maker faire uk 2014

This year’s UK Maker Faire at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’s Life Centre was the 5th outing for the Faire since its origin in 2009 as the first proper (O’Reilly/Make Media) Maker Faire outside the US and the official and 1st Maker Faire in the UK. In my mind it happened somewhat under the shadow of the Maker Faire London 2015 bodged announcement at SXSW in Texas earlier this year (which I already wrote about).

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This year I co-exhibited with Martin Raynsford in the guise of our fledgling laser cutter company Just Add Sharks, we were ably assisted by my partner Gillian too, without whom the two day Faire would have been considerably harder for the two of us. We were delighted with the level of interest in our new company and our laser cutter as well as the usual buzz around Martin’s amazing laser cut toys and art. Having our Blacknose A3 Laser Cutter display model with us paid off as we explained to dozens of people what it was and what it does. Our most common questions are always “Is that a 3D printer?” and “Does it cut metal?” the answers are no and no in case you weren’t sure. The punters I enjoy hearing from the most are those makers who have not seen a laser cutter before but can instantly see how it would help their specific area of interest! Like this lady who loves to do paper craft and showed us a design she’d purchased from ETSY and painstakingly cut for as a mother’s day gift. Rather unsportingly (and with her permission) we were able to cut one in 7 minutes, it had taken her 2 attempts and 72 hours (on and off). “That’s cheating!” she laughed but conceded that it open up the possibilities for her craft considerably as she’d not seen something work with such precision.IMG_8297

I must admit I didn’t get about the Faire itself as much as I really should have though I was pleased to see our friends Rob and Jeffery from TOG as well as Aaron from Oomlout, Alex and Mark with their awesome ride-ably Big Trak from Hitchin Hackspace, the Leeds Hackspace crew and of course all the folks from Nottingham, London and Manchester Hackspaces. Jonty founder of London Hackspace and the UK Hackspace foundation with the aid of Barney from Bristol Hackspace took charge of the big map this year too taking a considerable burden off my shoulders! Also present were Richard (Jarkman) Sewell and Anton from Bristol Hackspace with the Big Starring Eye and Sketchy respectively. Also our god buddies from Kitronik.

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There were several really big ticket performers out in the yard including a car crushing robotic hand and the massive Bin-Bot. I managed to miss both of these spectacles but lots of people told me they were very awesome. UK Maker Faire Mitch Altman did however lament the fact that the robot hand was crushing cars that people had made together. In addition to Mitch, Jimmy Rodgers was in attendance as usual and returning from last year Cory Doctorow and daughter Poesy who very much enjoyed playing with our laser Etch a sketch hack and Martin’s Useless Machine. Doctorow is to be praised as he really takes the time to visit every stand at the Faire and seems genuinely interested in everything.

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As a “Mini Maker Faire” producer (I’m the velvet glove behind Derby MMF and Bristol MMF) I always get an invite to the producers meet up on the night before the faire. Last year we met Dale Doughty the CEO of Make Media who was quite a nice chap and seemed very interested in the UK Hackspace Foundation generally. This year Sabrina Merlo came along. I’ve had several interactions with Sabrina via email and Skype and wasn’t sure we’d get along so I was delighted to find Sabrina a very good humoured and fun person and seemingly on a wavelength with regards life generally. Once the meet up had petered out, Sabrina, Make journalist Alisdair Allan myself and Gillian all piled off to the UK Hackspace’s meet up.

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It always pretty much ends up being at the local Weatherspoons pub called “the Union Rooms”. Spoons isn’t a place I’d go to locally, but this one at least in Newcastle has good cheap real ale, a room we can pretty much take over (the Family Room on the right as you go in) and the service is quick and they serve food till 11pm… in fact it’s the pub that made me realise why Weatherspoons is such a successful and ubiquitous business. If the other spoons pubs are run this well, they deserve to be. Incidentally the Hackspace people also meet up there at 8am for breakfast, which is cheap, tasty and efficient. You can pay by card and get online. This has become such a simple way to get sorted in the morning that heading for the local spoons for breakfast is now my preference when travelling to a strange town. Getting all those like minded Hackspace people in a room is very valuable, new friendships are made, ideas are shared, and problems are halved. If you are reading this and you are thinking of starting a hackspace or are already running one and haven’t been to Newcastle… come next year… for this meet up alone it’s worth your hotel and travel expense.

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One of my favourite things at the Maker Faire this year was probably the huge Lego St Pancras Station. Not really a Maker Faire thing (in some peoples opinion) but I adore Lego and can quite happily gaze on a model this size and in this level of detail for several minutes. The exhibit was roped off… I’d love to have been able to get right in close and see all the detail. It was covered in Mini Figs and even had some trains. I can’t image what it cost to make or how you get that gig.

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We had a lot of interest from makers at our table and it was a very effective trip for Just Add Sharks. I enjoyed it a lot and really enjoyed the buzz around talking about our little enterprise and seeing people excited about the idea of getting a laser cutter. People always feedback to us that we seem really passionate about laser cutters (it’s true we are) and that they enjoy being carried along with our enthusiasm. Martin is also a bit of a blogging celebrity it seems and several of his “fans” seems a little overwhelmed by being in his presence. Including Ruth who is an avid laser cutter enthusiast who seemed to be as excited about laser cutting as Martin and I are! She has an ETSY shop and wrote a brilliant Tumblr blog post about the Faire.

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I do worry about UK Maker Faire and wonder what impact the Maker Faire 2015 will have on this excellent Faire far away from everything (if you follow me) in the North East. Amateur Makers are already being pulled all over by events such as the Mini Maker Faire. Nottingham Hackspace for instance exhibited at every Mini Maker Faire and Maker Faire in 2012. They cut down to just the Derby Mini Maker Faire and the UK Maker Faire in 2013 and 2014. Which Faires will they go to in 2015? Attending a Faire when you already give up your time to a hobby or project is very expensive. Makers only have a finite amount of time to put to a project and have to pick and choose which events to attend. I’ve no doubt that the UK Maker Faire will continue to attract visitors hopefully in greater numbers each year even WITH the new London 2015 faire… but what about Makers?

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See you next year in Newcastle (and London and Bristol and Brighton and and and) because you know I’ll go to all of them.