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Inspiring inventors of the future

Dominic Wilcox latest project encourages children’s imaginations 

Designer Dominic Wilcox has been turning the inventions of Sunderland’s schoolchildren into reality for his most recent project Inventors!.

It all began with STEAM Co., a charity highlighting the importance of creativity and the arts to the STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) favoured by the Government. STEAM Co. invited Wilcox to be ‘an Inspirator’ at one of its workshops. He presented his inventions, witty and eccentric ideas made real, from his GPS Shoes to Luxury Skimming Stones. Having asked the children in the workshop to draw their own inventions, he was impressed. A six-year-old came up with a ‘toothcamera’ that took a photo when you smiled. ‘You could see a degree-level design student doing that,’ Wilcox says. ‘That’s where the idea came from’.

And so Inventors! saw Wilcox lead 19 inventing workshops with over 450 local schoolchildren. With ideas flooding in, the resulting inventions span from the creative –The Liftolator (War Avoider), a house that moves families out of war zones – to the more practical, such as the Pringles Hook for lifting the crisps out of their tricky tubular containers.

‘One of my biggest frustrations is when people have a good idea but they don’t carry it out well,’ explains Wilcox. ‘Because children haven’t been on the planet for very long, their presentation isn’t the same as an adult’s, so they get dismissed. The idea might just stay as a scrawly drawing stuck on the fridge door. I wanted to take the child’s imagination and carry that through a project, and get some skilful adults to visualise it in three dimensions.’

Following a call out to local manufacturers and fabricators a selection of the inventions were made. A particular highlight was the Ladybird Umbrella, designed by five-year-old Sophia Carr and made by craftsmanNorman Veitch, formerly of Wearside Glass, who came out of retirement to help the project.

The results of Inventors! went on display in January (and can now be found online) with an accompanying conference, and there is talk of running the project again in different parts of the country as well as abroad.

Wilcox may currently be busy with workshops, but it’s the distant future that could prove even more exciting: ‘We had a STEAM Co. day at the end of the project – a big room with a hundred children all doing creative activities. And at the end of the event I said, “I’m going to come back in 10 years time and see you being innovative in whatever you choose to do”. It was a joke, but it might actually be true!’.

The INVENTORS! project was commissioned by The Cultural Spring


The Liftolator (War Avoider) designed by Charlotte Scott, made by Erin Dickson at Fab Lab Sunderland