So at the end of my last “Long Read” article, I didn’t really answer the question that I started with. Well, I hinted at it. I said that a maker was a creative, curious, intuitive, determined person – but those are just some of the hats that makers wear.
I’ve been working more closely with the Wavemaker gang over the last few months, and it’s given me a lot more insight into what makes a maker. From the perspective of the core team – Alex and Ben making is more than the physical assembly of new objects. They speak about making in the way that many would talk about a religious conviction – with the fervour and excitement of those who have just glimpsed a cosmic clue.
What I’m beginning to understand is that the “maker mindset” isn’t really about making at all, it’s about thinking. It’s about having the knowledge and confidence in your ability to find a solution, when you’re able to make something you can look at a situation and visualise what is going to come out of it. It’s about having the bravery and the curiosity to ask questions, and to see others who are on the same journey as you, and help them along. Whilst the ability to make might save you money here and there as you make a shelf, or a charm, the ability to do it yourself is remarkably liberating. We grow up conditioned culturally to do nothing physical, we work with our minds, not our muscles. We dream of working as a game designer, a photographer, a banking expert in derivatives (I’ve no idea what this is, but it’s an actual job). Decades of educational policy and snobbery have drummed into much of society that success equals academic success, and until very recently academia held vocational achievement in virtual disdain (I’m sure this is far from over). This is the very attitude that Wavemaker is fighting against, making something isn’t the option for those who cannot, it’s what those who think in terms of solutions do. Making requires an ability to visualise in 3D, to understand material properties and the digital and physical tools required to realise them – anybody who can do that certainly isn’t in the ‘B team’ at all.
In terms of life at Wavemaker HQ nothing stands still – and at the mid point of a three year project it’s time for some introspection, and to decide what the future will look like and how it will be made. Planning ahead is difficult for us all, none of us know what work, health or relationships will bring – but when your future is tied to the education priorities of Government, political will and the amount of grant money available then divining the future becomes even more opaque. I say divining the future because that’s what it’s often like when you are talking to Ben and Alex. They can see the future, they can see the city with its burgeoning independent maker population, with young people able to access tools and resources – and they are frustrated that they can’t get the present out of the way fast enough.
Stoke-on-Trent has a wide range range of communities, from professionals in central flats to well-heeled suburban types and those who are just getting by on an estate that isn’t easily commutable to the city centre. Whilst Stoke isn’t a huge city in terms of population, it covers 39 square miles and not all of that area is well served by local transport – if people don’t have access to a vehicle then Wavemaker HQ in Hanley may as well be in Japan for all the good that it can do to a community. For families or individuals who are on a tight budget the answer must be something other than telling them to get an uber into Hanley. The obvious answer is for them to take the show on the road.
Meet the maker bus (it’s more of a van) – Remember the Mystery Machine that Scooby Doo and his friends drove about in, waiting to visit a spooky abandoned fairground or a derelict lumbermill? Think of that, expect completely different in terms of mysteries solved (sadly). Being able to physically go to someone’s community and show interest in them is worth far more than simply saving them the effort of making a journey. It shows that as a person or an organisation with the skill, the knowledge the money; you truly are interested in that community, what you can do for them and how they can reciprocate. It’s an authentic form of inclusion and bridge-building. It’s honest, it says that you cared enough to show up, not as a flying visit, but for the day and with al
your stuff. Being there reduces friction. Many of us have joined a gym only to think of 800 reasons why crying into a recently emptied KFC bucket is preferable to a session with the personal trainer – the same is even more true for a making situation. If someone is the first in their family to have an idea about making, they may not have the confidence and the belief in themselves to tell friends and family about that idea. They my have told someone they know that they want to do something creative only to be laughed at, or told that it isn’t for “people like us”. The chances of them making the journey in to town to tell a group of strangers about their idea is pretty remote. If the maker space is at their youth club or at the end of their street then it’s on their turf – and that’s important, because we are our communities.
In a city with huge income disparities it’s really important to combat the idea of ‘otherness’. It’s easy to assume that everyone is educated, is liberal, has an iPhone – but that’s not who we are as a city, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. We are Stoke, we are Vale, we are Irish, and Nigerian and English and we can all learn new skills through making.,Whether it’s the confidence to run with an idea that we’ve had, the skills needed to fix something at home, or an idea to create something new and a bit daft – just for the fun of it. As a city, and a society we are the sum of our parts, and an organisation such as Wavemaker must show that it can offer as much to a code club in Hanley as it can to a youth group in Bentilee if it’s truly going to be able to claim that it is representing, working with – and most importantly, enabling the city.
To finish, my swearing dinosaur project is still a work in progress, partly because I’m terrible at managing my time, partly because I’ve been busy and party because there’s no such thing as “working on one project” at Wavemaker.
Credit to Sean Dissington