Southampton Human Festival

Human Festival? What on Earth is that? Is this Star Trek or something? When is the Cardassian festival? :D”

Despite the slightly odd sounding title – the Southampton Human Festival is actually a celebration of the humanities. The humanities is just the study of how human experience is documented and processed. Still a bit mystified? Read on and some of the workshops and displays of this festival might give a better idea.

I first heard about the Human Festival on one of my bike rides into Southampton, I think I picked up the flyer in Rice Up Whole Foods on Hanover Buildings. They have a little section at the back of the shop with local events and suchlike.

It was held at the Avenue Campus of Southampton University which is within an enjoyable bike ride of me – and the “human” in the title is what got me interested as I’m all about living modern life in a more “human and sustainable” fashion. Naturally I was going to attend! The event was yesterday and it was a surprisingly thought provoking and inspiring gathering.

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I met a couple of researchers studying climate change by analysing deep soil samples. They had a couple of microscopes on their table which one showing a much deeper soil sample than the other and within you could clearly see the change in plant seeds from forest trees to grasses and cereals. What caused this? Climate change or a co-incidence with the ride of farming in the Neolithic period of human history?

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Another chap was talking about the “Metamorphosis” movement in urban transformation. This was of particular interest to me ask it talks about upgrading the cycling infrastructure in Southampton :)
What suprised me is how far parts of Western Europe are in terms of more liveable urban centres. Think free bike kitchens where you can pump up your wheels and put you bike on the stand to do maintenance. Think also residential areas where there are gardens and allotments in the middle of the street! I think that is a brilliant idea and the chap at this display was brimming with enthusiasm. This chap mentioned that Southampton has a lot of cultural history that is accessible on foot (I know this to be true – see my previous blog entries). He even runs a Facebook group called “Southampton Cultural Connections” to promote this stuff. One this he mentioned was the original Roman settlement at Bitterne (aka “Clausenteum”) – according to Wikipedia this is not accessible but I’m going to try it soon.

I also had a short walking history tour of Southampton Common where I learnt that there was once a race-course there and that the town tried more than three times to create a reservoir (the Boating Lake is one failed example). The main through-fare down the north end of common is also called Coronation Avenue – it is named to commemorate the ascension of a British monarch in the last few centuries. I cycled through that with new appreciation after I left the festival.

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Back inside the festival, I got to have myself 3D laser-imaged by a £40,000 laser imaging scanner. They even saved the image scan for me on a USB stick which they presented to me afterwards. This scanner is used my the Geological department to study erosion and the Lab manager told me of all the world-wide places he and his team have travelled in their research.

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Some of the displays covered some unusual things you would not think of… such as Medieval Graffiti! This attempts to study and document the “graffiti” – small carvings and etchings – made on the walls of churches. The reasons for these markings are sometimes very touching. I learnt that there are some markings on the Bargate near West Quay and I asked how to find them. If do find them I’ll be sure to update this post with photos.

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There were so many things going on that I could not attend them all. Ranging from new technology to clean up oil slicks to the study of our ancient humanoid ancestors. They were things for all ages too – I saw some creative writing workshops packed with lots of children. Obviously the next generation of writers were being inspired by this festival. There were also short story workshops for adults.

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One thing I didn’t realise is that Southampton University is ranked number one in the world for Marine Archaeology. There was an entire room dedicated to this with a very impressive Virtual Reality headset tour of a real shipwreck and several divers/researchers were present talking passionately about their work. They even had a 3D printer and several 3D models of actual shipwrecks that you could touch and look over. Does that mean that laser imaging scanner can work underwater? Amazing.

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There were displays showing how we can transform retail shopping experiences from the sometimes draining “shop till you drop” affairs to something more civilised and efficient. Personally I wanted to attend the Astrodome (a large black indoor upside-bouncy-castle type thing) put on by the University Astrological society but I ran out of time :(

All in all a very worthwhile and interesting time – really opened my eyes on what is going on in our city. A big thank you to Southampton University, the exhibitors and student volunteers!

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Repair all the Things!

Imagine if there was a somewhere within walking distance of where you live that you could take your faulty, ripped, wonky and broken stuff to get it repaired?

This is exactly the idea behind “Repair Cafe” – and there just so happens to be one in Southampton!

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The Repair Cafe operates from the United Reformed Church in Shirley High Street on the first Saturday of the month, every month from approx 10:30am to 1pm. It is run with calm efficiency by Angela and staffed by a small squad of volunteers who attempt to help people fix things of every shape, size and description.

What kinds of things? Bikes, vacuum cleaners, laptop computers, FM/AM radios, phones, hair straighteners, sewing machines, jewelry, clothes… and probably other stuff I can’t think of.

There are also people who need help with software problems – which could range from how to download and edit a Word document to changing the font-size on their email software.

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In the most recent one in November I saw someone bring in a Betamax Video recorder. These are no longer made having lost out to VHS (which itself lost out to DVD, which itself has lost to Bluray…) It was looked at by a volunteer electronics engineer.

This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made  by the owner Neville. Very cool.
This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made by the owner Neville. Very cool.
An example of ingenuity -  this is a homebrew headtorch with magnifier lenses!
An example of ingenuity -
this is a head-torch with built-in magnifier lenses!

Yeap – you get very kind professional people giving their time for free at these places. Although I could not repair that myself, I helped this particular person by looking up local companies that do BetaMax to digital transfers – and they left happy :)

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I’ve been volunteering at the last two Repair Cafes and I can tell you that it gives a warm fuzzy feeling to help people in your local community. You also get a buzz from being a bit of a “superhero” because there are things you may know or do that might be like magical super-powers to others.

Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC - this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie - did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!?
Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC – this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie – did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!? This puts the CAFE in Repair Cafe

I mentioned Angela earlier who is the organizer. She told me that there are plenty of people in other areas of Southampton who would love to be able to bring their stuff in but are unable to drive – or would find it awkward to take their broken vacuum cleaner or bike on the bus!

I known that Angela is keen to get a repair kitchen going in the area of Bitterne.

So, this blog post is a call-to-arms to anyone out there willing to chip-in to attain that warm fuzzy “help the community” feeling I talked about.

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Be a local superhero and get in touch with the organizer Angela via email

Learn more:

Southampton Repair Kitchen on Facebook

Transition Southampton – ideas for sustainable living around Southampton

PS: I cycled to the Repair Cafe despite the rain (makes it interesting!). My slightly dodgy rear brake was looked at by the friendly bike guys – thanks guys!