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Meet Daniella Vickerstaff – Resident Lighting Designer and Chief Electrician at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

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Daniella is fortunate to work at the New Victoria Theatre, a vibrant producing theatre in the heart of The Potteries. The New Vic creates its own shows as well as housing touring productions, so there’s always plenty to keep track of. She has a varied job which includes designing lighting for five main house shows a year. You might have seen her work in The Wicked Lady, The Borrowers, 101 Dalmatians and the most recent Christmas show, The Snow Queen. As well as lighting design, she manages all aspects of production electrics and makes practicals, projection pyrotechnics and flying elements. Daniella is always keen to learn and try new things and so works on a freelance basis on other theatre productions and installation work.

She tells me that she first got involved with Wavemaker by attending one of their workshops with her children:  “We all had a great time at the workshop but I also liked the way they were set up with a range of state of the art equipment. I could see lots of possibilities for using their facilities, particularly equipment that we don’t have access to at the theatre. So when we had the chandeliers to make for our Christmas show, The Snow Queen, I approached them to ask if it was possible to produce them at Wavemaker out of vinyl. Ben and Alex said ‘yes’ and that was the first project we produced using the vinyl cutter. This was an exciting opportunity because it enabled me to make the chandeliers to our exact specification and design.”

Since then, Daniella has been to other events with her children and will be providing a workshop for Wavemaker during the summer holidays. She said: “We’ve decided to call the session ‘Electro Fashion’! It will allow young people to learn how to customise their clothing and shoes. They will use conductive thread and ultra-thin LEDs that can be sewn into clothing – no soldering needed”.

One of the things that has kept Daniella returning to Wavemaker is the “excitement and enthusiasm of Ben McManus (Wavemaker’s CEO) and Alex Rowley (Operations Manager). They support and encourage you no matter what project you come up with”. She has also enjoyed being part of a local creative hub where anyone can go to ask questions, investigate and to grow. “What’s exciting about Wavemaker is that they create a bridge between ideas and being able to achieve them – both professionally and in educational terms.”

“I have found them an invaluable resource and great partner to work with. In the future, I would like to see them growing in size so more people can visit and have a great time getting to grips with tech in a fun environment.”

What makes a maker – part two

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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

What makes a maker – part one

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What makes a maker? It’s an easy enough question, no? I write and take photographs – am I a maker? I tend to think not. I’ve never pored over a design book, sweated over Illustrator, got my hands covered in grease and oil (I did once do an oil change on a Fiat Panda in 1997 – but I’m not convinced that counts). In short, I’m not a maker. I’m envious of people who are, as like many people I’m convinced that it’s something that other people do.

Wavemaker want to change that. Their slogan “Making making work” is easy to dismiss as a cute marketing play on their name, but once you meet the team you understand that the passion and determination mean that it’s a matter of when rather than if, they will meet their goal of enabling ‘maker culture’ in Stoke-on-Trent. They want to get people in the city to feel that they have the talent to make things, and they want to be the ones to facilitate it.

One question you might want to ask is “why bother?” and that’s understandable. The truth is that community art projects, making spaces and community spaces have a proven role in regeneration. By proven I mean the likes of Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Arts Council and The Scottish Government have all found links between community empowerment, art/creative activities and the regeneration of communities and urban spaces.

I met with Alex – Wavemaker’s Operations Manager on one of the open maker nights; a free event where attendees can meet the team and see the equipment that’s on offer, as well as ask all the questions that they want to. There really are no stupid questions here: The range of equipment they have is bewildering; from sewing machines to Raspberry Pi computers and countless other tools. A laser cutter named Major Laser sits in one corner opposite an Apple Macintosh connected to a mixing deck and reference speakers, and computers with Adobe software running into thousands of pounds are waiting to be used.

