Friday, 21 January 2011

A Great Year for Skeptics in the Pub

Winchester Skeptics in the Pub (SitP) is one year old this week and we will be celebrating by moving to a new and bigger venue in the heart of Winchester town centre.

Dave Hughes and I hooked up shortly after the first TAM London (following the realisation that we only actually lived a few miles apart), and after telephoning Simon Perry for a few tips on setting up our very own SitP; we convened in a pub in Basingstoke. Over a few drinks we began to hatch our cunning plan for the Hamphire Skeptics Society to extend the Skeptics in the Pub franchise to the good people of Hampshire.

Having opted for Winchester as a good central Hampshire location, we embarked upon a pub-crawl to scout out some suitable public houses that might be willing to tolerate a monthly evening of scientific scepticism.

We visited a number of traditional old English drinking establishments on our quest for a suitable venue, imbibing the local fare as we went. Our intoxicated journey led us to the “Slug and Lettuce” where we viewed the 150+ capacity function room on the 1st floor. We briefly shared illicit fantasies about how nice it would be to be able to fill such a venue. However, as we were not at all confident in generating a huge amount of interest, we opted instead for the Royal Oak, a quaint old pub in the town centre with a “haunted” cellar that could snugly accommodate 20-30 geeks with nothing better to do of a Thursday evening.

Shortly after agreeing on the venue we received confirmation from Simon Singh that he would be delighted to come and give our inaugural talk, and it quickly became apparent that the “haunted” cellar was unlikely to be able accommodate the growing throng of people registering their interest. A few last minute phone calls and visits by Dave fortunately secured us the use of the dinning room at the Roebuck Inn.

The initial meeting was a great success, with almost 100 people turning up. The high of the first night was followed by a fantastic year of events including talks from Richard Wilson, Deborah Hyde, Martin Robbins, Simon Perry, Dr. Andy Russell, Andy Lewis, Prof. David Colquhoun, Prof. Chris French, Frank Swain, David Allen Green and a live recording of the Pod Delusion Christmas Special Podcast.

Indeed it was a great year for Skeptics in the Pub in general with a host of other branches springing up all over the country almost at pace to match the rate at which churches are closing.

We now have high hopes for 2011 and have already set out an exciting schedule of events that includes many talks from blokes off of the telly. We hope to be hosting Adam Rutherford, Prof. Jim Al Khalili, Jon Ronson, Chris Lintott, Prof. David Nutt, Mark Stevenson, Les Rose, Matt Parker and Dean Burnett as well as many other events still in the pipeline for this year.

Although the Roebuck proved to be most accommodating during our first year, due to problems with their roof, the pub will be closing down this week. The cost of repair will in all probability make it economically unfeasible for the owners to reopen the pub in the immediate future, hence necessitating the need for a new home for Winchester Skeptics in the Pub. I did ponder if we could perhaps start a pub roof fund and stick a giant thermometer outside. We could have a pub fete and have a cake stall and a raffle and a White Elephant Stall and I could make some jam and and … No maybe not.

So, another pub-crawl this week with the ever-helpful assistance of James Thomas led us once more to the upstairs function room at the Slug and Lettuce. Following a year of frequently rammed events at the Roebuck, filling their capacious function room no longer seems so daunting. So we will be holding our first Winchester Skeptics in the Pub of 2011 in the Slug and Lettuce in Winchester town centre were we will be welcoming Andrew Copson, the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association to talk on the history and importance of the humanist movement.

We are keen to make Winchester Skeptics in the Pub as inclusive as possible, and we are very much aware that a pub environment may be limiting to some potential attendees. Sadly, the Slug and Lettuce also does not have wheelchair access to the first floor, so before committing to this venue on a more permanent basis we will have to weigh up all the options.


Many thanks to all our speakers from our first year, and for everyone who came out to the events, we really have started to establish quite a community and with the help of Daniel Pope, spawned the first Skeptics in the Curry House (SitCH) that now regularly concludes our monthly meetings.

If you are able to get to Winchester on the last Thursday evening of the month then you would be most welcome to come and join us.

See you at Winchester Skeptics in the Pub, £2 on the door, no need to book.


Feel free to post links and comments below on how its going at the other branches around the country.
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