The International Centre for Life is the newest visitor attraction in Newcastle, built as part of a £68 million landmark millennium project in the heart of the city. The centre brings together life sciences, biotechnology, ethics, research, education and entertainment in one huge and highly distinctive building. This is an innovative project, as it is the first time that all these factors have been brought together onto one site. ● The site The chosen site for Life in on the southern edge of Newcastle city centre, right next to the central railway station – it is easily accessible by road (although you do have to pay for their car park), railway and the Tyne and Wear Metro (get off at central station). When the centre was built here the land was rather run down and derelict, and it formed part of the regeneration of Newcastle that is currently ongoing; prior to this, the land had been at different times a bowling green, army barracks, livestock market, timber mills, and was even the location of the Newcastle Royal Infirmary in 1751. ● Why Newcastle? Newcastle upon Tyne is one of the country's foremost centres for medical research, having a university medical school that is actively involved in research into areas such as pharmacology and genetics. The centre also forms a new tourist attraction for the northeast, and brought around 750 jobs to the city. ● What is in the centre? Life is primarily aimed at children and families – inside the huge building is a range of interactive displays designed to teach about all aspects of biology using the latest technologies. Upon entering the centre (after being parted with an eye watering amount of money that is), the first thing you will be asked to do is have your photo taken at one of a series of stands that basically work like photo booths. The machine scans the barcode on your entrance ticket, then takes your picture and creates w hat is called your passport, and which you will use at various points on your tour. The first part of the centre is devoted to evolution, and as you move back in time, you will pass a number of time stations – by placing your ticket onto the scanner, your photo appears on screen and you morph into whatever creature was the ancestor of humans as this time. This is not the type of morphing software you see at the movies of course, and it does get a bit samey after a couple of goes, but it is a nice idea and there is something faintly amusing about seeing yourself mutate into a small reptile I suppose! This section of the centre also has displays giving you basic information about life as you move back in time, including the obligatory display on dinosaurs and how they were (allegedly) killed by a meteor striking the earth. The information is very basic, but it does try and teach about mass extinctions and has computer games that help children to understand ideas such as camouflage in nature. The second part of the centre is devoted to DNA. Being a student museologist, I have come across the idea that as the average reading age in the UK is 12 years, you should aim for interpretation boards to match this. Life is clearly aimed at younger children, yet to me it seems that the concept of genetics is just a bit too complex to introduce to such an audience – all that you get is information that is oversimplified and confusing to children, so they do not learn anything from it. Equally, the show on DNA (featuring clichéd mad scientists) is on one level patronising, while at the same time managing to include some ideas that your average 8 year old will not appreciate; do children of this age really need to know about the Crick and Watson double helix model??? Moving on, the third area of the centre is somewhat better, if only because it includes a crazy motion ride which is really good fun. This ride normally has a tour of the body, but as I visited the centre around Halloween, they decided to have a “scary” ride instead which failed to be either scary or informative, but it was fun and I felt at least part compensated for the price I had paid to get in. To go on this ride, you have be over 4 feet tall and in good health, and you cannot ride more than once if Life is very busy. This part has various interactivities on the senses, reproduction and ethics (again parts not suited to the target audience). Finally, the last part of the centre houses the Life arcade, which is basically a collection of games (some of which have arguably educational value I must admit) and the (overpriced) café. The way out of course takes you through the (overpriced) shop. ● My opinion As you may have gathered, I found this a somewhat expensive trip out. I had been told that it was £5-50 to get in, but took my student card along for the expected discount; it was only when I got there that I found out that this was the student discount. Ouch! In my state of shock I didn’t get the exact figures for other entrance fees, but adults can expect fork out around £7 each and I think children were around the £4 point. That’s an awful lot of money to pay, especially when you start adding drinks, lunch or souvenirs on top of it. Life was well attended but not excessively busy (I went on a Saturday), but I would try and avoid school and bank holidays if at all possible. As I have mentioned, I didn’t think much of the interpretation that the centre had, as it looked as if they just couldn’t decide who they were being written for – adults and smart kids will no doubt feel frustrated at the lack of more detailed information, while other kids will just play the computer games without reading the boards and come away having learnt nothing. The technology was quite impressive, although the problem is that when you have hundreds of kids abu sing computers that they will break down very easily; a number were out of action when I went. The centre does try to promote itself as an educational facility, but I don’t think it is by any stretch of the imagination. It is entertaining for families who can afford to go and it has no doubt brought employment, income and a more attractive appearance to this part of Newcastle but there is definitely room for improvement. ● Other points - Life is fully accessible to wheelchair users - Season tickets are available for repeat visits - Group discounts are available for 20 or more people if prebooked - Life is open daily, 10-6 monday to saturday and 11-6 sundays, but times are subject to change so check first Contact Life on 0191 243 8210 (information) or 0191 2438223 (bookings) www.lifeinteractiveworld.co.uk
I have just returned from a 'fun filled' family day out.. Life is an interactive museum in Newcastle upon Tyne, which we have driven past several times, and today a wet and windy day in the holidays we thought we would visit. So off we went my disabled mother, 10-year-old son, my 16-month daughter and myself. Getting Parked When we arrived and followed the signs to the car park we were disappointed to find that the only official car park for the museum was a pay and display in the centre of Newcastle but when I asked the car park attendant what facilities were available for the disabled he advised me to drive round the car park and come back and speak to him. My first thought was great he is going to direct me to a disabled parking area near the entrance. No such luck, he said we could either fight for a place in this car park which cost 40p an hour or we could give him £2 and we would be allowed to park outside the museum. This sounded a bit dodgy so I didn?t pay him and drove to his mate who was over the road. He said if I gave him £2 he would radio ahead and get the main attendant to let us in I still wasn?t convinced but paid the money and asked that he radioed while we waited. Eventually we got parked then we had the challenge of the queue to get in. Before I move on to the next part may I just say that even though my mum is classed as disabled she is not in a wheelchair and does not have any physical signs of her illness. The relevance of this will become apparent. The Queue My mum went in the centre ahead of me as I was attending to my son and locking car etc and she had my daughter in the pushchair and wanted to get inside out of the cold. She had just stood in the queue when a member of staff approached her and said as long as one of us stood in the queue she was quite welcome to go around the barrier and take a seat (we hadn?t mentioned the disability at this point). I took her place in the qu eue and she went and sat down. I approached the member of staff and advised that my mum was disabled and were any concessions available he said yes there were concessions and the receptionist would advise me. After a 5 minute wait our turn came, I advised that I would be paying for 1 adult (£6.95), 1 child (£4.50) 1 under 4 (free) and 1 disabled adult (I expected the concession price of £5.50). I was pleasantly shocked when the receptionist told me that I would be able to go in free as a carer for the disabled adult The Place Itself When you first enter you are guided to a strange looking machine to get your photo taken and saved onto your entry ticket ? it seemed very strange to me but the first part of the exhibit is about evolution I am not going to tell you much more but it is very interesting especially seeing the way evolution happened to you? Next are various attractions such as the secret of life, cell city, jack?s Story (very interesting), the brain show and the Crazy Motion Ride (not for the faint hearted). The Food We ate lunch in the café, the food itself was very tasty but the service and eating area left quite a few things to consider. We ordered our meals and then went to pay but there was nine people in the queue in front of us so I requested that the other till be opened and credit to them this was done straight away. Then we couldn?t find any seats so we asked a very nice lady if she would mind if we joined her, she was fine about this but I definitely think more seating could have been offered. There isn?t a lot more I can say apart from the fact it was an enjoyable and educational day out but it is definitely geared towards children from about the age of 10 the younger children just seemed to be running about but not taking things in.