In the right place …
9 August 2019
Department Public Engagement
When people don’t know they’ve supported your work, how do you say ‘Thank you!’?
Obviously, you can hold a celebration event. Publicise widely, invite people in. Sweeten the offer with nibbles?
There’s a catch: we are all busy. How many of us would get home, grab a shower and a bite to eat and then head out again? For something we’re passionate about; sure. For something we don’t identify with? Less so.
We all have stuff we have to do. Commitments born of contract or love. When we have a little time left over, we can give the time to hobbies. TV, football, theatre, museum ... for some, this hobby time includes science. For some it does not. Yet both groups pay for our research through the taxes that fund the Medical Research Council, and from there the CRUK / MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology.
How do we thank the people who fund us, but don’t include science in their hobby-time?
Our answer to this question is to remove the two biggest barriers. Time and distance. Make sure people don’t have to give us hobby-time and make sure they don’t have to travel.
Where do people have to go? They have to shop! They have to buy food and clothes. High streets, shopping centres, supermarkets. Full of people.
You would think that people would walk by. A group standing by a table with leaflets: got to be selling something, asking for something, evangelising something. Well, many people do. And they are right, we are evangelising something; medical research. Many people walk passed, but many stop.
Why do they stop? I simply don’t know. Maybe it’s the sight of Oxford’s blue and white logo in such an unexpected place. Maybe it’s the scientists. Bright, passionate and often grinning with barely suppressed nervous energy.
On a slow day we speak to 50 people. Usually we speak to between 100 and 150. One good day in Swindon we caught the eye of 250. Nothing prepared me for Tesco in Swindon on 21 June; Powered by some very energetic researchers, we spoke to over 500 people between 10 am and 4 pm. Everything ran out; pens, shopping bags, leaflets, the lot. By 4 pm only passion remained, and it was enough.
As we ate our well-deserved ice-cream in the car park afterwards, we couldn’t believe it. 500 people! The feedback had been amazing:
“That was so much fun.”
“I’m in awe of what you do.”
“I’m frustrated I can’t give anything to you.”
“I’m glad I stopped.”
We even got a fist-bump from one kid! Enough said – job done.
During the week we stopped over 1000 people. People who lived at least 45 minutes drive from our labs. People who probably wouldn’t have come to us. Even for nibbles. A thousand people to whom we were able to say ‘thank you’ for their support.
Six days of road show is tough, but the reaction is worth it. A big thank you to the researchers. Your energy and passion is inspiring.