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A short tour of Focus on the Positive

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 11 December 2014

In this post event co-organiser Lizzy Baddeley shares her experience of hosting Focus on the Positive.

Lizzy hosting

Lizzy’s serious presenter face

Before I ran Focus on the Positive, and lots of other events for UCL, I used to be a tour guide. I would lead groups of school children on tours of the history of parliamentary democracy, wax lyrically to university students about the history of medicine, and even cause the odd fainting incident when sharing gruesome tales of body modification in eighteenth century China. But I left all that behind me when, as the co-organiser of Focus on the Positive, I started getting someone else in to do the event hosting for me. Normally someone with actual experience and charm!

the U3A audience

Our brilliant audience

But at our last event, I decided to drag out the old ‘tour voice’ (louder, slower, and clearer – although oddly more accented – than normal) and refresh my public speaking skills for our second event with the University of the Third Age (U3A).

Back in January, we ran a Focus on the Positive for the London Region of the U3A, a brilliant organisation where retired and semi-retired people revel in the joy of learning and discovery. We enjoyed hosting them, and they seemed to enjoy themselves, so we decided to get them back for another event on November 26th.

Paul Hellier

Paul Hellier

The U3A are the perfect audience for Focus on the Positive: their members are keen to listen and learn, but also interrogate and challenge, in order to make the best decision possible. As a result, they are great when it comes to picking a truly worthwhile project to fund for Focus on the Positive.

As part of introducing the event, it was my job to advise the U3A audience on what to look out for in the pitches, and what kinds of questions they should be bearing in mind. This includes assessing the value for money of the activity; will it achieve its aims with the cash, and have they thought through the realistic costs of both money and other resources? Is it worthwhile? Do they, personally, believe in the cause and want it to happen? Are there other, better ways to achieve the desired aims?

Cathy Stawarz

Cathy Stawarz

All these criteria are based on both how real grants are assessed, and the way that we want the audience to make their decision. We want Focus on the Positive to fund activities that the audience really believes can make a difference, and will be successful.

At this event they really had some good activities to pick from.

Firstly, there was Paul Hellier from Mechanical Engineering, hoping to get £2,000 to support his work with schools and the Museum of Water and Steam, where he is working to inspire students with cross-disciplinary science.

Kathy Stawarz was hoping to adapt her research into using smartphone applications to create habits around taking medication, to help people who were stressed at work create habits to make their lives easier.

Hoping to inspire female maths students to continue with their studies and address huge gender disparity further up the academic ladder was Sofia Olhede.

Sarah Wiseman

Sarah Wiseman

And finally, with a project set on creating an online space for citizen science at UCL, was Sarah Wiseman.

All the pitches were great, and I was very honoured to introduce them all and chair the questions. The U3A really grilled our pitchers, bringing their own opinions and ideas into the mix. This carried on during the networking part, where each pitcher was involved in really in-depth conversations about their ideas while the audience decided who to vote for.

Sofia Olhede

Sofia Olhede

When I eventually pulled everyone back together to announce the winner and runner-up, I recovered some of the old tour guide flair and kept everyone hanging on (styling myself the Tess Daly of the FotP world). It was great fun, and although there could only be two winners, the audience seemed happy, and everyone was very gracious.

It was great to get back in the presenting hot seat, although I did leave Hilary to manage all the other logistics on her own. Maybe I’ll present again in the future, but I think I’ll leave it to the brilliant Dean Veall for our next event at the Grant Museum in February.

Oh, and the winners, as I have kept you hanging on, were Sarah Wiseman for the top prize of £2000, and Paul Hellier the runner-up winning £1000. More updates from them as they go along.

Lizzy is the Events Coordinator for UCL Public and Culural Engagement.

IMG_3176a

A member of the U3A casting their vote

Focus on the Positive goes global and local

By Hilary L Jackson, on 6 November 2014

An unseasonably warm October evening found the Focus on the Positive team returning to our favourite host venue, the Grant Museum of Zoology. But who would win the audience’s heart (and vote)?

Grant Museum host Dean Veall and a devoted audience welcomed another four determined UCL researchers to pitch their ideas to make the world a better place.

The audience came from across London to pick their favourite project to win a prize of £2000. But with four inspiring ideas to choose from, who would be the winner?

