makerspacesMaker Labs have been one of the most liberating trends of recent years as facilities have opened throughout the country to bring together enthusiasts and businesses.  Such facilities have been inspired by the success of TechShop, which has developed strong links with the likes of Ford and GE, but the range has grown to include fully functioning labs for medical research.

The RSA have recently released a report into so called makerspaces, and it has some interesting implications for how universities can work effectively with the local community.  It reveals how University College London, Imperial College London and the University of Kent have all established makerspaces on campus to better engage with local entrepreneurs and businesses.

The paper reveals that university led makerspaces tend to have more sophisticated end products, in large part because of the strong, ready-made community of users that exists within the student body.  The Shed, at the University of Kent, for instance, gives computer science students a perfect environment to test out what they’re learning in a fully functioning lab environment.  Indeed, the success of The Shed has been such that it is now a key selling point when talking to prospective students.

Showing the way

The likes of The Shed show the way as to how makerspaces can boost university/business collaboration, but much more can be done.  The paper highlights how just 1% of the population currently use makerspaces, despite over 25% wanting to use such facilities.  

Greater collaboration with universities could be a great way to bridge that divide.  The University of the Arts London (UAL) have signed an agreement with Fab Lab London to allow students to get free access to the facility for one day per week.  Such partnerships remain a minority however, with MakerUniversity currently listing no university partners or members.

With Nesta estimating that around 100 makerspaces currently operate in the UK, there is plenty of potential for greater collaboration with makerspaces, both to work closely with the adult community, but also to further extend reach into school communities.

How to make makerspaces work

Before you get started with your own makerspace, consider some of these questions:

  • What do you want your space to achieve?  What subjects will you focus on?
  • Which tools and materials do you need?
  • Who will use the space?  Will it be limited to students or will you look to attract wider engagement?
  • When will the space be used?  Will you limit it to term time or have it open 24/7?
  • Where will the space be located?  Consider the access required to equip the facility and whether the public have access or not.
  • How will you build your space?  Will it be a new build or repurposing existing structures?  What kind of budget do you have

Makerspaces undoubtedly have a lot of potential, but they aren’t a ‘build it and they shall come’ proposition.  Whether you’re building a space yourself or partnering with existing spaces in your area, there will be no shortage of offers to help make your project great.