I think for me at least the UK Maker Faire of 2013 in Newcastle was the most eagerly anticipated one. The UK Maker Faire was missing from the calendar last year resulting in a load of Mini Maker Faires to spring up to claim the UK Maker Faire crown. Most significantly with the Manchester Mini Maker Faire being described in the lazy BBC press reporting of it they said “The first three UK Maker Faire events were staged in Newcastle but this year the event has moved to Manchester.” Ignoring the fact there had been a Mini Maker Faire in Brighton and Derby prior to the Manchester one.
But first a little about Maker Faire 2011…
The last Maker Faire in 2011 was a big event for Nottingham Hackspace. At that time we’d been in Hackspace 1.1 for about 5 months are were starting to feel like a real grown-up Hackspace.
I don’t remember how it came about, but Nottingham Hackspace didn’t apply for a table at the Maker Faire. Instead we were to be part of a UK Hackspace “Hacker Zone” or something like that. When we arrived at the Centre for Life in Newcastle (a little time before the Faire started on the Saturday) the Table with 10 seats for Hackspaces was already full of busy London Hackspace members doing interesting things with the Kinect (which they eventually hooked up to some Tesla coils). Eventually the Nottinghack contingent took up residence hidden under and behind the giant cardboard spider made by Martin Raynesford (at that time) of Northackton.
The 2011 Faire had been the first time many of the newer UK Hackspaces had met up. The spaces enjoyed a great social night in the pubs of Newcastle and good times were had and good relationships were formed. It was just a few days after that when Nottinghack’s landlords in Hackspace 1.1 lost their tenancy and Nottingham Hackspace had to find a new home.
Maker Faire 2013
The Maker Faire continues it’s run at Newcastle’s Centre for Life . An often held debate is “Where SHOULD the UK Maker Faire be?” well the Centre for Life brought the Faire to the UK and have been holding them since 2009. The team there are now highly experienced and I think the 2013 Faire was the best organised of any Maker Faire (Mini or otherwise) that I’ve attended.
There were reportedly as many makers (see meet the makers) as in 2011 and more visitors, though the figures are yet to be shared. The layout of this years event was very well considered with very few pinch-points. Thankfully (from a maker view point) there were fewer repetitive and angry noise-making exhibits that in previous years (Tesla coils were absent and many of the other noise makers used headphones) though this did remove a little of the Maker Faire atmosphere.
I was there in a new capacity this year. I was coordinating the UK Hackspace Foundation stall. The foundation was started as a parent company for London Hackspace with the idea of providing administrative support for ALL UK Hackspaces for instance managing their accounts. In practice the founders soon became too busy with their own burgeoning Hackspace to give the Foundation as much time as they had imagined. Today the Foundation is a little vague in it’s goals. Loosely it’s function at the Maker Faire was to inform the public about existing hackspaces in the UK and Ireland and also to unite people interested in Hackspaces with their local one, or like minded individuals in areas where no such space exists.
James Hayward (@Geeksareforlife) and I made an 8ft tall map of the British Isles marking out all the UK Hackspaces registered at the UK Hackspace Foundation wiki and on the hackerspaces.ie webpage. Barney Livingston (@Barnoid) of Bristol Hackspace gathered the required logos and information on all the Hackspaces registered on the two sites and produce quality printed A6 info labels for the map. Laying out the locations of the all the hackerspaces was telling in terms of which areas are currently poorly served. The public pushed a colour pin into the map either where they live, or where they would wish there to be a Hackspace they can visit and use.
Dale Doughty (@dalepd) the CEO of Make Media (recently separated from O’Reilly Media) took the time to visit the stall and chat with me extensively about the Foundation, Maker Faire, Make Magazine and the Mini Maker Faire movement in the UK. He was genuinely interested in the idea of the Foundation and made some excellent suggestions for what the Foundation could be doing in terms of support for Hackspaces in the UK. We also spoke about the Make Money Program, which is an incentive for groups like Hackspaces to sell subscriptions to Make Magazine and earn back a small commission on each subscription made. At the moment this program is not available outside the USA though many groups (especially Mini Maker Faire organisers) have expressed an interest. The split of O’Reilly from Make Media further complicates this problem.
The Nottingham Hackspace had a large table in the main hall of the Faire. This year the Centre for Life used space wisely and put a large number of exhibitors into this space. Some exhibits on display included musical 8-bit 3.5inch floppy drive array by Rob Haywood, a wire dispensing robot made by Matt Little, various items made by Jake Howe, including a steam punk pistol which was purchased by Cory Doctorow during the Faire. Martin Raynsford mentioned earlier had a number of items on display from his ongoing laser cutting challenge. In the summer of 2011 he challenged himself to make 365 items in 365 days. This last year he’s upgraded the size of his laser and the size of his projects and is doing 52 items in 52 weeks. You can follow his challenge on his blog. Nottinghack founder member Catherine Proctor exhibited her Turing Blocks, which are a modular (and expandable) Turing machine. The Nottinghack team were coordinated by Kate Bolin (@katemonkey) who brought her knitting swift and sported some EL wire wings for the event. Michelle Strickland (@mellchie) showed off work on her “Golden Compass” table, particularly the finely turned legs she has made for it. James Folkes brought along the “Day’s Accident Free” counter he’d made for a dangerous prototypes competition.
It was good to catch up with Tim Hunkin, who was able to confirm his attendance at the upcoming EMW day in May 2013. Tim attended with long-time collaborator Andy Plant with the “Astronauts Caravan” which I’d been lucky enough to try at his workshop in September 2011 when a bunch of us took a day trip to Southwold to see the excellent and highly recommended “Under the Pier Show“. I can also recommend the Adnam’s brewery tour in Southwold too. I’ll be back to write about that and the distillery tour another time.
The exhausting work of speaking to thousands of enthusiastic people was countered by the great evenings we spent in the pub talking with makers and hackers from all over the UK and the world. We met an unusually high number of people from the Netherlands as well as one of the organisers for a Maker Faire in Paris. Mitch Altman (@maltman23) returned to lead the soldering workshops, aided by volunteers gathered through the Hackspace foundation. Mitch had a huge bag of keys to his Hackerspace Noisebridge in San Fransisco. Though I know he’ll hand one to anyone who wants one, I feel it’s an awesome privilege to have one and I will treasure it. To have that level of trust in people that he actively goes out of his way to hand out the key is a wonderful thing. I could never imagine us doing that at Nottingham Hackspace, though I can see it would be a tremendous thing to be able to. He was joined by Jimmie Rodgers (@jprodgers) who entertained us with tails of Artisan’s Asylum in Summerville MA, a 40,000 square foot monster of a Hackerspace.
A big improvement for this year was the number of speakers with talks or performances available. Good use was made of the “Science Theatre” at Centre for Life with talks from Mitch Altman, Dale Doughty and Cory Doctorow amongst others. A full list of speakers can be found on the Maker Faire webpages.
The weekend closed with a visit to the Newcastle makerspace. Their makerspace 1.0 is about to close as they are moving into bigger workshops in a disused shop much nearer the city’s centre. We’re hoping to see great things from the Newcastle Makerspace over the next year. We’ll be looking forward to a tour of their new place for the 2014 Maker Faire, which I’ll be anticipating just as eagerly. When I think of how far Nottingham Hackspace has gone and when I contemplate my own person journey as a maker I can barely imagine my world in 12 months time if it’s changed even half as much as it has in the last 2 years. Here’s to 2014 UK Maker Faire!