Now, more than ever, it is important to connect; support those who need help; and value what brings us a sense of usefulness, fulfilment or well-being. Elements that are echoed in the guiding principles behind the makerspace movement, as described by the RSA “…open access workshops hosting a variety of new and old tools – from 3D printers and laser cutters to sewing machines and soldering irons. Makerspaces are more than just sites to craft objects. They are also places to experiment with a different way of living – one that responds to the challenges and opportunities of a world in which technology is ubiquitous.”
However in reality, makerspaces can be mysterious and unwelcome, and so between 2014- 2017 our annual festival, Make:Shift:Do, saw makerspaces across the country open their doors and encourage people to have a go at fun, engaging activities.
Over the four years, we saw huge numbers of people visiting makerspaces for the first time. Spaces were prompted to think differently about activity and who they could be working with. Audiences were introduced to cutting-edge approaches to making, new perceptions of the meaning of ‘craft’ and its real-world potential.
In 2017 we introduced a new ‘partnerships’ strand, encouraging makerspaces to partner with a community group that would help them reach a specific audience. Venues developed new links with community organisations, and challenged them to take risks. 2017 also saw investment into new libraries makerspaces open and their engagement with Make:Shift:Do brought events to smaller towns without access to traditional makerspaces, by working with us, these libraries were able to test ideas - finding their feet and audience.
Whilst the activity was well received, it was clear events were generally programmed for community groups who were invited along to participate, rather than enabling participants to take an active role in shaping activity.
It was clear that the desire to work collaboratively was there but finding the right approach proved difficult. By shifting our programme to focus on co-creation— looking at how communities can be actively shape activity - we could identify what works and share this with others.
Throughout 2018-2020 we worked with six makerspace partners to deliver co-creation projects. Our role focused on introducing new ideas around co-creation and acting as a critical friend helped to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t – journeys documented in case studies found below.
Some learnings are unique to each case study and the partners involved, but there are also many commonalities: the need for open communication and clarity about boundaries – being clear who is making the decisions. Our case studies show how power can shift given time and as confidence grows in participants and project leads. And although all our projects echo how time consuming and difficult this approach can be at times, ultimately the impact and benefits are far more rewarding for everyone.