 “Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Arts Council and The Scottish Government have all found links between community empowerment, art/creative activities and the regeneration of communities and urban spaces”

One commitment that Wavemaker insist that all space users make is that they respect the intellectual property of others. That way as users of the space you as a maker of a new object can ask me as a photographer what I think of your idea, safe in the knowledge that I’ve committed not to steal your invention. This not only promotes a culture of open idea sharing, but allows makers to forge meaningful, trusting connections that they might not have been able to in a different kind of space. The value of feedback and connections that can come about from ad-hoc conversations is immense and allows new space users to get involved with their project, and get to know new people, and learn new skills quickly.

A couple of days later I caught up with Ben McManus – CEO at Wavemaker. We all know people with a big personality, and some of us know people with huge personalities – Ben’s enthusiasm for Wavemaker is beyond huge. No sooner had I started to sip my dry cappuccino than he was talking to me

about the importance of STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art, Maths) both at a curricular level – and from the point of view of an education system producing talented, skilled and “capability resilient” young people, those who have the skills and confidence to take on a challenge or cope with an increase or drop in demand for a particular skill in the labour market. As someone who attended school in the 1980s, the closest I came to making was a woodwork shop and an Apple Macintosh so I needed a run down on everything that the team do.

A key element is outreach, Ben advised me. Team member Emma will work with a school, college or community group to either help them make the best use of equipment that they have, but aren’t using in every way that they could – or will help to engage them in new projects. Some of these tie together real world demands with learning new skills so that learners feel engaged and that they are working toward something that’s real.

The second of their offers is to support makers – both current and budding, professionals, students and the generally curious through their Open Maker nights, and themed sessions. Here attendees can get support on a project, valuable feedback and advice on production methods and their product or idea as well as help with the tools to use. Whilst it’s not a manufacturing space, a budding designer could certainly turn an idea into a concept and start some small-scale manufacturing here to get themselves into a position where they could see the Bank Manager for a start-up loan. That these facilities are on offer to 12 year olds as well as 52 year olds speaks volumes. The ability to get something to a proof of concept stage with a much lower cash outlay means that Wavemaker can help people who have no way of funding their own idea.

I’ve written a lot of articles for REBEL, and I think everyone has the word passion in it. It’s palpable at Wavemaker, it’s almost visible in the air. There’s a burning desire amongst Ben, Alex and Emma to get people involved, to motivate young people, adults, everyone to have a go at making something. It’s impossible not to feel inspired. I’m very good at being apathetic, but after two hours in Alex’s company, I was doodling an idea of something to make myself. And why not? Of all the places that there should be makers surely it should be Stoke-on-Trent? Our forebears took clay and made it beautiful, they made bricks, steel, iron – there’s a history of making in Stoke-on-Trent. Wavemaker want there to be a future.

Many of us have been in a situation when learning where we’ve had to produce some work for an assignment, but the project and the end use are fabricated. You go through the assignment because you must – but it feels arbitrary, and frankly pointless. Wavemakers’ approach is to work with a local business or organisation who have an actual need, and then to tie that in to the brief for the learners. From the outset they know that what they are doing is not only a real need, but will be used and visible in the world; to get your stuff out there is the dream for anyone who is creative. These commercial links not only assure makers and learners that they are doing things that matter in the real world, but they put makers in touch with some of the creatives and entrepreneurs who are driving the resurgence of our home city – and as any Rebel reader knows, there are some big names out there.

“Of all the places that there should be makers surely it should be Stoke-on-Trent? Our forebears took clay and made it beautiful”

For me then, Wavemaker is a gem. It’s where ideas meet determination, where inspiration meets skill and where there’s a laser cutter with a daft name. To be able to talk to people who don’t know you about an idea is valuable. You won’t get the dismissive “You can’t do that” or the blindly approving “You’ll be amazing” that friends or family might give you. You’ll get the truth, you’ll get support and with your determination as well as Wavemaker behind you, you’ll get there. I am off on a journey that involves a T-Rex that swears a lot, for no reason other than I’ve never made anything before, so why the hell not?

 

Credit to Sean Dissington, first published on https://analoguesean.blogspot.co.uk/

The future’s bright, the future’s digital!

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The beginning of November was a particularly busy time for the Wavemaker team, it saw us attending and showcasing at a number of tech events across the region. They were all so interesting that we thought ‘why not share them?’, so we are!

