Despite having been working on the RSA’s new project around Making for the last 6 months, running events to connect Makers from all levels such as the FutureMaker day back in June and our recent Maker Networking workshops, until last week I had never actually visited a real life ‘Makerspace’.
Makespaces, FabLabs Hackspaces and community workshops are popping up all over the world (if I’ve lost you already, then this great article by Gui Cavalcanti will expain all!) and you may have heard Dr Laura James, the founder of Cambridge Makespace singing their praises at this years President’s Lecture. I have long understood their benefits including encouraging startups, enterprise and collaborative learning, but see one of these spaces in the flesh and you realise it is so much more.
Last week Nat Hunter and I spent a whole day at the brilliant MakLab in Glasgow, Scotland's first open access digital fabrication studio which is nestled in the Lighthouse, an arts centre in the very heart of the city. And it was FANTASTIC!
At this point, I should make it clear that I am not what you would call a Maker. I am a graphic designer, and 99% of what I do involves me working on my own on my laptop, before sending finished artwork to a printer on the other side of London. Quite often I don’t even get to see the finished thing before it is delivered to the client. No collaboration, no materials experimentation, no hands on craft. All in all, not very ‘Makey’, so I was initially sceptical about what I would take from a very hands-on 3D environment such as MakLab.
We were given a tour of the MakLab by Debra, a volunteer and part-time MakLab employee who makes stunning jewellery from plastic off-cuts in her spare time. She showed us all of the different equipment – a digital milling machine, vinyl cutters, laser cutters, CNC machines, digital embroidery and 3D printers. But it wasn’t so much the machines that got me excited (after all, I’ve never used any of this equipment before so wouldn’t know where to start) but the inspiration that surrounded us. From the material banks of brightly coloured vinyl and glittery Perspex (which I took a particular shine to) to the work samples that were lying around – an incredible skull laser cut into slate, a portrait etched out of marble and an intricate paper-cut wedding invitation as just a few examples – gave me ideas instantly of what I (as a non-maker) could do with this equipment. This sort of inspiration is something that you just don’t get by working in a traditional isolated environment.
The atmosphere was also fantastic. People were working together, sharing ideas and helping each other with the equipment. We met Frankie who started her model making company Finch and Fouracre soon after graduating Product Design from Glasgow School of Art. Frankie was using the laser cutter to help her make fast prototypes for a new paper craft project. Before she discovered MakLab she had to send off the work to be cut. This was costing her both money and time. She told us about how MakLab had changed the way she works. She now takes on bigger more complicated jobs, safe in the knowledge that with MakLabs equipment and support she will be able to learn and apply new skills to her work.
I think the most inspiring thing about the space was not necessarily what was being made, but the collaborative backdrop to this making. Anna Marion, an independent jewellery maker and the resident expert on the milling machine spends a large amount of her time at the MakLab. When we arrived she was busy helping someone turn their digital sketch of Skye’s mountain-scape into a 3D cast, which could be used to make collectable fridge magnets to sell to tourists. Anna saw the potential to collaborate, and by the end of the day it was agreed that she could use the design for rings in her jewellery collection. Conversations like this must happen every day, with skills, inspiration and ideas being shared in an open community environment.
I left MakLab and headed back to London bursting with ideas and itching to get Making. The problem is, there isn’t currently a facility for me to do that. MakLab are running a Kickstarter Campaign to bring a Lab to the heart of London. If the campaign is successful they will open a workshop in Makerversity, Somerset House with the following aims:
“1. We will create a bustling centre for making and digital manufacture in the heart of London. Part workshop, part studio, part laboratory, part learning centre. A diverse environment where differing people, technologies, crafts, and world views come together creates true innovation, empowering people to kickstart ideas into realisation. We are creating a place where some of the most weird and wonderful collaborations occur. Where we offer a model that is fair, affordable and inclusive, ensuring creative and experimental work is not pushed out of the city.
2. We will build learning programmes that empower young people with a modern skillset. An alternate education for young people that focus on developing young people’s skills, attitude and creativity with connections directly into different industries. Our aim is to develop young people who are engaged, proactive, critical and enthused.
3. We will put digital manufacturing in the hands of people who might not ordinarily use it. We see many of these technologies as being transformative, both in a technical sense as well as from a social perspective. We have witnessed first hand how making things with technology can be an incredibly empowering exercise and how it can spark creativity and imagination.”
Sounds great doesn’t it!? I’ve already snapped up my 3 months trial membership for just £30, but the campaign needs more help to succeed. Pledge now, and I will see you down at MakLab London in April. I’ll be the one making something out of glittery Perspex!