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CBeebies Grace's Amazing Machines presenter to wow young fans at NI Science Festival

Ahead of her visit to the NI Science Festival this week, Jenny Lee chats to CBeebies presenter Grace Webb about sustainability, time travel and getting girls involved in motor racing

Grace Webb brings Grace’s Green Gadgets! to the NI Science Festival
Grace Webb brings Grace’s Green Gadgets! to the NI Science Festival Grace Webb brings Grace’s Green Gadgets! to the NI Science Festival

SHE'S driven everything from a pond weed cutter and a turf harvester to a recycling truck and a Mars rover vehicle designed to travel in space, and now in a new stage show Grace Webb will be sharing some smaller green gadgets with audiences in Belfast and Derry.

The CBeebies presenter of Grace's Marvellous Machines, which explains the role and basic mechanics of some of the biggest, fastest and most intricate machines in the world, is looking forward to inviting families into her electrical workshop as part of the NI Science Festival.

Grace's Green Gadgets! explores some cool machines - they've got wheels, are loads of fun and are powered by a method that is better for the environment.

"The audience can expect shocks, interactivity, videos and live machines on stage, but the main concept around the show is very much looking forward to sustainability. There will be a focus on electric machines and how they produce zero emissions, which is better for the environment."

The former primary school teacher, who fronted many of BBC's Bitesize programmes during lockdown, is delighted to combine her teaching, presenting and motor sport passions in her new show.

"Teaching is effectively presenting, but on a bigger scale. When we film Grace's Amazing Machines I don't get to interact with any of the children that do the pit crew reports as that is filmed separately. In this show I'm looking forward to meeting the pit crew in real life," she enthuses.

With the British government banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, Grace is all too aware that electric cars will be the norm for young drivers of the future.

"I have nephews and nieces and the thought came to me the other day that their first car will probably be an electric one. That blows my mind," says the 30-year-old, whose first car was a Peugeot 306 turbo.

"The world is changing and it's filtering into many different forms of transport, like electric buses and even toys, such as scooters and roller skates."

She acknowledges there are still a lot of boundaries for people, including herself, to owning an electric car.

"For example, the house that I live in now doesn't have off street parking, so it's hard to find somewhere to charge it. But having said that, it is improving so I do hope to move to an electric car in the next few years.

Sustainability and electric cars are a passion for motor sport presenter Grace Webb
Sustainability and electric cars are a passion for motor sport presenter Grace Webb Sustainability and electric cars are a passion for motor sport presenter Grace Webb

"As we get closer to 2023 and as more charging infrastructure is put in place we all need to think green. And if your home is solar powered you could effectively charge your car for free," adds Grace, who can often be seen testing electric cars on Channel 5's Fifth Gear: Recharged programme.

Riding a time machine is something Grace would love to experience, but rather than look forward she would love to travel back in time.

"Electric machines were actually first started years ago, but then the combustion engine came in and took over. I've seen photographs from the past of cars connected together being charged. I think we can actually learn from a lot of these concepts that were about many years ago, and apply them to now."

And if she was to invent her own machine, Grace would like to help both the environment and those with mobility issues.

"It would be something within mobility that also cleans the air. A sort of suck in the bad and spit out the good type of machine," she laughs.

Grace's enthusiasm for motors and adrenaline-fuelled sports doesn't come as a surprise – her grandfather Tom Wheatcroft was the founder of Donington Park race circuit in Leicestershire.

"As a kid I used to love going to watch the racing," adds Grace, who was delighted to take over the reins of Amazing Machines in 2019.

"It's one of those programme's where mums and dads enjoy watching it with the kids. Some of these machines I didn't even know existed."

And her favourite machine?

"There's so many that are amazing for different reasons; ones that are massive and are able to do the job of 100 humans, but then also some that just blow your mind because they're so fast. It's very hard to pick but motorbikes are my first love, so I would pick the speedway bike."

Four series of Grace's Amazing Machines are currently available on the BBC iPlayer and while plans for a fifth series aren't confirmed yet, Grace admits "there's still lots more bizarre machines to be explored".

Whilst her CBeebies predecessor Catie Munnings left the programme to focus on her rally racing career after receiving sponsorship from Red Bull, Grace is conscious that engineering and motorsports are still very much male dominated worlds.

"It would be great to see more females in Stem-based jobs - whether that is as competitors or in the mechanical team. We are heading in the right direction with many more female role models within this industry, but more could be done.

"When I go into schools to do workshops both the boys and girls are equally enthusiastic and eager to participate. I would love to see more companies and sponsors supporting girls starting out in early karting or mini moto competitions, supporting them through to a higher level."

Grace Webb, star of CBeebies Grace's Amazing Machines
Grace Webb, star of CBeebies Grace's Amazing Machines Grace Webb, star of CBeebies Grace's Amazing Machines

Last year Grace pulled on her racing helmet to take part in Formula Woman, a competition for females that were over 17, where the winner had the opportunity to drive in the GT Cup Championship.

"Unfortunately I didn't win but I got very close, finishing in the top five," she enthuses.

"I'm proud of doing jobs like Grace's Amazing Machines and Fifth Gear, so that I can represent females. But being part of Formula Woman was so inspiring. It also highlighted how thousands of women wanted to give it a go."

Grace admits the experience has given her the racing bug.

"Before Formula Woman I had only been on track for journalistic purposes or for fun. You never know how you will do without trying, so possibly this year I might give something else a go," she teases.

Grace's Green Gadgets! takes place at Belfast's MAC Theatre on February 16 and Derry's Waterside Theatre on February 17 as part of the NI Science Festival. For booking and full festival programme visit NIsciencefestival.com