Philipp web

Philipp talks about the BentoLab

To get the crowd in the zone, Dean first welcomed Philipp Boeing, winner of February’s Focus on the Positive. Philipp told the audience how Focus on the Positive’s support at the start of the year had helped him and team-mate Bethan Wolfenden to develop their BentoLab project. Over the summer they travelled to the Green Man festival to explore biotechnology with festival-going families. The project is still ongoing and we’ll have another update on the blog from Bethan and Philipp before long.

After a quick reminder about what kind of project would be a success, Dean introduced the first speaker, Paula Morgenstern. Paula is an energy researcher in the UCL Energy Institute. In her spare time, she volunteers with PACT (Prepare, Adapt, Change and Thrive) meals, a project that works to save resources and feed people in the Manor House area. Local shops donate food that is still good but approaching its sell-by date, and the PACT volunteers cook it up into delicious free meals that bring together people in the neighbourhood. Paula proposed that the Focus on the Positive audience chose her project so that she could buy ovens and other equipment to expand their range of meals, and enable PACT to host meals in more venues, more often.

Sabina web

Sabina quizzes the audience

Next up was Bartlett School of Architecture researcher Sabina Andron, showcasing I Know What I Like (IKWIL), her project to widen the audience for art. Sabina studies street art and graffiti, which has undergone a massive shift in public perception in the last twenty years, from vandalism to a form of art. Away from her research, Sabina runs IKWIL, which brings together an ever-growing group of people who love art, but want to appreciate it on their own terms and sometimes find it challenging to access. The group explores art together and have recently put on their first exhibition of their own. Sabina asked the audience to help her expand IKWIL, using the money to put on more events, reach more people, and provide more opportunities for people to access new and interesting art. Sabina answered the audience’s tough questions with aplomb before stepping aside for our next researcher.

Catherine web

Catherine talks cash

Dr Catherine Holloway was hot on Sabina’s heels with her pitch to support improvements to services for Bangladeshi wheelchair-users. In her research at UCL’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, Catherine works on high-tech improvements to wheelchairs. Through this work, she’s become involved with CRP -Bangladesh, a charity that supports disabled people, assisting with their physical rehabilitation, supporting them with the emotional effects of a new disability, and providing training in new areas of work. At present, CRP can only operate in the capital, Dhaka. £2000 would allow the charity to fund a new member of staff in Rajshahi, preventing unnecessary cross-country travel for hundreds of potential beneficiaries of the charity’s work.

Gavin web

Gavin talks solar panels

Rounding up the evening’s pitches, Dr Gavin Hesketh put forward another excellent proposal. Gavin is a particle physicist, spending time both at UCL’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in London and at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. Gavin puts some of his enthusiasm for science down to the experiments he did in school science lessons – a luxury that not everyone has access to. As a result, he spends much of his spare time working for the Lightyear Foundation, a charity that works to bring inspiring science experiments to classrooms both in the UK and in Ghana. While UK volunteers travel to Ghana with money from their own pockets, Gavin proposed that the Focus on the Positive prize could buy materials for solar panels and torches. These would not only be made by the school children as an interactive science workshop to teach science and engineering, but would then be used to light the school and as street lighting in areas where this would be beneficial.

Paula audience web

Paula woos the audience

With that, the pitches were over and the audience free to mingle with the UCL researchers, ask more tough questions, decide on their favourite and, finally, vote. Some took their time to make up their minds while others strode confidently to the voting boxes.

Once the votes had been cast and counted, Dean prepared to announce the winners and a reverend hush fell upon the Grant Museum. Keeping us on tenterhooks for as long as he dared, Dean first announced the runner-up, winning a prize of £1000 for her project: Catherine Holloway! Leaving the first prize of £2000 to be won by Manor House chef extraordinaire Paula Morgenstern.

Lizzy Dean results web

Lizzy hands over the gold envelope

All that remained was for Dean to draw another successful Focus on the Positive to a close.

Keep an eye on the blog, and on our twitter feed to find out what happens next!

Transforming Transport: Maps for Maputo

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 22 October 2014



Chapa drivers in Maputo

Chapa drivers in Maputo



Clemence Cavoli won Focus on the Positive in May 2014 with a project aiming to help improve the public transport infrastructure in Maputo, Mozambique. She updates us here on how the team are getting on.

Thanks to Focus on the Positive, Clemence Cavoli and her colleague Joaquin Romero have made great progress in developing their ‘Map for Maputo’ project in Mozambique.

