whatever happened to london maker faire?

So you might remember a blog post I wrote last year about a proposed “Flagship” Maker Faire for London in 2015? There was a horrifyingly bad press release which came out of HereEast, the former Olympic Park in East London. So what’s the story there? Someone at that venue or related to that venue wanted to make a Bay Area sized Maker Faire for… well, their venue. They more or less oversold and over promised. Having been to a very big “flagship” Maker Faire in New York last year I know that a truly American sized Faire is huge… I mean… HUGE. Seriously, I’m sorry but it makes our big Faire at Centre for Life LOOK like a Mini Maker Faire and from that point of view, I can see that someone writing a press release who’d first seen the Faire in New York and or Bay Area would say that our Faires in the UK are ALL mini. Anyway that’s not really my point. A “flagship” Maker Faire for Europe would be great. It MUST be in a major city in my opinion and if we’re to have a “flagship” sized Faire in the UK it MUST be London.

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So where is our Faire? From what I understand the HereEast offering in terms of venue space kept shrinking, it went from several thousands of square feet to a courtyard. Whilst officials at Make Inc are rightfully tight lipped about the detail I also assume that cash money was over promised. Someone at Make Inc told me that a “flagship” Maker Faire of the scale of Bay Area or New York costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to run and I can believe it having been to the World Maker Faire in New York. I told the two “flagship” Faires make a profit now… but they didn’t in the first several years of running. It’s an important point. A “Flagship” Maker Faire needs several ingredients, partners, venue and funds. All of these things are currently missing from London Maker Faire.

So what next? Just before Christmas the Derby Old Silk Mill kindly sent me attended a “Town Hall Meeting” in London with interested parties to discuss the London Maker Faire. Dale Dougherty and Sherry Huss were there from Make Media Inc. Many of the Mini Maker Faire producers and also Ian Simmons from UK Maker Faire. There were representatives of several technology companies and the BBC as well as London’s Maker Community. Bethany Coby from Technology Will Save Us champions the idea, “We MUST have a London Maker Faire!” But the desire wasn’t backed by wads of money or a venue. The Town Hall meeting descended into rabid bikeshedding around venue, location and various ideas to lump an event in with “some other event” but sadly without any real stakeholders in the room able to swing something plausible. Only Jonty from London Hackspace asked truly realistic financial questions, his EMF Camp experience giving his enquiries real weight, but it was to naught. As the bikeshedding continued Dale and Sherry politely nodded…. There won’t be a “flagship” Maker Faire in London… not this year… probably not anyway. Dale and Sherry very kindly took many of us for drinks and a really good chat at a local ale house (thank you).

So what could be done? What solution do I offer? Make should upgrade Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire to a full “featured fair” let them call it London Maker Faire. This year, if it runs at the London College of Communications as in previous years so be it. It need not be bigger and can be different in name only. It’s a foothold. At the Faire a big part of it would be attempting to recruit sponsors and makers for a bigger faire the following year. Marc Barto, Tom Lynch and the team at E&C are highly capable though a little over worked but I’d think with the right support…

If Make Media Inc are serious about a UK Faire they could even put a part-time-staffer onto the task of drumming up support in Europe, they need not be paid a fortune and surely would be an investment in the European Maker Faire arena. That person could also help lighten the load of administration over UK and European Mini Maker Faires, co-ordinate things like magazine subscription and other merch’, find local speakers and exhibitors and pave the way to allow a “Maker Shed” type set up for the bigger UK and European Faires (where I assume a good part of the overhead of Flagship Faire’s is recouped).

As to my own Faire at the Silk Mill in Derby, we hope to upgrade from Mini to Featured Faire in the near future. We’ve plans to expand out onto Cathedral Green as well as run something like MakerCon UK as part of our event for our fith Faire in 2016.

I sincerely hope that we will have a flagship Faire for London in the future. It seems more likely to me at the moment that the first flagship Faire will end up being in Rome or Paris. Still it’ll be good and I’ll be there!

One thought on “whatever happened to london maker faire?

  1. Fantastic write up Dominic, funny how things collide, I’ve been back and forth today with Sabrina, and Sherry last week about this, still no answers they want it to happen but I think it’s too late for this year, but we are keen to set the foundations for them this year if they don’t at Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire.

    Just filling out the renewal form and will start banging on doors with the money box soon too.

    We also have had conversations with Andrew from Brighton and Irini from the V&A about MakerCon UK 2015 as a thing, and possibly even a London Maker Week with the Crafts Council. Early ideas but with the Make:Shift:Do event last year only a week after us it would have made more sense to work together.

    Looks like 2013 was the start of the real upward spike for the Maker Movement, 2014 continued that trend and 2015 is set to be an amazing if slightly tiering yeah for us Maker Faire Producers, and Makerspace/Hackspace Trustees, etc…

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