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University of Surrey celebrates 50 years in Guildford with Festival of Wonder

Surrey’s Festival of Wonder saw the University’s 50th Anniversary year end with a bang, as alumni and local residents were welcomed onto campus to share in the momentous ‘birthday party’ celebrations.

Moments captured during the festivities

The University of Surrey’s Festival of Wonder took place on Saturday 13 May 2017, and saw visitors enjoy a wide range of fun, free and educational activities on our Stag Hill and Manor Park campuses in the heart of Guildford.

The day has been fun and it’s been rewarding to come back as an alumni and see how the university is continually evolving. That’s a really nice feeling. It’s been reminiscent.

Emily Newman, alumni

The programme of events throughout the day included presentations on everything from science and technology through to music and literature, interactive demonstrations at our Wonder Zone, interviews with celebrities and special guests, and a full twelve hours of music, dance and comedy at our beautiful lakeside stage.

The sun was shining as visitors began to arrive on campus, ready to make the most of all that the Festival had to offer, and were met with a warm welcome from friendly staff and student volunteers.

The excitement grew throughout the day as the campuses became abuzz with people, the talks and performances began, and the festivities got into full swing.

On the Main Piazza, guests sat by the fountains with ice-creams and Festival programmes in hand as they planned their day of fun-filled activity.

Children played on bouncy castles and rode the teacups with freshly painted faces, people explored the impressive and innovative student businesses on display at the Student Enterprise Zone, and queues formed for the highly anticipated Wonder Talks and Jim Meets… series with special 50th Anniversary guests, legendary actor Brian Blessed and TV’s own Mark Evans.

The Wonder Talks saw the University’s best and brightest deliver bite-sized presentations on everything from space and satellites through to music and politics. The talks were highly popular, with presenters such as Supervet Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, Emmy award-winning composer Michael Price, critically acclaimed writer Monica Ali, and founding father of small satellites Sir Martin Sweeting. 

Local resident Michelle Mayer, who attended the Festival with her daughter Emily, praised Sir Martin Sweeting's talk: "He made it interesting. Emily is twelve and she remained engaged all through the half an hour!"

Over at Manor Park campus, the Sports Zone saw guests making the most of free access to the world-class facilities and sports taster sessions at Surrey Sports Park. Visitors cheered on current students and alumni at our Annual Grad Sport cup and attended a celebrity sporting panel of rugby, netball and cricket stars, hosted by legendary sports commentator John Inverdale.

Also over at Manor Park was our Vet Zone, where guests were treated to a tour of our School of Veterinary Medicine and received handy tips about their own pets’ health. Children took part in hands-on demonstrations, including learning how to bandage a dog, and made new friends by meeting animals from Surrey Wildlife Trust and the charming Pets as Therapy dogs.

Festival guest and Surrey Alumni Corrin Smith, commented: “The kids have been loving it. We went to the Vet School first so that was brilliant. So many different activities.”

An impressive selection of food and drinks were available throughout the day, ensuring that guests were well-fuelled to make the most of the festivities. Festival guest Alison Elliott commented: "The food is amazing, really good!”

Taste of Surrey invited attendees to sample the very best food and drink that Surrey has to offer, from homemade fudge and delicious bread, through to the finest local gin. Alumni and festival guest Emily Newman commented: "We headed to the Food Zone and Taste of Surrey first of all. It was nice to experience local produce."

The campus was home to a selection of food and drink vendors to suit all tastes, and many visitors made sure to grab themselves something delicious to eat before heading to Free Fest, situated by the beautiful campus lake.

Once the main Festival activities had drawn to a close, Free Fest continued to run from the afternoon to the late evening. The University’s lush green lakeside field was alive with chatter, laughter and music, and decorated with picnic blankets as attendees basked in the sun and enjoyed a programme of live music, comedy and dance from local and student talent.

Local resident Thomas, commented: "We came down to Free Fest to grab some food and sit on our picnic blanket and enjoy the performances. We’ve shared a paella, which was delicious, and we’ll definitely be getting ice-cream later - it’s definitely the weather for it! The atmosphere is great down here at the lake, everyone is so happy and chatty and the sun is shining. Absolutely glorious weather.”

The Festival provided a wonderful opportunity to bring University staff and students, alumni and local residents together in celebrating 50 years of calling Guildford our home.

Our Festival of Wonder highlights

Wonder Zone - Discovery, curiosity and a real-life robot!

The Wonder Zone was alive with curiosity and excitement, as visitors made their way around interactive displays and took part in hands-on demonstrations. The wide range of exhibits that filled the marquee showcased the wide range of awe-inspiring research taking place at the University.