Clemence won £2000 for her project to create a map of the local transport networks in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Chapas, small minibuses, provide transport to thousands of people each day, but they’re privately run, hard to predict, and completely unmapped.

If mass use of private vehicles becomes popular, it will pose a major threat to sustainable development in Mozambique, so Clemence and Joaquin are working to counter this threat. Together, they are working with chapas drivers to chart their routes in the city, creating a local transport map that can be used by residents and visitors, hopefully encouraging the use of public transport over private vehicles.

Joaquin flew to Mozambique in July and has been focusing on two key missions.

Firstly, he’s been developing and strengthening relationships and establishing an on-going collaboration with the key local stakeholders, including the local transport association and the mini bus drivers and owners.

Most importantly, Joaquin was able to get the support of the main local association for mobility and the chapas drivers and owners associations. The team has also been able to establish contact with:

Due to these connections, the team now has the support of a wide range of organisations to produce a map of minibus routes. They have also been able to gain a comprehensive overview of local transport challenges, policies and opportunities in Maputo and in Mozambique more widely, and raise awareness among these key players to make sure the map is used and kept up-to-date in the long term.

People queuing to use the chapas in Maputo

People queuing to use the chapas in Maputo

The second key mission has been to undertake  extensive field work, finalising the GPS mapping of the minibuses routes. This will help the team to create a map of the minibuses routes. Thanks to Joaquin’s hard work, the GPS details of the ‘chapas’ routes for the map design are close to completion.

The team still has a lot of work to do to finish the data collection, create the map and get it out and used by people in Maputo.

The team want the local authorities to support chapas as a key part of their master plan for city transport, preventing an increase in the use of private vehicles. The next step is to get the local authorities on board and ensure the map is readable and useful for users who might not be familiar with the city or with chapas, and to improve the practicality and image of the minibuses.

Bus terminal in Matola, Maputo

Bus terminal in Matola, Maputo

Clemence Cavoli is a Research Assistant in the Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering at UCL.

Boxing clever

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 15 September 2014

Philipp Boeing and Bethan Wolfenden won Focus on the Positive in May with their project ‘Darwin’s Toolbox’. Philipp updates us here about the newly renamed ‘bento-lab’ project.

In May, we won a Focus on the Positive award at the Grant Museum with our vision of making biotechnology accessible and easy-to-use outside of academia. Previously we had created a small laptop-sized molecular biology laboratory called bento·lab (formerly: Darwin Toolbox).

Bento·lab is a powerful, personal laboratory, and it is our hope to enable all curious minds to engage with biotechnology any place and any time.

The money won at Focus on the Positive enables our group to go out “into the wild” and host trial workshops for teenagers, families and other groups in schools, city farms and community centres, where we hope to make the invisible world of biology and biotechnology visible and exciting.

Phillipp performing at Focus on the Positive

Philipp Boeing pitching for “bento·lab” (formerly: Darwin Toolbox) at Focus on the Positive in the Grant Museum

This idea began two years ago with a project called “The Public BioBrick” – incidentally also exhibited at the Grant Museum! As part of a UCL student team taking part in the IGEM competition, we initiated a collaboration with a group of amateur biologists based at the London Hackspace in Hackney to explore the notions of rights and risks surrounding access to biotechnology outside of traditional institutions.

Public Biobrick on show

Examining a piece of DNA, the “Public BioBrick” at the 2012 “Right or Risk?” exhibition

 

From this collaboration we found that biotechnology is often obscure to those outside of the immediate field. It is our aim to increase the visibility of biotechnology, and explore if different groups can form a direct relationship with biotechnology through hands-on engagement. This ties in with our aims for bento·lab as a whole: We are curious to find out what projects can be enabled if laboratory equipment becomes much more mainstream and affordable, and how we can support that process.

We’d like to say “thank you” to everyone who supported us at Focus on the Positive and beyond, and we hope you’ll follow our trip into the unknown world of mainstream citizen biotechnology. This summer, we began testing out workshop ideas at events like Green Man Festival and EMF camp – more on this in our next blog post in a couple of months’ time.

Both Bethan and Philipp have recently finished degrees at UCL: Philipp graduated with an MEng in Computer Science and Bethan with a BSc in biochemistry.

Positively Brilliant News to Focus on…

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 17 July 2014

Members of the Public Engagement Unit with the award

Kimberley, Lizzy and Steve from
the UCL Public Engagement Unit

A few weeks ago, the Focus on the Positive team got some brilliant news, and spent the day celebrating. Sadly not all the team could be there. Focus on the Positive organisers Hilary Jackson and Lizzy Baddeley tell what happened.

