Way back in 2014, just before the very first Being Human festival, I wrote a guest blog for the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement about what we were hoping to achieve. On the one hand, I wrote that we wanted it to ‘provide a national snapshot of the inspiring work taking place across disciplinary boundaries within the humanities’. On the other, I wrote that we wanted the festival to become a rallying point for a new community: ‘a new national forum through which scholars, writers, readers and humanities ‘geeks’ could share stories and ideas, and get a sense of public engagement activities happening across the country…’ . I rounded off that blog, in 2014, by saying that: ‘We hope that we have planted the seed of something that might grow in coming years to become an essential part of the public engagement landscape. We want it to become a space of inspiration, exchange and innovation for those committed to sharing the wealth embedded in the humanities.’
A lot has changed in the world since I wrote those words. The festival has taken place under three Prime Ministers in the UK and three US Presidents. The Scottish and Brexit Referendums have come and gone and, of course, an unprecedented international crisis has emerged in the form of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, Being Human festival is still here, still growing, and still going strong - having successfully adapted even to the severe challenge of delivering a festival under lockdown conditions in 2020. Year on year, the festival has delivered programmes of activities which, consistently, have amazed me with their creativity, energy and ingenuity. Increasingly, these are creative interventions rooted in place, which link contemporary research to the histories and identities of a particular city, town or region. From projects exploring the history and folklore of the Orkney Islands, to sensory explorations of the sights, sounds and smells of the Black Country, to meditations on the poetry of the Swansea Coast, Dundee’s literary heritage or Nottingham’s history as a city of ‘Heroes and Villains’. There are too many examples to name individually. Through working on this national project, I’ve witnessed the wealth of ideas, the wealth of research, the huge numbers of fascinating collections and archives, small museums and libraries and the huge numbers of people who work to keep these things alive, through their commitment and enthusiasm. It’s been a privilege to have this insight, and to work with these people.