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Setting up a community makerspace

So today we are here at Bright Box Makerspace with Kisha Bradley in the heart of Sheffield. And this is an amazing space for - how to describe it - some sneaky… Sneaky learning, creative problem solving. Bright Box started as a way for me to experiment with and see why is it that girls aren’t going into STEM. So science, technology, engineering, and maths. But since then it’s become much more in looking at - in general - why are communities not encouraged to practise creative problem solving over memorisation? And doing that through maker education, so learning through doing and play, and just having a go and a bit of hands-on learning.
We started from a place of inclusion for girls, and we’ve moved from all of our learnings to an organisation that’s for everyone. So what do you do here? What does it look like, your makerspace, when it’s full of people, and how does it work? Yeah, so for adults, a lot of times it’s like concrete planters or learning how to use a drill for the first time. So really practical things. Adults are a bit boring that way. They like to know that whatever skill they’re using, they’re going to take home with them and have a go at home. But in that space it’s very loose and a bit of creative chaos, so we don’t set up too many parameters.
We really let people make mistakes and fail, so we might give them a few tips just to get them started and make them feel comfortable. Then with children, it’s a bit more inventive, so we might give them a challenge. About you know, can you build a house on a hill? And then we’ll give them cardboard and sharp cutting knives that we have to take them through the safety with, and then just let them go and see what they come up with. And what we find is not all kids are interested in houses, and they say, “Oh, but can I do this other thing instead, like superheroes?”
Yes, of course, as long as you’re giving it a go and using the tools, and practising holding the materials and seeing how they fit together. Because that’s problem solving, and that’s all we care about is that they’re trying. These are ‘girls with drills’ T-shirts, and they were the ones that originally funded some of our work in disadvantaged communities, where maybe they couldn’t afford the activity, or maybe they didn’t understand the activity. So it’s not something that they would place value on until later. So these helped fund those activities. So for other people who are interested in setting up a kind of inclusive makerspace in a community… Yes.
It might be a library or a community group, or having a space like this to work in. Have you got advice? I’d say start with the community. Get to know them, get to know what their needs are, get to know what their strengths are, and what they’re really good at, and what they really enjoy. And just ask them. It doesn’t have to start with our own brains, and we don’t have to dream up this big massive plan. It can be really, really simple. You can take Lego into a community - because everyone loves Lego, don’t they? Just start those really basic conversations, and get to know people, and let them ask you to put on certain events.
So a local artist did all of the artwork in here. That was important for us. Used local talent and make it really creative and out of the ordinary. Yeah. And all of the decorations are from children, except for the leaves. We did that because we hate the drop ceiling. You know, so I’ve seen a really great maker solution to brightening up the ceiling like this. Spray paint it? No, no, no. So it’s an amazing fabric shop that I’ve seen, and basically with all the fabric remnants, they cover each panel with a different - so it becomes - I like that. - a fabric patchwork ceiling. We’re going to do that. That’s our next project.
If you’re not in a classroom, and you’re looking for things, you can go and ask corporations that are moving. Because a lot of times they don’t want to move their furniture. They’ll just buy brand new furniture. So most of our furniture, including the cabinets and the chairs, are from a corporation that’s moved. But this is an interesting one that I’ve battled with a bit. I won’t move the chairs out of the way, but you’ll see we have drawers and doors and things on the outside, but we’ve not labelled anything. And I struggle with that because sometimes I want to label things and know exactly where they are.
But I quite like that kids can come in and just rummage for things and make themselves feel at home. So it is a balance of do you label so that it’s easier and people can find what they want faster, or at most homes, you don’t label the drawers and the doors, do you? For me it was making that bit of home. And so why did you think it was so important to create Bright Box Makerspace? As I’m an engineer, and when I was in university, I realised that everyone around me spoke this secret language that I didn’t quite understand.
And it took me quite a while of work placements and on the job experience to realise that it was just problem solving. And when I grew up, I come from a working class background, I’m mixed race, and in the areas of deprivation, it’s not just financial deprivation. It’s also the resources the schools have access to, even getting from one place to another, and bus systems. Those are all areas where areas of deprivation might be lacking in resource. And so I came from that place, went into university, and realised that I wasn’t armed with the same skills as everyone else around me, who maybe came from backgrounds where there is a bit more expendable income.
So it was really important for me that the next person that goes into university that’s like me has all the skills to enable them to become a really good engineer and have the confidence in themselves that they can do that.
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Makerspaces for Creative Learning

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