First up was the Digital Tech Conference at Staffordshire University. With it’s revamped Mellor Building and the opening of the Digital Kiln, Staffs Uni is really flying the flag for all things tech across the county and beyond. We were also invited to take a look around the brand new recording and television studios at the University a few weeks ago, for anyone thinking of pursuing a career in music, television or sound production, this is really the place to be. As well as music the University also boasts a thriving student community for games design and creation, which resulted in The Digital Tech Conference having a healthy attendance of students and professionals alike. The event offered a number of talks by leading industry experts around various areas of tech, from 3D design, VR, introduction to coding for children, cyber security and many, many more. The conference allowed you to select which talks you thought more personally appealing, so it was up to the attendee to pick and choose what they listened to. I decided to select a series of talks that were relevant to our mission here at Wavemaker, and were going to offer us an insight into the future of technology and how to encourage others to get involved. One of the most engaging talks from the day, was the opening speaker who addressed all the attendees at the start of the day. This was Jeff Coghlan, founder a design and gamification company called Matmi. Having produced online campaigns for Alton Towers’ VR Rollercoaster Galactica, interactive apps and promotions for leading brands, Jeff was more than qualified to talk about the future of digital technology. And that future, ladies and gentlemen, is VR.

Before attending the event, I had a good idea about VR, although I was never a Pokemon Go-er. But after Jeff’s talk and also hearing a few more companies talk about the future of VR, I left the conference a lot more aware than I had ever been before. I learnt about augmented, virtual and mixed reality. How VR and mixed reality will soon become a part of everyday life, a way to organise your day without out looking at your phone, or checking a computer. The possibility of projecting your daily calendar, your evening shopping list, next weekend’s family get together onto your office wall as a hologram and then interacting with it, seemed a lot closer than I originally thought. I learnt about new software and hardware being developed, from HoloLens by Microsoft to Magic Leap and Expeditions from Google. There was also talk of a new VR gaming experience called The Void. A VR game built in physical form, a VR Quasar is the best way to describe it, and it looked amazing!

Continuing with the VR theme, I also attended a talk by Figment Productions, the company behind the world’s first VR rollercoaster, Galactica at Alton Towers. I knew about the ride due to advertising, general interest and Ben, our CEO’s recent visit, which left him a little green around the gills….Any way to hear the company talk about concept, all the way through development to completion was very interesting and engaging. Watching footage of their team with VR headsets gaffer taped to their heads, during the early stages was amusing and also insightful, reinforcing the notion that all ideas start basic, to make the best of what’s on offer and if the equipment doesn’t exist, design it.

At the event our CEO Ben was delivering a talk about Wavemaker, it’s formation, first year and what’s next. Entitled ‘Making, Making work’, it was an opportunity to showcase what we do best and where we see the project in the next 5 years. Referencing the digital skills gap, and how the current students at Staffs, can be best placed to offer solutions to some of these problems.

Later on in the week, we had the pleasure of attending The Future Digital Workplace event, presented by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, as part of the Staffordshire Business Festival 2016. This took place at the Uttoxeter Racecourse, and hosted various speakers and companies from across the county. Wavemaker were lucky enough to both host a stand and have our CEO Ben talking at the event too. With the 3D printer in full swing, the stand was buzzing with enquiries and inquisitive questions around 3D technology, which also looks set to continue its technological development, with pharmaceutical companies now 3D printing specific tablets.

That afternoon, we also attended another event at Staffordshire University, this time a Women in Computing event, whose guest speaker was Dr. Louise Brown, an expert in CAD design. Dr. Brown’s talk was particularly insightful and encouraging to women working within the computing industry.It also allowed for the audience to ask questions around how to get more women into technology and keep them there.

All in all, it was a very busy week for the Wavemaker team, not only was outreach energetic, but our Makerspace saw new users who attended both our Open Maker Night and our first adult workshop, Laser cut card designs. These evenings were a big success and our next Maker Night takes place Tuesday 29th November, we look forward to seeing you there!