‘Science is for Everybody’ proclaims a 10 day celebration that takes place every year in the East Devon town of Sidmouth.

In 2022, there were over 6,000 attendances in around 80 activities during the Sidmouth Science Festival, a popular event which has been running for over a decade.

As well as introducing science to all, the festival’s aim is, ‘to promote curiosity in the young, to inspire them to consider a STEM (Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering) career in a rapidly changing employment market in addition to encouraging self-confessed non-scientists to engage with science in fun ways, including art, drama and music and hands-on activities.’

And it’s not just for youngsters, because all ages are encouraged to attend, indeed some of the expert talks are designed to appeal to those looking for something technically challenging.

Great British Life: Rocket launching at Sidmouth Science Festival: Photo: Kyle BakerRocket launching at Sidmouth Science Festival: Photo: Kyle Baker

One of the organising team, Liz Bramley, confesses that some of the talks ‘have been very scientific and have gone over my head’, but she goes on to say that what she has learned over the years has been fascinating.

‘There is so much that’s so interesting,’ she says, recalling a talk last year which was a look behind the story of the colour blue.

Liz is a retired music teacher, so no science background, but she says science affects every part of all our lives. ‘Science is for everybody. Everything is backed by science, everything you do, what you see...’

The festival started in 2007 as a weekend of science-based activities, emerging from a Sustainable Sidmouth group.

The group was trying to find new ways of encouraging residents to be more sustainable. ‘Someone suggested we needed a new approach, and then the idea came - how about a science festival?’ says Liz.

Great British Life: Fascinating displays for young minds at Sidmouth Science Festival: Photo: Kyle BakerFascinating displays for young minds at Sidmouth Science Festival: Photo: Kyle Baker

The group of volunteers, which included a pharmacist, an ex professor of electronics, and an engineer organised two days of events and created what was to go on to become a 10 day festival extravaganza, packed with talks and activities. The organising team now consists of around 20 individuals, who are all mostly scientists, and around 100 more people who join in to help over the festival period. Everyone who is involved is a volunteer. They want this to be as much as possible a free event, and so the hard task of finding funding has to take place every year.

Past speakers have included statistician David Spiegelhalter, science writer Simon Singh and space scientist Professor Monica Grady. The speakers are often invited through connections to one of the organising team, or they have a Devon connection, or they simply can’t resist a visit to sunny Sidmouth - so they don’t need much encouragement, says Liz.

Crowds descend on the town for Super Science Saturday on the first weekend, where drop-in events take place across various venues – there’s the chance to get into optics, projectiles, chromatography, microscopes, maths, geology, weather forecasting and more. There’s also a visible presence in the streets which attracts attention - previous years have seen a dinosaur and a giant robot, but this year Darth Vader will be making an appearance.

Super science Saturday has proved very popular with families says Liz, as has the Sunday Family Funday at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, with all things astronomical, telescopes, rocket launching, the planetarium, storytelling and history walks. Sunday Family Funday is on October 15, this year and a highlight is bound to be the jet car racing.

Liz explains that contestants each get a square of cubed polystyrene, a stick axel and a set of wheels and they then decorate their ‘cars’ ready for racing. One of the festival team members then attaches a firework rocket to one end, they are launched and ‘race’ at speed along the path.

Great British Life: Geology exhibits are on display. Photo: Kyle BakerGeology exhibits are on display. Photo: Kyle Baker

The success of the festival has allowed it to expand and has led to extra activities, like robot building, taking place in local schools throughout the year – during British Science Week in March, for example. And it’s not just the schools, there’s a Café Scientific in town that holds one-off science-based talks and chats over coffee.

The festival is currently involved with 12 schools and there’s a school’s exhibition of art work, based on a science theme, displayed in Kennaway House. Last year the schools contributed more than 1,500 pieces of art work to the festival.

The long-running success of the festival is paying off in other ways too, as Liz says: ‘One good thing this year is a young man who came to the festival when he was at primary school. He went on to do a physics degree and now wants to come back and help at this year’s festival.’

As for the festival’s aim of encouraging children’s love of science, she says: ‘You only have to look at the photos and see the interest in children’s faces. It’s really good to see the children so excited.’

This year's festival runs from October 6 to 15. For the full programme and to reserve places for some events go to the website.