Since 2017, the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN), with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has supported science festival practitioners to bring underserved audiences and researchers together.

To aid reflection amongst UKSFN members and the wider engagement sector, over the past two years, we have shared learnings from these projects in a series of blogs.

The fifth blog in our UKSFN learning curves series is written by Ellie Turner-Wallace, Programmes Officer at The Natural History Consortium/Festival of Nature.

Exploring how to tackle ecological and climate emergencies, together

The Making Connections project has brought together local community groups and researchers to share their environmental expertise and personal stories of connecting with nature.

As the Making Connections Photography Exhibition opens in venues across Bristol, our team at the Natural History Consortium has been reflecting on our Making Connections Project in collaboration with the Black Seeds Network.

Over a series of workshops, designed to spark creative collaboration and challenging conversations, ten different voices came together to explore their various paths to working with nature - either in their professional, volunteering, or academic lives.

Half of the group were working in academic research, ranging in topics from bioengineering to waste management and photosynthesis to physiotherapy. The other half were community leaders involved in social projects built around connecting communities.

Inspired and informed by these discussions, the group shared their stories through photography as a visual medium, creating a photo exhibition that is now being showcased across the city, from local community centres to city centre museums.

One of the strengths of the project has been the close partnership and collaboration with the Black Seeds Network, from writing the original bid through to the evaluation process. The Network provides a platform for environmentalists of colour to socialise, gain support, seek opportunities, innovate and develop knowledge and expertise on environmental issues.

The partnership has been invaluable. It has enabled the project to work with community leaders through a trusted partner, and broker important conversations about inequality and exclusion.

An equal playing ground

One of the key discussions early on in the planning process asked how we could ensure that the community partners and researchers were entering the project on an equal footing, as experts in their respective fields.

Careful consideration was given to mitigate any perceived power imbalance during the workshops, supporting researchers to step out of their usual environment and appreciate the trust offered by communities welcoming them into their space.

The decision was made to hold the workshops in-person, in a space familiar to the community leaders. As a result, we were lucky enough to be invited into the spectacular home of the Bristol Rainforest at St Philips Nursery School. After much discussion, we were able to craft an invitation to researchers that attracted those with a keen interest in both learning from others and social justice. We found that this created a positive social dynamic within the group that allowed space for some difficult but important discussions.

An indoor rainforest always makes things better

It has been such a joy delivering in-person workshops, especially in the inspiring, relaxing setting of an indoor rainforest! Physically coming together enabled community leaders and researchers to get the opportunity to share their stories and expertise, learn together, and get to know one another. 

However, holding the workshops in person has not been without its challenges! Fixing suitable dates for busy community leaders and researchers was difficult at times, and led to a workshop being postponed. To enable involvement in the project, particularly for those who were ill or isolating, we created opportunities for participants to join remotely and add their photographs into the final photography exhibition.

The primary output of the project was a Making Connections photography exhibition. Participants were encouraged to share their stories and experiences with a wider audience through photography. We have been astounded by the quality of the photographs!

We’ve been delighted by the response from organisations expressing an interest in hosting the exhibition. Our two-week planned tour has evolved into a month-long exhibition showcased by three partner organisations across multiple venues. By offering a digital version, we have been able to show the exhibition in even more venues across the city (without spending the entire project budget on printing costs!). 

You can see some of the photography featured in the exhibition below: 

Credit: Amrish Pandya

Credit: Hilary McCarthy



Credit: Huan Doan

Credit: Judit Davies



Credit: Gulid Mohamed


Credit: Olivia Reddy

To find out more about the Making Connections Exhibition and the organisations involved, visit: https://www.bnhc.org.uk/making-connections-photography-exhibition/

More in the 'UKSFN learning curves' series':