Well, the tents have been dismantled, the stages packed away and, with a large bag of washing for our mums to do slung over our shoulder, we make our way back home and back to the real world. But we bring back with us a bounty of magic moments from Potential Plus UK’s first ever vPlus online festival of all things fabulous. With wellies back by the front door, regaling their footwear friends with folk tales of festival fun and fireside friendships, we look forward to next year, but not before we indulge in a little look back at a few favourite festival moments…

With 60 brilliant events to choose from, what springs to mind? All of them! Unfortunately, we can’t talk about them all, which is why we would definitely recommend you log into the festival website https://virtualplusfestival.org/session-videos/  and see the videos there for yourself (if you haven’t joined the festival yet, you can still register and visit the video page linked on the noticeboard for the videos of festival sessions).

However, we can say that, to a couple of members of staff, quantum computing will now be forever synonymous with “doughnuts”! Thanks to Jessica Pointing’s session – Introduction to Quantum Computing (unfortunately not available as a video) – we now have a much better understanding of bits and superposition and the future of the universe, based on the plain or frosted side of a doughnut!

Doughnuts being used to illustrate quantum computing

Another favourite foody moment came in the form a photograph on the Facebook festival chat page of a family gathered around the table eating their tea – to the accompaniment of the video of Verity Jones’ session on “Eating Insects” – definitely not a squeamish family!

Fabulous creative sessions mean that our gallery on the festival website is full of the great drawings that were sent in after fantastic illustration sessions with Liz Million and Paul Pickford. If you want to learn how to draw cartoons or the ultimate monster, videos of these sessions are still available on the festival website https://virtualplusfestival.org/session-videos/ . Paul will also be running new vPlus sessions for us during April and May and Liz and many other of our brilliant presenters from the festival will be working with us during the coming months. Watch out for more details on the events area of Potential Plus UK’s website.

Chess proved a really popular choice during the festival, whether as a presentation looking at how chess can support learning and development, or as a mini Lichess online tournament (which in the end we expanded from one tournament to three!). Our alien theme over the weekend also proved popular. Eight challenges from our aliens, varying from creating a new language, to designing a flag for earth, are still available on the festival website https://virtualplusfestival.org/the-alien-federation-of-intelligent-beings-the-challenges/, while the response to our weekend spent creating an alien world in Minecraft was so good that we added an extra day at the end of the festival! Thank you to the brilliant volunteers who helped moderate the Minecraft for three days. The work undertaken on the Minecraft world was inspiring. A few screenshots of the alien world that was created are in their own Minecraft gallery on the festival website. While in our header shot you can see the lovely thank you message built by some of our Minecraft members which brought a tear to the eye of this hardened blog writer!

The festival also produced some great lightbulb moments. For example, our understanding of this picture of a busker wearing a model of the ship “Nelson” as a hat, flipped on its head during Lisa Anderson’s talk on Black British Art, when suddenly we learned to look at the picture not as a line drawing of a famous black busker from the 19th century, but as one of the first recordings of the work of a black British artist – who wore his sculpture as his headgear.

Pencil drawing effigy of Joseph Johnson
Sam and chicken on his shoulder
Rosie and the chickens

It was often the interactive sessions which brought the most fun – or even a chicken or two! Event organiser Olivia tells us more:

“The Sunday afternoon Scavenger Hunt with Catherine Holden brought much amusement and laughter to our household. It was left to our 10 year old Abby to do most of the thinking and the leg work whilst Izzy (14) and I rolled about on the sofa entertained by what Abby ‘brought to the table’ and watching what craziness was erupting in the other households on screen. Our moment of the week was seeing Sam’s chickens join the party, brought along as items that helped him through lockdown. Impeccably behaved and at one point jumping onto Sam’s shoulder on command, they were introduced as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Having chatted to his mum since, these guys were the result of a lockdown treat to raise four newborn chicks and they have become well accustomed to sitting through online lessons. They joined sister Rosie in an earlier Scavenger Hunt too. A wonderful moment to witness and a beautiful story to have heard about…all because of vPlus festival!”  Thanks to Rosie and Sam for sharing photographs of those chickens with us.

Parents weren’t forgotten, and when children were tucked up in bed (at least that was the hope), we ran special webinar and fireside chat sessions for them, which gave us a chance to find out more about how we can help our members. It was also fantastic to see our presenters rise to the challenge of working with children with high learning potential and their parents, rather summed up by Bobby Seagull when he said  “I’ve never faced this level of challenge in a family quiz” [before] (We will just have to give him more practice!).

The best thing about our festival, however, has been the interaction and feedback from vPlus Festival-goers. Thank you to everyone who took the time to message us to say that they considered it “brilliant” or said things like “You are the key to a peaceful Saturday morning”, this helped us know that the festival was doing what we hoped. In particular it was lovely to hear individual stories and find that we are reaching people who might never otherwise have been able to attend our events. For example, we heard from one mum that her 9 year old with dual or multiple exceptionality (DME), who wouldn’t have attended a physical event, was happy to try webinars that he thought would be interesting – and happy that he was free to leave the webinar if it wasn’t right for him. For many people, this online festival was the perfect way to be part of the high learning potential community – and we even had people visit from as far afield as America, India, China and Australia!

So how do we top that? We would love to be able to offer another festival next year (sponsorship permitting), and in the meantime we are holding more vPlus events – watch out for details on the website and in social media – and starting to plan for face-to-face events later in the year.

Don’t forget, we may have shoved the wellies beside the front door but videos from the festival are still just a virtual step away and available until April 30th! https://virtualplusfestival.org/session-videos/