Surrey Space Centre (SSC) offered a glimpse into our incredible solar system and shared how they are working to clear ‘space junk’ from the atmosphere. Guests queued with excitement and anticipation to experience life as an astronaut on SSC’s ‘Ride to Space’ - a virtual reality ascent into the stars. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) were also there to demonstrate their satellites in action with an aerial view of London and an interactive map for attendees to navigate and explore.

Throughout the day, the Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) delighted adults and children alike, as they invited people to explore ‘The Turning Forest’ - a captivating and surreal virtual reality experience. The Centre also demonstrated ‘live movement capture’ and introduced Festival-goers to Baxter the Robot, who quickly became a Wonder Zone favourite.

Local resident Jennifer Hammond, there with her mother and young daugher, commented: "We’ve just made it here to the Wonder Zone which is good, lots of hands-on activities which are great to get involved with, so we’ve enjoyed that. My daughter was fascinated by the girl on the stage [CVSSP demonstrating at the live motion capture] and watching the screen behind her. She didn’t want to leave that!" 

Other activities on offer included the opportunity to ‘Take a selfie of your heart’, learn CPR from our Paramedic Science students in ‘Save a Life’ sessions, delve in the world of cyber security, and get hands-on with radioactive rocks.

Families also got stuck-in at the ‘Passport to your future’ corner. The enthusiasm was palpable as children completed a series of fun and educational tasks at interactive and hands-on stalls. 

Wife of a Surrey Alumni, Claire Osborne, commented: "We’re just making our way around the 'Passport to your future' section, and my husband and son are looking around the space area at the moment. So yes, we’re learning lots. My husband is in great conversation actually with the scientists. My son is in year ten at the moment and he’s very interested. He likes geography and PE and nutrition so I think it’s opened his eyes to what opportunities he could have if he came here.”

With each task completed they grew one step closer to filling their activity book and “graduating” from the Festival of Wonder - mortarboard and gown included! The miniature graduates did not only go home with a renewed passion for learning, but were also thrilled to take photos in their graduation outfits at a free photobooth.

Kids’ Zone - Fun and games, educational talks and a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!

The Festival proved to be a fun day out for children, who were catered for with a Kids’ Zone and Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!

Families queued for face painting, children leapt on bouncy castles, and onlookers stood in awe as a comical double-act of men on stilts entertained the crowds with juggling and jokes.

Festival-goers Julie and Richard Churchill, alumni of the university, commented: "There’s such an amazing variety of things going on, our children have been very well-entertained as well.”

In our new Innovation for Health building, a series of educational talks for under 10s took place. Whilst over on PATS Field, a red and white tent was the setting for a very merry party… 

Adorned with bright decorations and towering stacks of teapots and teacups, the Mad Hatter’s tea party was certainly beyond even the wildest imaginations. Guests came face to face with the Mad Hatter himself, alongside the Queen of Hearts and other well-loved Wonderland characters, who served up an array of colourful sweet treats for everyone to enjoy.

A giant clock right in the heart of the tent ensured that no one could be late for their very important tea party date, and this experience down the rabbit-hole was one that guests won’t be forgetting in a hurry. As well as tasty treats, there were also personal hand-drawn caricatures and delightful balloon animals. As guests streamed out of the tent, there was no hiding the Cheshire Cat sized grins on every face.

Alumni Lounge - Memories, old friends and ‘Forever Surrey’ pride

The Festival provided a VIP experience for University of Surrey alumni, who were welcomed with open arms into the Alumni Lounge at the 5G Innovation Centre to reminisce on old times with a glass of fizz, served up by our friendly student helpers. There was a warm and inviting atmosphere in the Lounge, as chatter filled the air from old friends coming together to revisit their student experiences and celebrate the University’s anniversary.

Three boards adorned with brightly coloured Post-it Notes stood at the side of the room, displaying alumni’s thoughts on the three words that summed up their time at University, the things that had made their time at Surrey special, and the songs that brought back memories of their student days. The messages cascaded over the sides of the boards, as people eagerly shared their cherished Surrey memories with each other.

Emily Newman, alumni, commented: "We’ve just been over to the Alumni Lounge in the nice new 5GIC building, which is lovely. It was a really nice atmosphere at the Alumni Lounge, really informal and good networking and Post-It Notes boards to write about your memories.”

In the corner of the room sat an exhibition of memorabilia from the University of Surrey archives, displaying photographs from Surrey throughout the years. Memories flooded back as alumni delightedly perused these photographs with their friends and family, recalling defining moments from their time at Surrey.

Photos from the Festival of Wonder celebrations