Meet the Makers!

Jennifer Graham looks at a new generation of skilled makers, spaces and trade partners shaping Liverpool around their own ambitious plans for a Maker City; one where accessible equipment is absolutely key...

“Anyone can come. If they’ve got a ten pound note, or even two fivers, they can use most of our equipment all day.” This is Adrian McEwen talking: Co-Founder of DoES Liverpool, the longest-running maker space in Liverpool (established 2011), and an enthusiastic advocate of affordable and accessible making.

A growing and cheery community of entrepreneurs, artists, developers, hardware engineers, academics and students – and anyone else who needs a space to work – DoES Liverpool is equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, a CNC mill, and other advanced electrical tools.

Over the past few years, Liverpool has, happily, seen an emergence of such spaces. The general public can turn up, pay an affordable fee, and use equipment to make products to sell or personal items for gifts.

Growing in popularity

The original, global maker movement grew in popularity alongside the widespread take-up of Arduino around eight years ago: an open-source electronic prototyping platform allowing users to create interactive electronic objects. McEwen has utilised it successfully with Bubblino – a Twitter-watching, bubble-blowing Arduino-bot – and is also well-versed in the Internet of Things (IoT): physical objects that can be embedded with electronics and network connectivity.

“IoT is in its early days”, McEwen explains, “so there’s an opportunity for Liverpool to be at the forefront of that, if we can get enough people involved.” A recent government reportfrom the Office for Science stated that there are three emerging clusters in the UK around IoT: London, Cambridge, and Liverpool.

And DoES is certainly trying its best to get more people in the city to switch onto IoT, supporting the regular, family-friendly and free Liverpool Makefest; the next of which will be held at Central Library (25 June 2016) and is expecting over 150 makers to showcase how science, technology, engineering, arts and crafts are shaping our world.

Liverpool: FabCity?

Joining DoES will be Lol Baker, Manager of the Liverpool branch of FabLab. Based at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), it is actually part of a much wider, international network of maker spaces which began at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA. Technologists there took all their big equipment and scaled it down so it would fit in one room, making it more accessible to the public. This originally short-term outreach project lead to over 600 FabLabs opening up all over the world. “Each FabLab is operating in different ways, and all having different types of audiences”, describes Baker; “just like what is happening in Liverpool with other maker spaces.”

Baker has been inspired by a recent trip to FabLab Barcelona, who have a vision to become a FabCity – a completely green and self-sufficient making-city – by 2054. Baker would like to see Liverpool do the same. “Liverpool is a port”, he continues. “We’ve always looked out. So it makes sense that we become a FabCity.”

However, making such a transition may take some persuading. “It comes from the ground up”, Baker says, “but it’s also something which the city leaders need to adopt, too.”

Perhaps that conversation will happen with the formation of Make Liverpool, which is drawing the attention of developers and funders to the city's North Docks.

Located in the heart of the area on Regent Street, this new maker space is joining the nearby Soundcity festival (which will be held in Bramley Dock over 28 and 29 May 2016) and The Kazimier club’s brand new venue, Invisible Wind Factory (which will have its grand launch on nearby Regent Road, 19 May).

Out with the old, in with the new

Make Liverpool is the culmination of three years of research, planning and preparation from the team behind the Baltic Triangle’s Ninety Squared CIC studios. It has just received £30,000 of investment from The Beautiful Ideas Co.'s LaunchPad programme, and will utilise 18,000 sq ft of previously unused and empty North Dock warehouse space.

“We want to create something with a variety of equipment, that is easy to access, so that we can support self-sufficient employment”, its Director Kirsten Little tells me. “Everyone from mums who might want to sell the crafts they make on Etsy, to students staying in the city and starting businesses, or people who’ve traditionally worked in industry in the city, and want somewhere to continue to use those skills.”

Make Liverpool members will be able to access woodwork and textile tools through to photography facilities and computer-aided design (CAD).

New neighbours Invisible Wind Factory already have their own light and metal workshops, and are currently building new studios as well as a public performance space. Could we be witnessing a shift within the city as makers move into another of Liverpool’s post-industrial – and as of yet, underdeveloped – heritage sites?

Erika Rushton, one of the leaders of The Beautiful Ideas Co., thinks so. “It is no surprise that a new generation of makers are moving into what's left of the old, super resilient industries and repurposed spaces”, Rushton confirms. “This is the place in Liverpool where stuff is made and the skills, buildings, tools and trade partners required are all located here. Consumers are turning towards the handmade, the unique; the products and services they take part in making with their own hands.”

As the city’s maker scene grows, it’s clear that there’s scope for a more intensive, more active, city-wide maker movement. Accessibility is the key, and where people can access equipment and space, then they will be able to make.

Jennifer Graham is a freelance writer for Ethos Paper where she writes about new and innovative ways of doing business

Twitter: @jencanjump

Images: Invisible Wind Factory promo still, courtesy The Kazimier. FabLab at LJMU by Pete Carr

Meet the Makers @ FabLab Liverpoolfor at Binary Festival: School of Art & Design LJMU, 10:00 - 12:30, 24 May 2016. You can also meet them at LightNight Liverpool 13 May, and Girl Geek Bootcamp starting 31 May 2016. Follow @LJMUfablab for updates and for further info email Lol Baker: [email protected]

Binary Festival 2016 Blog: a special media partnership between The Double Negative arts magazine, Creative Tourist culture and travel site and Binary Blog. See the Festival on 24 and 25 May 2016 in Liverpool, UK

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