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Being Human Festival 2023 returned this year for 10 action-packed days, with events taking place in 49 towns and cities across the UK at 122 different venues and locations.

Five festival Hubs were led by Edge Hill University, University of Essex, University of Nottingham, Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru and Canterbury Christ Church University. 96 lead event organisers and humanities researchers from 63 universities and research organisations created 279 free events and activities – all demonstrating the importance and relevance of humanities research, and opening it up in new and meaningful ways.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the highlights from this year’s national festival!

Celebrating collaboration

Being Human Festival celebrates collaboration, with hundreds of partner organisations getting involved in this year’s festival. Researchers and organisers teamed up with local community and cultural partners, including schools, charities, businesses, artists and facilitators, galleries and museums, libraries and archives, theatre companies and performers and more — with event organisers working closely with partners to connect with different communities through their activities.

In Norwich, a pop-up exhibition co-produced with current staff and service-users at the Hellesdon Hospital explored the last 100 years of mental health care. A series of artist-led workshops invited specific groups to respond to objects in the exhibition through creative methods including cyanotypes, pewter casting, and painting. The project brings together Norwich University of the Arts, arts charity Hospital Rooms and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust NHS.

In Liverpool, as part of Edge Hill University’s Hub programme, ‘Holy Hosts/No Angels’ brought together several local stakeholders at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, for this ambitious event exploring hospitality, taking place under the night sky. Partners included Feeding Liverpool (the city of Liverpool’s food alliance), Whitechapel Centre (a leading homeless and housing charity for the Liverpool region), Turntable Theatre, Tenderfoot Theatre, and Keyside, an up-and-coming local band.

And in Folkestone, researchers from the Penelope’s Web project at King’s College London collaborated with art therapists and creative artists from the charity Art Refuge. This event invited refugees to a drop-in centre in Folkestone and used Art Refuge’s innovative method ‘The Community Table’ that supports people in transit and in crisis, to explore narratives of displacement experienced by Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.

Being Human 2023 Highlights Film

Innovating engagement

As ever, this year we saw a whole host of activities that innovate the ways in which academic research can connect with communities and places, through enjoyable and fun events, activities, and expeditions!

‘Writing the Water’, led by Sheffield Hallam University, was made up of two workshops - the first aimed at local families and children, and the second aimed at local young adults interested in creative writing. These floating poetry workshops took place on a boat cruising the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal and invited attendees to explore and respond directly to Sheffield’s relationship with the river it was built on, in the past and in the future.

In Walton-on-the Naze, writer and researcher Rebecca May Johnson brought together research, ideas and writing with the practice of cooking and sharing food at ‘The Sauce Speaks’ – featuring lots of pasta and tomato sauce! The cooking adventures continued in Margate, at an event led by Canterbury Christ Church University as part of their Hub programme. Hosted at The Green Kitchen in Cliftonville, attendees tried out Victorian recipes including Oatmeal Biscuits and Mock Lobster Salad, and learnt about Henrietta Stannard, a Victorian ‘New Woman’ novelist, editor and celebrity.

In Cambridge, volunteers came together to build an outdoor wood-fired pottery kiln on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s North Lawn for a series of activities about medieval Iranian ceramics, inspired by the museum’s Islamic collections - including painting and firing ceramic artworks.

And in Belfast, attendees embarked on a 3D-audio journey through early 20th century Irish queer histories – sourced from research on the Queer NI project and notes from the history of séances in Belfast, and voiced by Belfast-based actors.

Creative communities

The festival is made up of wonderful displays of creativity, and this year we saw lots of beautiful things created by participants at festival events.

At the Salford Zine Maker Space, festival attendees created zines inspired by the pioneering anti-apartheid writing, photography and politics of the 1950s South African DRUM magazine.

In Manningtree, children came together at Manningtree Arts for a morning of food, drawing, rhyming and stories, creating a beautiful mural in the process.

In Liverpool, Sandfield Park School and Alt Bridge Secondary School were invited to work with professional mural artist, Rob Fenton, at a workshop delivered by Liverpool Hope University in partnership with the ADHD Foundation – The Neurodiversity Charity. The two schools created a large-scale street art mural sculpture inspired by the lyrics of their song, You Are Not Alone, which they performed in the Eurovision Village when Liverpool hosted the famous music event in May 2023.

In Kent, local school pupils designed and created their own ‘top-trumps’ style card game, featuring a range of female-authored characters – which were selected, ranked and illustrated by them!

And in Cardiff, hundreds of families got crafty with clay, inspired by Stone Age animal art at Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru’s headline Hub event.

Research rooted in place

Being Human is all about getting out of the classroom and off campus and encourages researchers to connect with relevant local places and spaces – with this year’s festival taking place in over 120 venues and locations!

Walking tours continue to be very popular in the festival, with most of this year’s tours being fully booked across the board. ‘Early Modern Latin in London’ took groups from the Tower of London to St Paul’s, winding down the River Thames, exploring the buildings and sights along the way. In Bristol, ‘Magic and Mayhem in Medieval Bristol’ revealed hidden charms and places and uncovered forgotten stories of old Bristol and those who lived there.

Tours were also sought-after in Australia, where the weather looked a little brighter, with our international Hub hosts at the University of Melbourne leading guided walks exploring the rich tapestry of death and memorialisation in the city, amongst many other activities. 

The Lancashire Tongues pop-up at Burnley Market invited passers-by and marketgoers to get involved in Lancaster University’s study on the diversity of Lancashire dialect.

In Liverpool, a series of activities at Sefton Park Palm House offered a fitting location to explore nonsense botany, inspired by Edward Lear – with hundreds of local school children and families enjoying poetry, craft, planting, and a treasure hunt.

In Glasgow, an event at community museum Fairfield Heritage explored the histories and life aboard the last transatlantic Ocean Liners built on the River Clyde, with guests hosted by enterprising passengers “Muriel” and “Jasper” – including Scottish First Minster Humza Yousaf who stopped by to pay a visit!

And in Canterbury, St. Paul’s Church hosted a workshop exploring the life and work of Canterbury-born 17th century playwright and poet Aphra Behn, her Christian faith and her prayer poetry.

As part of this year’s festival we also saw craft activities in shopping centres and cafes, creative writing in a botanical garden, cabaret in a hotel, badge-making in a bookshop, singing in a park, poetry and performance in pubs, screenings and discussions in cinemas, and walking and writing in a nature reserve – a testament to the innovative and creative spirit of the festival.

Thank you!

A huge thank you to everyone involved in planning and delivering events as part of this year’s national festival! And thanks to all those who attended an event.

To find out more about the festival please visit the festival website. The call for applications to take part in Being Human 2024 will open in early 2024.

Being Human 2023 in numbers

  • 279 : events and activities
  • ~18,000 : attendees
  • 122 : venues and locations
  • 49 : towns and cities
  • 63 : universities and research organisations
  • 96 : lead organisers