 

Hilary: A few weeks ago I left London to have a lovely holiday in Barcelona. There was sunshine. There was tapas. There was good company and good music. What I had to experience only by text message was a pretty exciting piece of news from Lizzy, who was living it up at Universities Week at the Natural History Museum back in London…

 

Lizzy: Indeed Hilary, you missed an exciting Wednesday. Focus on the Positive was up for an ‘Engage’ award from the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).  They were giving out a few different awards, and we had been shortlisted with two other projects in the Collaborations category. The nicest part for us was that they classed our collaboration with out event audiences as the best bit! (We knew this already, but it’s always nice to hear if from someone else).

Hilary enjoying the sun in Barcelona

Hilary enjoying the sun in Barcelona

The competition in our category was from a really great project from Bristol University ‘Sustainable management of intestinal parasites of livestock in Botswana’ and another UCL Public Engagement Unit project, Creating Connections, where UCL staff and postgraduate students with representatives from community organisations, charities, residents’ groups, social enterprises and statutory organisations, with the aim of finding ways to work together. It was rather nerve wracking to be up against such good competition – especially as the other UCL project is run by Laura Cream – who sits on the desk next to me!

So we arrived at the Natural History Museum for the awards ceremony, with quite a few members of UCL staff, and were treated to a rather lovely ceremony. Just like the Oscars there was a celebrity host (Professor Alice Roberts) and each project had had a short film made about it. We waited with bated breath as the Collaborations category was introduced, and then cheered very loudly when Focus on the Positive was announced the winner!

Lizzy collects the award

Lizzy with Alice Roberts

I had to go up on stage as Hilary was too busy sipping red wine and sunbathing – but I got a lovely photo with Alice! And a very pretty award.

After the event, we all got to troop through to what I think was the geology gallery for some fizzy wine and scones. It really was like the Oscars!

We are, of course, sad that the other UCL project did not win – but I’ve put the award between my desk and that of my Creating Connections neighbour, so we can both bask in NCCPE glory.

 

Hilary: So, while I love a holiday as much as the next public engagement coordinator, I wish I’d been in London that Wednesday to celebrate with the team! Luckily, I get to help spend our £1000 prize money, which will be used to support funded Focus on the Positive projects to continue their good work.

 

Lizzy: And lets not forget: none of this would have happened without the our funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). We’ve got another few events before this funding runs out – so come along to the next one at the Grant Museum of Zoology on October16th!

You can read more about the award on UCL News and on the NCCPE website.

Thumbs up for the NCCPE!

Thumbs up for the NCCPE!

Update: London Implant Retrieval Centre open days

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 3 July 2014

 

Gwynneth Lloyd updates us on her Focus on the Positive project at the London Implant Retrieval Centre. You can read more about the project in Gwynneth’s first blog post.

It is hard to believe that it is four months since our last Open Day. We had given the visitors in February a questionnaire on the value of the day to them and most were happy with the format we used. We decided to do something similar in June.

Implant Retrieval Centre open day

Our visitors started arriving at 10.30 and it was all go till 3.00 when the last visitors left. We had 17 ex-patients and most of them brought a partner. We also extended an invitation to other people within the hospital. The research team paid us a visit and were most impressed with our laboratories and the work we do.

Once again, patients handled their implants and asked lots of questions about causes of failure. We also had a patient discussion group in the library, which was videoed by a doctor for use in his MD. Lunch was enjoyed by all with many leaving a cash donation to help pay for the sandwiches.

Finally, Prof Hart spoke about the Metal on Metal implant problem for 90 minutes and had an attentive audience. We had to stop people in the end, we ran out of time.

Our next Open Day? – sometime in early December. We will make some changes based on the questionnaire results from this Open Day.

 

More information can be found on the London Implant Retrieval Centre website.

 

Changing perspectives on the London riots

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 2 June 2014

Our first ever winner, Dr Hannah Fry, tells us about her experiences running her Focus on the Positive project.

Hannah FryI won the first Focus on the Positive event back in March 2012 for a project exploring the human side of the London riots in a short film.

At the time I was working as a research associate at UCL, studying the patterns in the London riots of 2011. During the mathematical analysis, we came across some links which surprised and shocked me, but which I didn’t have an opportunity to investigate as they weren’t the main focus of our academic paper.

