Supermarkets and golf courses hold key to re-building society from scratch

Over a third of the UK population (36%) keeps a few essentials – or ‘grab bag’ – ready in case disaster strikes, according to new research released ahead of The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair.

Yet most of these ‘grab bags’ would fall short of actually keeping people alive if they were needed, according to scientist and author Dr Lewis Dartnell [2], who will be teaching survival science to those attending the Big Bang Fair, UK’s largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people.

While the research shows food (61%), medical supplies (53%) and even mobile phones (47%) were top of people’s lists to grab as they run from home in the event of an emergency, fewer recognised the importance of taking matches (22%) or a simple bottle (10%), which could be used to disinfect water.

According to Dr Dartnell, a fire-starting kit, water bottle, small knife, rope and food should all make the “grab and go” list.

Dr Dartnell’s advice also urges people to head to the beach, the supermarket or a golf course for help re-starting society.

Glass is crucial to re-building and a beach offers sand as well as other raw materials such as chalk and seaweed. Even basic tools like a lathe can be made from sand and old drinks cans.

Meanwhile, the average supermarket is estimated to be able to keep someone alive for 55 years and the rechargeable batteries in golf buggies could be used to store generated electricity.

In his show at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, Dr Dartnell will be challenging young people to see if they have the skills to re-build society from scratch and talking about the essential STEM skills and knowledge that will prevent us slipping back into the Dark Ages.

A poll asking people to assess their levels of knowledge against the skills that Dr Dartnell claims will be key to re-building society shows that while most people were happy to turn their hands to farming and carpentry, critical STEM skills were lacking.

People were most confident they could handle basic first aid (68% rated themselves as average to good), preserve food (61%) and grow crops or rear animals (53%).

However, the majority didn’t rate their knowledge of vital skills including how to make chemical substances like fuel or alcohol (20%), how to get engines or machines to work (32%) or how to make or repair metal tools (32%).

Dr Dartnell will explore the survival value in every day objects – from reading glasses and Vaseline as fire-starting tools to everyday antiseptics to prevent infection – and identify what we should do first to re-build.

According to Dr Dartnell, the five most important things to make are electricity, soap, charcoal, a lathe to craft things with, and glass.

Dr Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch, said:

“Clearly we shouldn’t be worrying twenty four seven about a potential apocalypse but it’s interesting to take a snap shot of where we are now and how we’d fare – individually and as a society. People’s survival instincts are strong but without a greater focus on STEM skills, the speed at which we’d return to ‘society as we know it’ would be seriously impeded. Rather than duck and cover, the country needs to know how to stand and recover from any disaster.”

Paul Jackson, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, organisers of The Big Bang Fair, said:

“Many of the skills required to rebuild communities from scratch reflect those held by the professionals currently addressing the global challenges of sustainable energy, clean water supply and food security. Whether or not we need to rebuild society– these will be critical to our future. The shows and activities at The Big Bang Fair capture the imagination of young visitors, showing them how they could apply what they learn in the classroom to tackle the big issues of the future”.

The Big Bang Fair is free and runs from Wednesday 16 March to Saturday 19 March. Schools will be attending on Wednesday-Friday, with families encouraged to come down on Saturday 19 March, where the activity will be focused on careers and aimed primarily at 11-14 year olds.  


Notes to editors

For more information, please contact:

Monica Wilson – 07789 070 072 /

[1] The research was conducted by Bilendi via 2,001 online interviews with randomly selected British adults who are Maximiles UK panelists between 27 January and 29 January 2016. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and regional data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of United Kingdom. Highlights of the research include:

How would you rate your knowledge & abilities in the following:


Low knowledge

Average knowledge

High knowledge

Basic First Aid




How to preserve food




How to make chemical substance




How to make things from wood




How to make or repair metal tools




How to grow crops or rear animals




How to make your own clothes




How to get engines/machines to work





[2] Dr Lewis Dartnell is a UK Space Agency research fellow based at the University of Kent, studying how life, and signs of its existence, might survive the intense cosmic radiation on the surface of Mars. Alongside his astrobiology research he writes regular science articles in newspapers and magazines, and has appeared in TV shows such as BBC Horizon, Wonders of the Universe, and Stargazing Live. He has published a popular science book introducing astrobiology, Life in the Universe: A Beginner’s Guide and also an illustrated children's book with Dorling Kindersley, My Tourists Guide to the Solar System. His third book, The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch is a Sunday Times Book of the Year, and is out now in paperback.

About The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair

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