Deptford was nearly wiped out by an incoming asteroid this time last year and now it is facing potential devastation as a solar storm threatens to wipe out our electrical infrastructure.

That’s the premise behind Smashfest, which returns this half term with a mash up of science, tech, maths and good old fashioned entertainment.

Dr Lindsay Keith was inspired to create the event after being thrown a surprise mini festival for her 40th birthday at a pub in New Cross Gate. Around the same time, she was reading a report about younger people from poorer backgrounds no longer aspiring to get into science.

With a background that includes both research science and television, Lindsay had the idea to hold a festival to get so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ kids hooked on the subject.

She told us: “They are not ‘hard to reach’ at all, they’re right here but don’t expect them to sit on the train for an hour and a quarter to go to the Science Museum just because it is free. If you want to engage them, bring the experience to them.”

Lindsay secured some funding and held the first Smashfest at venues around Deptford last year. And the first key to success was to not call it a science festival.

She said: “I became very attuned to making things for a mass audience, so things are entertaining and people don’t dare hit the button and change channel. So, my thought was it has got to be something engaging.

“If it’s not fun, it’s not happening. Have fun, get people engaged – if they learn a bit of science when they are doing it, then that’s great. If not, then they had fun anyway.”

A strong narrative – with events built around trying to survive an asteroid strike – was also important for Smashfest’s appeal.

Lindsay said: “You get a lot of science shows with explosions and bangs which are very exciting in the moment but the bangs are out of context in real life. While it is entertaining briefly, I don’t think it has any lasting learning.
“All of our events and experiences at the festival are linked to the narrative. So when the kids are doing some activity - which involves applying physics or chemistry or whatever - it relates to the problem we are trying to solve, which of course is much more like what happens in real life.”

Among the events last year, youngsters had a go at building effective survival shelters (engineering) at The Albany and a surprisingly addictive Supermarket Sweep-style game at the Deptford Lounge where participants had 30 seconds to grab as much from the shelves as possible. At the checkout, rather than a receipt, they found out how long they could survive on what they picked up.

Lindsay said: “It’s about having fun but there’s always and opportunity to learn something underlying it.”

This February half term, Smashfest returns with more funding – including from Lindsay’s employer, the University of Greenwich – with the central problem being a solar storm which could trigger mass radiation on earth and result in a complete loss of satellite systems and electrical power, totally changing and endangering everyone’s lives as they know them.

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