As many people who lived in London at the time might have guessed, the people involved came from some of the most deprived neighborhoods of the city – places with the lowest incomes, the worst schools and the poorest living environment, but these were also areas which had been worst hit by disproportionate cuts to their youth services, which had been creating huge issues for the young communities in and around where the riots took place.

In Harringay for example, where the riots began, 8 out of 13 youth centres had been closed down in the months leading up to the riots and one local resident, Chavez Campbell, even predicted that there would be trouble on the streets that summer in an interview with the Guardian just a week before the riots materialised.

I wanted to try and understand a bit more about the human side of the riots and to hear directly from the people that the media had been so quick to demonise in the wake of the events. The prize money from Focus on the Positive gave me the perfect opportunity to explore what had happened from a different perspective and to connect with the communities who had had so much written about them, but so little opportunity to offer their own opinions. It gave me the chance to make a short film that would clearly lay out my findings.

During the research for the film I interviewed charities, youth workers and young people across the capital and I heard stories that shocked, appalled and surprised me – even as a Londoner myself. I came away with a new view of what had happened – to my mind, the riots were not the result of innate criminal instincts lying dormant in certain groups of society but a manifestation of deeper underlying problems in our cities.

I had originally wanted to capture the voices of the young people I had spoken to on film, but it turned out to be much more difficult than I had expected to get people to open up on camera, but I hope that, regardless, the short piece which resulted might offer some insight into another way of looking at things.

Dr Hannah Fry is a lecturer at the  UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis where she researchers Complexity Theory.

Driving them wild at the Dana Centre

By Hilary L Jackson, on 21 May 2014

The sun shone on South Kensington last Tuesday as five intrepid researchers, and around a hundred members of the audience, took Focus on the Positive on its first foray beyond Fitzrovia (well, Bloomsbury).

Our fearless host and former prizewinner Hannah Fry welcomed the audience to the Science Museum’s Dana Centre, encouraged them to listen carefully to the researchers, and choose their favourite project to win the £2000 prize.

IMG_7941First up, Clemence Cavoli (UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) told us about chapas, the main transport option in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. Chapas provide transport to thousands of people each day, but they’re privately run, hard to predict, and completely unmapped. For £2000, Clemence and her colleague Joaquin want to start working with chapas drivers to map their routes in the city. Can they make a map as successful as the London tube map?

Next came Nikos Papadosifos (also UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering), crutches in hand, to tell us why the sticks given to most of us by the NHS are not doing us justice. He asked for help to create a handle design the won’t cause the common problems of elbow and shoulder inflammation and skin irritation.

IMG_7955After Nikos, UCL urban food researcher Marina Chang talked about her love of the Calthorpe Project. Marina told us that urban gardens are rarely productive, but Calthorpe is exceptional. The thirty-year-old city garden, on busy Gray’s Inn Road, has just installed a biodigester, but they need more space to grow vegetables and capitalise on the heat and fertilizer they create. Would the audience help Marina buy polytunnels and other materials to expand Calthorpe’s vegetable patch?

IMG_7974Tia Kansara, UCL Energy Institute, told the audience about her plans to create a zero waste area in North London. Could the communities of Primrose Hill come together to reduce, reuse and recycle their unwanted resources. Tia is already working with local people to do this, but needs some help to bring people together and make new connections.

IMG_7991Finally, Isabel Christie (UCL Medical Physics and Bioengineering) showed us the difference between good and bad scientific animation. Great animation, Isabel argued, can bring scientific concepts to life, but poor animation, often made by scientists using powerpoint, is the norm. In the long term, Isabel wants to create a graduate degree course for scientific animators to develop their skills. Would the audience help her to scope this by paying for a workshop this summer, bringing together experts in the field?

The audience quizzed the speakers soundly in half an hour and confidently made their decisions. Hannah asked them to provide their own drumroll before announcing that Clemence was the winner! Clemence and Joaquin will be taking £2000 to Maputo to help them create a map for the city’s transport. In second place, Marina was delighted to be able to offer her £1000 to the Calthorpe Project in time for their 30th birthday celebrations!

IMG_8006Keep up to date with your favourite projects by following us on Twitter @focuspositive and here on the blog, where our prize-winners will be posting soon.

