The news that UK Maker Faire was to shut its doors came as a bit of a surprise to many. This vibrant weekend of makers meeting, sharing, and learning was absolutely brilliant, and left us fizzing with ideas after our visits there. We’re sad that it’s gone.
Makers being makers though, if there’s demand, it will be filled. And that’s exactly what’s happening in Liverpool with Liverpool MakeFest. On 29 June 2019, the MakeFest will hold its fifth iteration. This is the UK’s biggest free maker event, attracting thousands of visitors, and its vision of a free, maker-focused festival is spreading far and wide.
We visited the mid-Victorian splendour of Liverpool Central Library, the home of MakeFest, to talk to the founders — Denise Jones, Mark Feltham, and Caroline Keep — to find out what makes this event special.
HackSpace magazine: Hello! Thanks for having us over here. How did the three of you come together to start Liverpool MakeFest?
Caroline Keep: I was a geotechnical engineer, Mark’s an academic, and Denise is a librarian. We bumped into each other watching a workshop in lantern making. Mark had all the academic experience. When I came to work with Mark on his makerspace, I was the geeky maker — he didn’t even have a smartphone at that time. I got the education bug and then moved into secondary school teaching.
Mark Feltham: It all started over there, as a chance meeting. We bumped into each other and got chatting. Within six weeks, we’d filled the library. We thought it would be a one-off, but since then it’s taken off.
HS: So no business plan, no franchising fees, no world domination?
CK: We’ve just winged it. We made all the banners, bunting. The first year my PGCE fund paid for MakeFest! This building reopened again in 2013, and in 2014 we were lucky that they were running a programme of events and initiatives to make it a really vibrant building, so it was the right time as well. We thought we’d have a little room off to the side and get maybe six tables. We’d already done a Mini Maker Faire, and we’ve always been good friends with [local makerspace] DoES Liverpool, so we were confident we’d get at least a few people turning up. And in six weeks we were full.
MF: We pulled the first one off, we’re talking the first three floors of the library and 60 makers, for £850. And that included feeding them and making badges as well.
HS: For context, this building is huge. It’s bigger than most libraries; it’s probably about the same size as the Life Centre in Newcastle, where UK Maker Faire was held until recently. It must have helped to have a librarian on board to negotiate with the powers that be?
Denise Jones: I had to sell it to the people in charge back then, which were the head of service and the manager of this building. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a Taskforce for Libraries, which is funded until next year. We’re close to finishing the national guidance now for the Taskforce — the idea is to get one of these [MakeFests] in every library. We wanted the guidance doc to be inclusive of museums and libraries, because we knew that Manchester had opted to put their MakeFest in a museum. We’ve got Chester and Stoke MakeFest, and there’s one in the pipeline in Wrexham. We were having the same conversations over and over again, so we decided to write a document: how to run a MakeFest.
HS: What have we got to look forward to this year and beyond?
CK: That’s a good question. We’ve got some corking stuff coming this year. We’ve given it the theme ’Space and time – creativity in the making’. We’ve got events planned for the Apollo anniversary, and [just] before MakeFest we’re going to kick off with a music day, showing people how to make music, and making the instruments to make music. That’s another spin-off that’s come out of MakeFest: the MakerNoise Unconference at Edge Hill University.
MF: We’ve always felt that we hold MakeFest in trust for makers. In terms of where it goes long-term, I don’t see it ever becoming more than a one-day event here, because one day is good. It gives people Sunday to get over things, and get home because they have day jobs on a Monday. We’re always very sensitive to that, we don’t want to take up too much of people’s time. The other thing is that I don’t see it spilling out into a bigger building; it’s always going to be in the library. But the way to grow it is to put it in other libraries. Not to make this one, Liverpool, bigger and take over. Then each maker community gets its own feel, and its own vibe — Stoke MakeFest has a very different feel to ours, because their maker scene is different to ours, and their city is different to ours.
The other way to expand it is that, rather than by just expanding to other cities, you can have more events on throughout the year. Rather than being solely a one-day event, you can have all these spin-offs, so once a month there’s something going on. Rather than it just being about tech and digital, we’ve always liked to have some sort of fantasy element. Things like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Darth Vader, K-9 — the kids love that. We have a lot of friends who are into steampunk; they get roped in to do front-of-house duties. You know what the funny thing was at the first one? Not only did the public enjoy it, but also the makers. It’s kind of like a musician playing an acoustic set. We’ve got a get-together on the Thursday before, we’ve got a Friday night party going, we always do an after-party. The public come on the Saturday, but there’s always stuff going on that week for makers.
In addition to always wanting it to be free for the public, and for the makers to not have to pay for their stand, we feel very strongly that we should give something back. We always give them lunch, we always give them a badge, and there’s always a party. We can’t pay them, but it’s our way of showing our appreciation to the makers who come and make it what it is. The celebration and sharing are big parts of the maker ethos.
People like to show [their projects] not to show off, not to say ‘Look at how clever I am’ — it’s more to say ‘Look at this awesome thing, isn’t this cool?’ Trying to explain that to people can be tricky. You can make this: here’s how you do it. That’s the ethos.
CK: I always feel with MakeFest — you said it’s like an acoustic gig. I always envisioned it as Liverpool’s party for makers. It’s our little get-together, and that’s how I like it.
Read the full interview in HackSpace magazine issue 19, out now! This month we’re looking at building a walking robot, laser cutting LED jewellery, the 55 timer chip, and much more. Download the issue for free, or buy it in print on our website.
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