A New Guild for Makers, by Makers

The maker movement is different in Britain than it is in the United States. Or at least, for those of us involved in things on both sides of the Atlantic, it feels rather different. The Maker Faires, which began in the States but have now spread throughout the world, really don’t have the same feel here in Britain than they do over there, although it’s hard to pin down what is different.

Maker Faire UK wants you! (📷: Alasdair Allan)

Here in Britain if there are more than two people in the country that are interested in a topic, they will feel almost compelled to form a club or society. Since this is Britain, the club might well have been around since the early 1800’s or perhaps, even earlier. The bylaws will be arcane, and the committee structure labyrinth. It will inevitably serve tea and biscuits during meetings, rarely coffee. Because, that’s just how we do things over here.

There was a short film collection produced a few years back now by Anne Hollowday called “The Makers of Things” that documented the work and workshops of the Society for Model and Experimental Engineers; a sprawling organisation with members scattered all over the world. I think the films capture the spirit of British making, perhaps far more than the faires—imported as they were from the Americas—ever really did. While today we have hacker spaces, maker spaces, and fab labs, back in the 1800’s they had the learned society.

“These days, if you ask someone ‘what do you make?,’ the reply will tend to be be about money and bonuses. It’s becoming increasingly important — against the tide of digitisation, virtual experiences, quick-fix solutions, and suspicion of hard-won expertise — to celebrate the making of things, with care, with love and with a deep understanding of materials,” says Sir Christopher Frayling, the Former Rector of the Royal College of Art, “This new Guild is a welcome initiative, bringing together ‘makers’ from various disciplines, raising their profile and providing them with visibility and a voice.”

Britain, it turns out, is the land of God’s own hobbyists. Which is where Lucy Rogers and the Guild of Makers comes in, from stage right.

Dr Lucy Rogers, the new Guild’s Maker-in-Chief. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

An engineer, and presenter on the BBC’s Robot Wars series, Rogers is a professional maker. Looking around for society to join that reflected that, she couldn’t find one, so she made one herself.

“I was looking to join a professional membership organisation for Makers but there wasn’t one — so I founded it myself. Cottage industries almost died with the industrial revolution, but they are now returning as the Maker industry, and it needs formal organisation.”—Lucy Rogers

The kickoff event for the new guild was held last week at the Autodesk Technology Centre in Birmingham, and brought together the founder members for the first time.

An interview with Dr Lucy Rogers. (📹: Alasdair Allan)

Arguing that a guild for makers was needed, as making brings together the traditional crafts as well as new technology, defining ‘a maker’ as “A practical person who takes pride in creating physical items using their imagination and skills,” or simply as “Someone who makes things.”

“Individually, we have been part of the Maker movement — but we are growing up. Together, we have become part of the Maker Industry.”—Lucy Rogers

The Guild is intended for people that want to ‘make for a living.’ While it is open to all—whether you are a beginner or experienced maker—it’s there to bridge the gap from maker to professional, rather than “zero to maker.”

The event itself kicked off with a series of keynotes from prominent makers, Andy Stanford-Clark, Rebecca Steiner, Pete Wood, Rob Ives, and Tanya Fish.

Andy Stanford-Clark talking at the Guild of Maker’s Launch Event. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

Andy Stanford-Clark is the IBM CTO in the United Kingdom and Ireland and, along with Arlen Nipper, the inventor of the MQTT protocol. He spoke on his long history of making, from twitter’ing ferries, to more recently helping the Nyalas at Marwell Zoo keep warm at night.

An interview with Andy Stanford-Clark. (📹: Alasdair Allan)

Rebecca Steiner is a goldsmith, fine jeweller, and a lecturer on the Jewellery and Objects course at Birmingham City University. She spoke on her journey through making and teaching fine jewellery, and her experience

Rebecca Steiner talking at the Guild of Maker’s Launch Event. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

Being a maker isn’t just about blinking lights and electronics. It is wood, it is metal, and it is the making of things. It’s about the tools, and processes you use. As Steiner added, “…these are the tools of my trade, they are an extension of my hands.”

An interview with Rebecca Steiner. (📹: Alasdair Allan)

The talks were followed by a panel session with all the keynote speakers, and questions from the audience ranged from topics such as paper crafting, all the way through to legal representation and liability insurance.

Keynotes were followed by a panel Q&A session. From left to right we have Tanya Fish (on the far left), Andy Stanford-Clark, Rob Ives, Rebecca Steiner, and Pete Wood (on the far right). (📷: Alasdair Allan)

Although the questions about dinosaurs make a lot more sense if you know that the animatronic dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine were retro-fitted using Rapsberry Pi boards by Rogers a few years before.

Kicked off by Rogers, the retro-fitting of animatronic dinosaurs has become an ongoing project for the British maker community. It’s all about keeping it weird, but obviously in a very British sort of fashion.

Discover the secret of Dinosaur Island. (📹:IBM)

The attendees were also treated to a tour of the Autodesk Technology Centre, which proved that all makers are obsessed with Octopi, and Cuthulu.

Octopus at Autodesk. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

The afternoon was taken up by workshops, from working with the Microbit and Autodesk Fusion 360, all the way through to mini-sculpture and paper animations.

Glen Southern in with his hand puppet in the mini-sculpture workshop. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

If you’re interesting in joining the newly formed Guild of Makers membership costs £59 (that’s around $83) a year and, if you join before the 5th of April, you’ll be awarded “Founder” status. Still in bootstrap mode, all the benefits of membership haven’t yet been nailed down. However a full list of benefits should be available soon.

Original Nixie clocks by Bad Dog Designs. (📷: Alasdair Allan)

You can follow the Guild on Twitter, and Facebook, and join in with the #MakersHour every Wednesday between 8 and 9 pm British time and, as more than one person said at last week’s event said, “…it looks like we might have a Guild.”

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Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan

Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.