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Fun Palaces 2019 - bringing community into focus

27 November 2019

International Fun Palaces weekend took place on 5 and 6 October this year, and as part of the campaign, researchers came together with residents and community partners to host arts and science events across Bristol.

Fun Palaces 2019 montage

A grassroots campaign

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute has hosted a Fun Palace Ambassador for three years, whose role was to motivate Fun Palace makers in both the community and within the University to share their skills and talents as part of the global campaign.

We have always seen Fun Palaces as a great way for health researchers to create meaningful relationships with local community, and to learn from others. More so than other public engagement events, Fun Palaces is a real grassroots campaign, and this has always felt incredibly exciting to be part of.

City-wide activities

This year Fun Palaces activities were held city-wide, some prompted and supported by our Ambassador, and others springing up completely independently – which is what the campaign is all about.

In 2019 over one hundred people took part in the Fun Palace campaign locally, with around thirty Fun Palace makers creating activities at venues including Barton Hill Settlement, Avonmouth Community Centre, Cranleigh Court Community Centre and the Severn Beach railway. Of these makers, eighteen were researchers and students from the University of Bristol.

At Barton Hill Settlement, researchers from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at Bristol Medical School were based in the Travelling Light theatre space, where they led interactive workshops raising awareness of eczema. They were keen to talk with adults, families and kids, and their Fun Palace included storytelling and illustration.

Upstairs at Barton Hill, a cell biology crafting session, a magic DNA workshop and a painting table inviting everyone to consider their hidden health were all happening alongside fabric work and even an impromptu salsa lesson.

Finally, Barton Hill welcomed two workshops from Life of Breath, a five-year research project exploring breathing and breathlessness, co-led by Prof Havi Carel from University of Bristol. Those who took part in the workshops were invited to write a letter to their breath, and to explore the magical inner workings of their bodies through art, movement and sound.

Communities coming together

Cranleigh Court Community Centre in Yate made their first Fun Palace this year. The little community hub, sandwiched between a school and a retirement home, was full of people of all ages enjoying apple pressing, delicious home-baked cakes, bulb planting and much more. The whole thing started with homemade veggie soup, with all the ingredients grown in local allotments.

For us at the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, taking part in the Cranleigh Fun Palace was a great chance for us to be reminded of how valuable the campaign is in inspiring local communities to come together.

Valued by researchers

“I have never taken part in an event where I was able to have such authentic and real conversations with people about their personal stories; we spoke about health, we spoke about Barton Hill, we spoke about carrots. By just simply sitting and making art together, some people stayed and chatted for well over an hour. It was a highly rewarding event with genuine interactions.” Hannah Berg, Citizen Science Officer

Enjoyed by local residents

"I decided to come along because I was interested in learning how my body works."

"Lots of activities to try, very welcoming."

"Great mix of creative activities and age groups."

"Novel and high value activities…long and deep engagement."

"Lovely atmosphere, well attended, great food and atmosphere."

"Friendly! Nice to see everyone engaged and helping."

Making connections

Since we began supporting the Fun Palaces campaign in 2017, over 1200 people have taken part in Fun Palaces locally. Over 80 makers have run activities, shares skills and made connections. Of these, nearly half have been University of Bristol researchers or students, while the rest have been community partners or local residents.

Fun Palaces has been an invaluable opportunity not just for health researchers to connect with local communities, but for the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute to get to know more researchers across the University, and more community partners across the city. It has been a phenomenal opportunity for us to strengthen our ongoing public engagement opportunities and develop new ones.

A fond farewell

2019 is our final year hosting a Fun Palaces Ambassador. The global campaign absolutely continues, and we very much hope that Fun Palaces will spring up again in Bristol and beyond in 2020 just as they have done for the last three or so years. While the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute will no longer host an Ambassador, our support for the campaign goes on, and we encourage anyone and everyone to find out more and get involved – it’s definitely worth it.

The 2020 Fun Palaces weekend of action will be 3 and 4 October. With new support and funding from the Big Lottery the international campaign will be looking at ‘Sharing Skills, Connecting Communities and Creating Tiny Revolutions’.

Further information

If you would like to get involved in Fun Palaces 2020 you can visit the Fun Palaces websitesign up for their newsletter and find out more about being a maker.

If you would like to work with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute you can contact Jo Stubbs to find out more about our ongoing Public Engagement work. You can also keep up to date by signing up to our newsletter and following us on Twitter.

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