Focus on the Positive is funded from UCL’s Impact Acceleration Account from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

It’s hip to be square at the London Implant Retrieval Centre open day

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 10 April 2014

LIRC patient group at the open day

The LIRC patient group

In January, Gwynneth Lloyd won £1000 from the London U3A to support her work with the London Implant Retrieval Centre (LIRC) patient group. Gwynneth manages the LIRC, and runs the patient group for people who have had Metal on Metal hip replacement removed and has been able to use the money from from Focus on the Positive to fund more activities with the group. 

 

Weeks of preparation were over. June 16th had arrived – our 2nd open day for patients. Except now they are not patients, they are all well and mobile, thanks to the skill of surgeons. They have had their Metal on Metal (MOM) implants revised and have come to our open day.

 

Twenty four people came to this event and spent 4 hours with us. They had coffee on arrival, toured our offices and saw the equipment we use, watched a video about what we do and then handled their own implants and discussed their experiences with fellow patients. We provided lunch for everybody thanks to the money I won from Focus on the Positive. This was followed by a talk from John Skinner, surgeon, about the latest research being undertaken and then a question and answer session.

 

It is amazing how people respond. Everyone feels that we are doing worthwhile work even if we haven’t found an answer for failed implants. Everyone seems to have enjoyed the day according to our exit questionnaire. Many ask about how they can support us. Our biggest problem now is our website: I hope to spend some of the £1000 I won on improving the site.

 

What next? Another open day later this year – it is time to start planning again!

 

LIRC patients enjoying their open day

LIRC patients enjoying their open day

 

The LIRC is a research institute at UCL, located at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. It leads the way in understanding how best to improve the performance of hip replacements. Metal on metal replacements are of particular interest, as they have been found to wear down at an accelerated rate in some patients. This deterioration can potentially cause damage to the bone and tissue around the hip and possibly cause traces of metal to leak into the bloodstream.  The NHS recommends all patients with metal on metal replacements to have annual check ups to monitor signs of these problems. More information and advice can be found on the NHS website.

Sticking it to the Man

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 25 March 2014

In January 2014 Roselle Thoreau took part in a special Focus on the Positive event in partnership with the U3A (the University of the Third Age). Roselle won the first prize of £2000 and shares her experiences of taking part. Look out for more updates from Roselle as her project unfolds.

For me, gaining support for research projects has always been defined in terms of grants and tenders. Dry documents with mission statements, financial justifications, milestones, and track records. Projects which, whilst very important, have societal impacts that take years to occur.

My perspective changed when I went to a Focus on the Positive event run by the UCL Public Engagement Unit.

It was a revelation – a completely different way of approaching academic content. It focused (as the title suggested) on all the positive that research can do. It was a reminder of why, as researchers, we chose our careers. Through listening to the pitches that evening it also showed me that small ideas for small projects with small budgets can have a big impact.

So when the chance came I applied to take part.

My research looks at the difficulties older adults have with mobility. I have a small cohort of older adults who visit me regularly in the lab. Over the last year many of my cohort have started to use walking sticks. The sticks, bought in the local chemist or by their children, had not been adjusted to their personal needs.

A search of the market revealed many different types of sticks are available but very little information as to what the differences are or which stick might suit best. A little further research showed that a stick that doesn’t fit the person can actually make them walk less than they would without any stick at all.

U3A Audience

Audience of U3A members

I wanted to help my participants and the many others like them who need to use a stick but don’t know how to find an appropriate one. My project is to create and disseminate an easy-to-read guide about walking sticks that gives people the access to the information they need to make a good choice. A small project with a potentially big impact.

I’d never really thought about pitching this project before. I’d certainly never thought about pitching it to people outside academia.

It was a daunting prospect – to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and convince them of your project’s worth. To ease this we were given training in how to pitch an idea. A few hours with Steve Cross, the Head of the Public Engagement Unit at UCL, was enough to completely alter my perspective of presenting: not just presenting a pitch, but presenting my research in any setting. Steve taught us the importance of knowing who is in your audience and of making your presentation relevant to them. He also taught us how to break down your pitch into five different segments, each appealing to a different type of audience member.

My project would be difficult to fund through traditional academic methods. Focus on the Positive was a perfect way to gain support for something small yet powerful. It has taught me a new skill (pitching) and a new way of approaching ideas. Now all I need to do is put my plan into action. Next time I write, I’ll be able to tell you about the journey of creating the guide and how I plan to reach the people who need to access it the most.