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The Future Lab: Craig Dunlop

Make:Shift brings together an extraordinary group of makers, thinkers and scientists

In the current issue of Crafts, we met some of them for a taste of what to expect. 

Craig Dunlop is the founder of Workspace, an open access maker space based in a former fish factory in the Hout Bay area of Cape Town. The focus of this social enterprise is to provide a platform for knowledge and skills exchange through hands-on making. In 2014 Workspace was recognised by the British Council as the world’s sixth maker library. 

Dunlop came to his current role via horticulture and socially responsible tourism. The 15 years spent designing and making residential gardens on the foothills of Table Mountain gave him an acute sense of the power of physically creating things, while his role providing opportunities for foreign students to take part in projects such as building schools, opened his eyes to South Africa’s high unemployment and chronic lack of opportunities. Both experiences laid the foundations for Workspace.

‘I had this idea of creating a community of makers where people could lean on each other,’ he explains. ‘I hadn’t heard of “maker spaces” then and I was very much driven by the social aspect, seeing the workshop as a place where people could connect face to face and experience the roughness of material in their hands.’

Workspace attracted a wide variety of people. The idea was to be truly open access so everyone, from wealthy househusbands looking for a hobby to tradesmen and the unemployed, was made welcome. However, it soon became clear where the real power of this place lay. ‘We decided to focus on the unemployed and assist them in upskilling so they were employable,’ Dunlop explains. ‘I then realised that a lot of them didn’t have the emotional skills to help themselves. There have been centuries of oppression in South Africa in which people were robbed of their dignity. Now there is this expectation that everyone will just slot into a first world and get on, but lots of people have no idea how to do that – they simply don’t know the rules of the game. We decided to see if we could help.’ 

Makers from South Africa, Heath Nash and Tiyani Nghonyama, and TEN participants at a collage workshop at Workspace during a British Council Maker Library Network event in February 2016. Photo: Keziah Suskin © British Council

That help now comes through ‘The Employable Nation Project’ (TEN), a 25-day course designed to instil essential principals such as respect, trust and dedication through the teaching of manual skills. The woodwork module, for example, is designed to teach respect because making something with wood informs people about the sustainable harvesting of trees and recycling, while trust is taught through welding a metal chair – the thinking being that the potential of harnessing voltage to melt metal and not get electrocuted requires trust. 

‘My aim is to teach abstract skills almost by osmosis,’ Dunlop explains, ‘and making is a good way to do it because it is available. We all have hands and everyone is capable of making something whether that is a paper plane or a car.’ 

Dunlop is keen to make it clear that he is not some kind of saviour. The business model is that people pay to become members of Workspace (prices start at R75, just over £4, for half an hour), use the facilities to make things and pass their skills on to others and it only works if there are sufficient numbers of paying members. ‘I soon realised that the very people I was offering this service to weren’t able to use it,’ he says, ‘so I figured that if I was to make it sustainable then I needed to train my customers.’

At Make:Shift he will be presenting Workspace – something that Dunlop sees as a library of skills for the local community. In Hout Bay that library is both a workshop where people can repair a chair, print a 3D model or throw a pot, and a practical learning resource, giving people the skills they need to make an active change in their lives. Fortunately, unlike traditional libraries, archives of skill – or maker spaces – are flourishing.

‘Maker spaces are cropping up all over the world and we all have the same issues,’ Dunlop says. ‘I see the conference as a chance to make connections and share ideas.’ Charlotte Abrahams


Craig Dunlop will give a talk in the Speaker Space, 2.30-2.45pm, Thursday 10 November

Make:Shift is at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester m3 4fp. 

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