COLUMN: Taking the university out to the people of Sheffield

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Later this month Festival of the Mind will be returning to the city.

It will be the third time the university has hosted the event and it has come a long way since the festival launched in 2012. The original aim was to provide a collaboration point between academic research and creative engagement to entertain the people of Sheffield. The concept came from Anthony Bennett, the well-known city artist.

It was at a time when the university was aware it was seen by some as ‘the university on the hill’ and needed to demonstrate how it was engaging with the city and how its research and teaching makes a real difference .

The first year was a big risk. We did everything differently; we advertised on the back of buses, at the tram stops – a first for the university – and we took the university into the city. In the end, we were humbled by the reaction. We never could have anticipated the 17,000 visitors who came along, it was incredible. I knew the people of Sheffield would understand and take pride in our research if we presented it in the right way.

It was also the first year the cap on university fees had risen to £6,000 and it showed our new students what a fantastically vibrant city they had chosen. It is still the only festival of its kind in the country.

There are events planned the city is going to love; Sheffield’s iconic hole in the road is being brought back to life, there will be dancing robots in the streets and award-winning British designer Sebastian Conran will be giving a lecture. The festival is also visiting new places like the Moor Market, the Millennium Gallery and Food Hall to take the university’s world-leading research to new audiences.

The university is particularly proud of Food Hall, a pay-as-you-feel cafe run by former students using a freecycling food network.

Over the years FOTM has forged new partnerships with the creative community and local companies, bringing money into the city.

As our success has grown we have attracted more external funding from organisations like the Arts Council.

It has shown if you bring incredible artists and academics together, something beautiful happens.

What is most rewarding about the whole thing is hearing feedback from members of the public. I was once told by a visitor; ‘I couldn’t afford to come to the university, but now the university has come to me’.

It’s for reasons like that, that Festival of the Mind will return on 15 September 2016.

Festival of the Mind is the brainchild of Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield.

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