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Tag: Abingdon

Ep 9 – Surely You’re Joking Mr Mayhew-Archer? Adventures of an Incurable Optimist

Paul Mayhew-Archer is one of our best-loved comedy writers, with credits include The Vicar of Dibley (which he co-wrote with Richard Curtis), but also Old Harry’s Game (with Andy Hamilton), Miranda and the BBC adaptation of Esio Trot. He was also a BBC producer, most famously for the radio show ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’.

But in 2011, when he might ordinarily have been considering retirement, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His response to the diagnosis was immediate, somewhat peculiar, but totally consistent with his life up to then: with humour.

Since that moment, his life has changed dramatically, both in terms of how the disease affects him personally, but more as a result of continuing to use comedy and laughter in the face of a cruel and depressing disease which affects 150,000 adults in the UK – and over 6 million people worldwide.

This interview is as unusual as it is moving. We bust taboos, and visit some very dark places as you might expect when discussing terminal illness and death. But it is also very, very funny. And that’s kind of Paul’s mission: as a society we need to talk more about these subjects, and comedy can be a wonderful vehicle to create a space within which more serious conversations can take place.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details)

Paul has continued to use comedy and laughter to confront the disease – both on a personal level, and helping others. He made the documentary Parkinson’s: The Funny Side (which we highly recommend, and for which he won ‘best documentary presenter’ at the 2016 Grierson Awards). And this Summer, he takes his one-man show Incurable Optimist to the Edinburgh Fringe.

So this is a science podcast with a difference. Yes, we touch on the science of Parkinson’s and its treatment, the experiences of being treated by medical science, and even the science of what laughter does to us both physiologically and socially.

But Paul Mayhew-Archer is not a scientist. He is, however, a brilliantly funny, humane individual. And in a world which struggles to deal with an ageing population, he may just hold the key to how we might just make life more bearable for those suffering from incurable disease – and those that care for them.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details

A hat-tip is in order: the inspiration for this interview came from an episode of the brilliant Scientists Not The Science with Stuart Higgins and Stuart Goldsmith, which first threw up the possibility of comedy and science.

And if you want to know more about Parkinson’s – what it is, living with the condition, helping someone else with the condition and a possible cure, please visit Parkinson’s UK)

Ep 2 – How to win friends and STEMfluence people

During 2015, anyone driving down Faringdon Road in Abingdon would have seen an impressive building taking shape on the edge of the campus of Abingdon School. But as the bulk of the work on its new £14 million Science Centre progressed, behind the scenes the school was wrestling with a problem.

Tensions between public and private education are well-known and raise strong feelings on both sides. From the outset the school was committed to providing significant public access – and thus benefit – to the science centre, but just opening up the labs, even with the help of skilled technicians, wasn’t much of an option. Aside from practical safety considerations, the big challenge was to translate the needs and requirements of science users in the wider community into co-ordinated activities – and leverage resources available through wider STEM programmes across the UK.

(Listen now on SoundCloudiTunesStitcher)

The solution was to recruit a specialist science teacher and have that teacher spend 50% of his or her time co-ordinating activities, partnerships and connections to schools organisations in the local community and around the UK. The result was the Abingdon Science Partnership – and the results have been both impressive and significant.

On March 6, we travelled across Abingdon to meet with Megan Milarski and Jeremy Thomas at the Partnership (or ASP as it’s known to those in the know). Now three years old, it’s an almost unique science outreach organisation, but its success is offering up a template which might be replicable in other parts of the UK.

The sheer range of activities, clubs, services and partner organisations sometimes makes it difficult to neatly summarise the ASP, and so our interview was an ideal opportunity to dig down and understand the ambitions underlying the partnership. In doing so, we explore how the ASP works with local primary and secondary schools, scouting organisations, and partner organisations such as the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), the Young Scientists Journal, Polar Explorers Programme, the Ogden Trust, CREST and many more.

Along the way we took a detour to the Southern Ocean, found a neat way of combining STEM and exercise – and explored the critical concept of ‘Science Capital’ in society.

(Listen now on SoundCloudiTunesStitcher)

(Update 1: two weeks after we conducted the interview, on Sunday March 18, over 500 people – mostly Abingdon-based families – attended the free Family Science Fair hosted by the Abingdon Science Partnership as part of the annual ATOM Festival and Science and Technology. It was a fitting example of the potential – and power – of the partnership, around which ATOM volunteers, University outreach groups, local schools, and science engagement organisations such as Curiosity Box and Bright Sparks Science coalesced to produce a stunning hands-on science event. You can see images from that event here.)

(Update 2: In April 2018, the Abingdon Science Partnership were shortlisted in the ‘Contribution to local community’ category for the #tesFEawards TES FE Awards 2018. This is a significant recognition of their work and activities, and wish them the best of luck when the awards are announced later this year)