New ‘Great Exhibition at Home’ challenge launched

Nigel Williams

Nigel Williams, Secretary, Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

After nearly four decades in the Royal Navy, Nigel took on the role of Secretary for the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 in 2010. First established to stage the Great Exhibition in 1851, the Royal Commission's extraordinary history is founded on an inspired vision of the importance of education to industry. It first acquired the site in South Kensington on which the three great museums, the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College and other Colleges now stand. In 1891, the Commission then set up an education and research awards programme which runs to this day, and has funded luminaries such as Nobel laureates Professor Peter Higgs, Sir James Chadwick and Paul Dirac. Nigel oversees the running of the Commission and this programme, which now awards over 35 fellowships for top level research in science, engineering and design, and makes Special Awards to support projects consistent with its aims, such as raising the awareness of the young to the opportunities presented by science and engineering.

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The Great Exhibition at Home Challenge is a positive contribution to independent learning at home during this period of unprecedented Covid-19 disruption from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Big Ideas. 

Meaningful, structured and creative STEM activities build to an exhibition to be held in bedrooms, kitchens, shoeboxes, gardens across the country. Inspired by the original Great Exhibition of 1851, The Great Exhibition at Home Challenge asks young people to explore how engineers can help protect the planet. Weekly activities, digital resources and a fantastic video challenge for participants. The Challenge is suitable for home-working or classroom, for primary or secondary ages, and can be completed alone or with friends. The challenge can be started at any time, but will be especially suited to providing an instructive, inspiring and fun activity during the summer term. 

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was an international celebration of innovation. To Prince Albert and his team of commissioners it was the ultimate demonstration of a modern world – fast moving and dynamic.        

The Great Exhibition at Home Challenge is inspired by the wonder of such a momentous undertaking and the ambition of those involved. It provides an opportunity to connect schools and communities today in the spirit of the Exhibition of 1851, to look to the future and engineer a better world.

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 has partnered with The Royal Academy of Engineering to deliver the Great Exhibition at Home with Big Ideas. Students throughout the UK are invited to take part in a seven-week project, culminating in a video challenge. This final challenge asks students to create and share a Great Exhibition, wherever their classroom may be. Free resources are available and winning participants will receive £500 worth of equipment to supersize STEM subjects in their school, as well as other prizes to be announced soon!

Nigel Williams, Secretary of The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 says, “The Great Exhibition at Home Challenge is very much in the spirit of Prince Albert’s legacy. He would urge us to tackle the immediate challenges we face with the pandemic, but not to lose sight of the long-term goals. Prince Albert was a master of innovation and sought to promote it all his life, reminding us of the need to support and develop our young people and to nurture their curiosity. I am looking forward to seeing what young people today make of Albert’s story and the ways in which it will inspire them to create new inventions for 2020 and beyond.”

Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says “Young people are natural engineers – creative, problem solving, adaptable. This is an amazing opportunity for them to think about how they might use engineering to help protect the planet and showcase their ideas, in the style of the famous Great Exhibition of 1851. We will be encouraging students to take part through our Connecting STEM Teachers network and look forward to seeing future engineers step up to this important challenge. As our This is Engineering campaign shows, engineering is a great career for anyone who wants to make a difference and shape the future.”

Dr Virginia Crompton, CEO of Big Ideas says, “Our everyday lives may have changed beyond recognition, but that’s all the more reason to offer engaging and meaningful content for young people, especially as schools are closing. The idea of a Great Exhibition is a brilliantly simple and immediate way to get us all involved and inspired. It really doesn’t matter if the setting is a classroom or a cupboard! We are looking forward to supporting students across the country to take part in this exciting and creative challenge and are honoured to be working with our partners at The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and the Royal Academy of Engineering to provide this flexible and engaging home-friendly challenge.”

To receive a free copy of the Great Exhibition at Home resource pack and challenges for Week 1, sign up at

The deadline for entries is July 2020. 

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