Focus on the Positive goes global and local
By Dean W Veall, on 13 November 2014
Guest blogger: Hilary Jackson
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Hilary Jackson is a Public Engagement Co-ordinator at UCL Public Engagement Unit