UCL
  • Expand audience and recruit new researchers for existing public engagement activities at UCL
  • Increase understanding of UCL as a entity where engagement can happen
  • Develop UCL’s role in the Bloomsbury community


  • Run 3 public engagement activities through the Public Engagement Unit
  • Support 3 two-way activities going on elsewhere at UCL through advice and funding
  • Offer advice on other activities going on at UCL during the festival
  • Work with 1 local community group on activities

The UCL Public Engagement Unit (PEU) contributed to the festival through a series of events and activities targeting a range of audiences (for example, local residents, local workers, community groups, and festival attendees).

These activities were organised over a range of locations within Bloomsbury:

  • The Ideas Salon - 12 discussion sessions led by UCL academics, attended by 234 people, spread over the weekend of the festival
  • Bloomsbury Walks and Talks- one location based talk lead by Professor Philip Schofield (UCL Laws) and one walking tour led by Dr Carole Reeves (UCL Science and Technology Studies), attended by 40 people
  • Bite-Sized Bloomsbury - 3 short lectures by UCL researchers held in Wellbeing of Women, attended by 13 local workers
  • Night of Light - light installation organized by Dr Kevin Mansfield, (Bartlett School of Graduate Studies) and MSc Light and Lighting students, for the opening night of the festival, attended by approximately 100 people

We also supported the following activities:

  • The Natural History of Poo - coordinated by Dr Lena Ciric (UCL Civil Environmental and Geomatic Engineering), attended by approximately 150 people
  • Sandwich Street a Tasty Performance, coordinated by Dr Marina Chang (UCL Civil Environmental and Geomatic Engineering), attended by approximately 100 people
  • Museum Mile Showoff, coordinated by Dr Steve Cross (PEU), at the UCL Grant Museum, attended by approximately 100 people

The evaluation was designed and delivered by UCL Public Engagement Unit's Evaluation Officer, with support from colleagues, and used the following methods: observations, a log book, open response (for example, a graffiti table cloth) for festival goers; and email feedback and interviews following the event, with a sample of UCL participants, to capture feedback and experiences.

The Bloomsbury Festival offered a valuable opportunity for UCL to engage directly with its neighbours in Bloomsbury. The public engagement programme provided an accessible route, for the audiences, into a range of subjects whilst promoting teaching and research happening at UCL. The organised activities showcased what UCL as an institution can offer not only as an academic body but as a cultural and creative institution: reinforcing UCL’s role in the Bloomsbury community.

The festival also offered a chance for the researchers involved to develop their understanding of PE and the kinds of audiences that are interested in engaging with university research.

UCL’s contribution to the Bloomsbury Festival was varied, in both subject matter and format; this variety offered something for everyone: as a result a range of audiences (for example, young people, local residents, local workers, community groups) attended the events.

Integrating UCL’s offer into an established festival provided a route to a new, public audience. This model also saved “time and worry” on the part of the contributors who would normally have to draw in their own audiences.

The Bloomsbury Festival established meaningful new connections, and reinforced existing ones, between UCL and local organisations/cultural institutions and between staff and students within UCL. However, it was felt that more could have been done to work with local community groups – UCL's Public Engagement Unit did not manage to work with a community group in the way initially envisaged.

All contributors were committed, enthusiastic and many respondents acknowledged the importance of contributing to the Bloomsbury Festival. For example, this was articulated by one participant who stated “It was good to contribute to the local community, to demonstrate that UCL was not stuck in an ivory tower and that the talent of the students could be displayed to the general public”.

Most respondents commented upon how the experience was enjoyable and inspiring. The interactive nature of the events was commented upon, for example one contributor stated “I really enjoyed the discussion and wouldn't change any of the format or arrangements”. Another UCL academic noted “It is both fun and interesting to get feedback as well. Some of the most interesting questions come from people from a very different background. It is also our responsibility to discuss the research we are doing”. However, a quote from another contributor succinctly sums up the general feeling: “a worthwhile exercise”.

In summary, the programme succeeded in meeting aims and objectives that were set. We have received positive comments from speakers and contributors.

  • Total cost: £8,603 (£2,385 for activities led by UCL's Public Engagement Unit; £5,000 funding for Sandwich Street; and £1,218 funding for the Natural History of Poo)
  • 67 UCL students and staff at all academic levels were involved in UCL’s contribution to the festival
  • 29 staff and 38 students from 21 UCL departments participated
  • Over 730 people attended UCL activities during the festival

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