Institute of Physics’ ‘Creation and destruction: stories by the fire’

Institute of Physics’ ‘Creation and destruction: stories by the fire’

Institute of Physics’ ‘Creation and destruction: stories by the fire’

By Toby Shannon-Smith, public programmes manager at the Institute of Physics

Find out how the Institute of Physics brought the sciences and humanities together for an amazing public engagement event. Toby discusses the importance of collaborating with cultural partners and braving the outdoors in November to create a magical evening of storytelling by the fire. 

Where did we come from? Where are we going? These questions were explored through a very special night of storytelling organised by the Institute of Physics and hosted by Global Generation at the Skip Garden (a community garden space and kitchen made entirely of recycled building materials from the redevelopment of London’s King’s Cross area).

This event aimed to take a trans-disciplinary look at the big questions of the universe, from the perspectives of physicists and humanitarians, through the medium of storytelling. Using the unique atmosphere of the Skip Garden, we created a space where our attendees could enjoy these stories around a fire, while also enjoying seasonal food and drink – one of the most universally human experiences that we could offer!

As part of the Institute of Physics’ move to London’s King’s Cross area, we have been curating a diverse programme of talks and events in non-traditionally-physics spaces. From experiments in art galleries; crafts in community gardens; and talks in pubs, our event for the 2018 Being Human festival was part of our popular Science Café series. These events are aimed at adults who don’t typically attend science events in their spare time, in Islington, Camden and North London, and being part of the festival was strategically important for us to access this audience. We believe that physics is very much part of our shared culture and by partnering with other cultural organisations, such as the festival, we can find new routes into physics for our shared audience. Opportunities such as this also enable us to see physics through a new lens and spark new conversations about our discipline.

Alongside the evening event for adults, we also worked with Global Generation’s young people’s programme to deliver a daytime storytelling workshop. Similarly to the adult event, this looked at different ideas in physics and mythology using the medium of storytelling, but the young people also got involved and had a chance to think creatively about the universe and their place in it. Another huge benefit to being part of the festival meant that it acted as a catalyst to inspire this additional event which created added value for both the Institute of Physics and Global Generation.

Creating an outdoor talk, in a garden environment, in November, was always going to be a logistical challenge! We worked with an audio-visual contractor to provide lighting, microphones and speakers so that the stage area was visible and audible but this can always be improved with the benefit of experience. And whilst the fires were lovely and warm, sitting still outdoors, in November, was very chilly indeed! However, one of the benefits of working with Global Generation is that they make excellent vegetarian, seasonal food in their kitchen and this helped to warm up the attendees.

Overall, we were extremely pleased with the event and its outcomes: the majority of the audience were local to the area and did not regularly attend science events; and the anecdotal feedback from presenters and attendees was excellent. Nearly all of the attendees that answered a survey reported that they enjoyed the event and would recommend it to a friend. As always, it was a great experience for us, as organisers, to be involved with the Being Human festival and we are looking forward to taking part again in 2019.


This project was part of Being Human’s 2018 Open Call pathway. To be part of the 2019 festival and submit an event for the Open Call please visit our ‘apply now’ page.