THOUSANDS of visitors pounded the pubs, shops, schools and libraries across the city to take part in a unique science-themed festival last month.

With the 11-day annual extravaganza IF Oxford now at an end, festival director Dane Comerford says with the hard work over he’ll now be tucking into a dirty Martini or two.

Since its inception in 1992 the Oxford Science and Ideas Festival has aimed to promote an enjoyment of numerous fields of scientific study.

This year it hosted more than 100 science-themed events at various location across Oxford from October 18 to 28.

As part of the festivities there were talks, poetry and even cabaret, all held for free for regular visitors and newcomers alike.

Speaking to the Oxford Times about the festival and explaining the unique style of If Oxford, Mr Comerford said: “We’re seeking meaning from what looks like incoherency.

“Every year we pull together events proposed by academics, artists, engineers and creative organisations and add to these a few of our own ideas.

“Some of these activities are relatively easy to create while others may take years to plan, with a previous festival acting as a stepping stone, or an event experiment if you like.

“The festival is keen to include creativity from across Oxford and from exotic places like Glasgow or the Galápagos islands, to talk about disability, dance or biodiversity.

“If we’ve done that well, our festivalgoers will have born witness to an abstract concept, or a physical skill, or perhaps an uncomfortable truth that builds further meaning into daily lives.”

Speaking of the importance of the festival he said: “People may know it as a science festival because that’s what IF evolved from.

“We want to embrace the full range of innovation that touches Oxford because quite a lot of the future is being developed here — computing, healthcare interventions, environmental models, energy solutions, economic theory, poetry and literature — and has been developed here for hundreds of years.

“The scientific process of discovery is equally as creative as art,and although there isn’t a periodic table of music or choreography, for instance, there are still rules and meaning behind a rousing anthem or a captivating dance.

“Likewise, science at the cutting edge has its own uncertainties and sense of whimsy. All of this stuff is very much a part of British culture and if some people normally think that “capital C” culture is found in an arts festival, they should check us out.”

There was also plenty to enjoy at the festival for the younger generation, he said, with various hands-on events for children during the 11-day programme.

He said that this year’s festival has seen a positive response to some of the new events, which have including a new cabaret produced by Science Oxford as well as American stand-up comedy.

The group also worked with the Oxford Playhouse to host Only Expansion – what Mr Comerford calls ‘an electro-acoustic rabbit hole of a tour.’

Asked how many of the festival faithful are newcomers or regulars he said: “It’s a bit of both.

“Some things work really well, so we have them back; other times it’s good to play with formats year-to year.

“We’re doing some cool events with John Lewis on identity and how people are perceived by others combining makeup and computer recognition.

“Likewise, there are topics that didn’t make it into the 100 events. We were considering a Brexit strand because it’s so topical, but we’ve decided to make the festival a Brexit-free zone.”

Speaking of some of the festival highlights he said the poetry competition saw hundreds of poems read from young people from across the county on various scientific topics.

The task of holding the city-wide festival is no small feat, and Dane says his biggest challenge in getting everything together for a successful run is its ‘ambition’.

He said: “Being a small team that puts together a big programme is a balancing act.

“Resources are the main constraining factor in the festival’s size and new sponsors are always welcome.

“Some festivals that look similar to ours are usually embedded within a museum, like in Manchester, or a university.

“I used to run the team at the University of Cambridge which puts together the Cambridge science festival, its festival of ideas and the equivalent of the open doors programme in September.

“In Oxford, it’s ‘just’ me and my brilliant colleague Cathy, a board of Trustees, a few dozen festival volunteers and hundreds of creative people who want to have one of the great UK science and ideas festivals in their home city — even if it’s just home for a year.”

Once all the planning and preparation is over thousands come out to enjoy the various activities and events.

Dane said: “There’s a great buzz when the festival’s on: an intoxicating mix of exhaustion, satisfaction and ‘what about next year?’

“There’s at least 12 months of planning that involves grant applications, community workshops, a host of behind-the-scenes venue and logistics drama wrapped up in the anticipation of “is anyone going to turn up?”

“This is all coupled with the potential that this festival may be the last one.

“I’ve tried to build a bit of stability into the charity that runs the festival, which has allowed us to do some sector-leading creative things, from hosting a mental health dance performance in a shipping container and presenting lived-experience rap from young people in Blackbird Leys.”

The festival is based on a Pay What You Decide concept – which is an optional donation to the festival, while ticket prices remain free.

Speaking of the financing model he said: “The hope is that people in Oxford will enjoy experimenting with ideas as much as we do — and possibly suggest topics for inclusion next year — that’s the rewarding part for me.”

For more information about the festival visit