Anne Hailes: Science and children's festivals illuminate worlds of possibility and fun for young people

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Strictly Come Dancing winner and wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin will be taking children on a wonderful wild adventure at the NI Science Festival
Strictly Come Dancing winner and wildlife cameraman Hamza Yassin will be taking children on a wonderful wild adventure at the NI Science Festival

OH to be a young person, excited about life and wanting to gain all the knowledge going. School wasn't for me and I was asked to leave when I was 15 but if there had been an NI Science Festival on the go I'd be beating down the doors.

There is something for everyone, young and old, but it's children, teens and twenties who I reckon will enjoy it most.

The blurb promises: "From biochemistry to physics, ecology to geology, discover how you, the universe and everything in between behaves as NI Science Festival returns with an interstellar programme of over 200 public events from February 16-26."

The line up is indeed out of this world, here are some highlights:

The Zoo will be answering questions about breeding programmes and how important they are, discussing how they are organised with a walking tour around the compound which promises to be fascinating.

Ask the question 'Am I made of stardust?' and you'll find out when Maggie Aderin-Pocock arrives at the Whitla Hall at Queen's University at 3pm on Sunday February 19.

One event that sold out almost immediately is the talk by Hamza Yassin, also in the Whitla Hall. Aimed at 7-12 year olds, he's their environmental hero not because he won Strictly but because he is the wildlife cameraman who talks to them on television and takes them on wonderful wild adventures.

Painting with Light is a fantastic photography technique where you illuminate parts of your picture with a torch or other light sources to add emphasis and colour to certain objects during a long exposure. In this workshop, 7-12 year olds will get a chance to experiment with light painting and the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind, unique and creative images which will then be printed and transferred onto T-shirts at the end of the workshop.

Let Your Mind Wander - Does being covered in gold paint really kill you? A chance to ask Kathryn Harkup who will address the 'Superspy Science' during her presentations in Derry and Belfast. She will share some of James Bond's secrets and the science and technology behind 007's exploits - the arms, technologies, tactics and downfalls of his various foes... and whether these could actually be developed in real life. Could our favourite Bond villains actually achieve world domination? And - if your plan is to take over the world - is it better to use bacteria, bombs or poison?

Join geopark guide Ian to uncover the secrets of the invertebrates and other creatures living in Cladagh Glen, Fermanagh. Using specialist equipment, Ian will help those who are prepared to get their feet wet to catch and identify different little life forms in the river and on land. Perfect for all nature-lovers and mini-scientists. Suitable for all ages.

Searching for pond life in Fermanagh
Searching for pond life in Fermanagh

Hopefully finding life and joy in a car park will happen on a dry day and you won't get your feet wet. Here you're invited to see parking spaces in a new light - truly wild and wonderful places for everyone to enjoy. You can also join nature conservationist, Aoife de Bhál, for a guided walk each afternoon and explore the bizarre world of the creatures living in our cities. This is a bilingual Irish/English event, however no knowledge of Irish is needed.

Other subjects include engineering, robots, climate emergency, medicine, conservation, mind and body, and the natural world. In the Black Box in Belfast, the (adults only...) natural world will feature love potions, impotence cures and beauty tips, even a cure for ageing.

Elsewhere there's even a 'Living Autopsy' on offer. And the list goes on. You can 'Shoot for the Stars' in Armagh Planetarium, a careers event giving the low-down on space, and on a more down-to-earth level, there's a beginners guide to the 'Science of Compost' at Hillsborough Castle Gardens. At W5, there's an intriguing event: 'Cyber Security - Hi To The Hacker'.

The organisers of this mega event have drawn on the top professionals to take part including Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who combines astronomy and poetry; no surprise, this event is sold out already.

nisciencefestival.comOpens in new window ]


And that's not all. March sees another remarkable festival. To my mind children's theatre is one of the most exciting happenings on offer.

I've watched primary school pupils blossom from shyness to happy exuberance inside a couple of hours, they can't believe their eyes and there's no-one to tell them to sit still and be quiet.

So Young at Art Belfast Children's Festival 2023 is going to be a magnificent treat. For 10 days from March 3-12, this charity is celebrating it's 25th anniversary with a programme of spoken word, music and song but that doesn't tell the tale.

There's The Invisible Man, suitable for children aged 4-plus who will be mesmerised by the floating coffee pot and other bizarre happenings. There's the magic of the Little Murmur dance theatre company telling a true story with wonderful tricks of sight and sound.

One of the most important shows is Nobody/Somebody for teens and young adults. This is a new opera created for and with young people featuring current issues they are facing every day. Northern Ireland Opera join with the Ulster Youth Orchestra for this innovative production.

This is the festival's 25th birthday and after more than two years of gloom these 10 days will be full of fun and colour for both children and their parents. Toddlers dancing with professionals, following their steps and turning into little ballerinas, a 'baby rave', there's an unusual artist using unusual methods as he paints and there are luminous light shows.

On March 11 the whole family is invited to the Big Belfast Birthday Bash in the Cathedral Quarter and at the City Hall; circus performers, storytelling, a 'kiddy céilí', and more. It's free, just drop in, no booking required. in new window ]