A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk about Skill Share Dundee as part of Creative Dundee’s October Make | Share Event at the Dundee Makerspace. After reflecting on my time there and the role I feel that I play to the charity I decided that, instead of talking directly about Skill Share’s successes, I would talk about personal lessons that I have learnt from being a part of the charity.
Here is a summary of my talk – Five Things I’ve Learnt from Skill Share Dundee
I first became involved with Skill Share in January 2013 and began volunteering with them later that year. This summer I accepted a place on the charity’s board and have become more involved with the bigger vision for the charity.
Skill Share was founded by Peter Ananin in early 2012, because of his values of fostering a sustainable way of living by bring traditional skills and living off the land, into the city. Since then they have run many many different workshops from bike repair, to woodwork, solar panel making and even cooking and gardening.
1. Everyone has Something to Offer
In January 2014, I ran my first workshop at Skill Share. This was a huge turning point for me as it was the time that I realised I was not just a participant but that I could actually offer something to the community of the charity myself.
I ran a workshop on dreamcatcher making in Skill Share’s Pop Up Shop in the Dundee Wellgate Centre for ten participants.
2. Making is Empowerment
As a product designer, I’m very passionate about making. I love to work with my hands and for me, making is the essence of what Skill Share is about. Writing this talk really gave me the opportunity to reflect on the act of making.
I believe that making can have such positive impact on us because, when you make something, you are bringing something tangible into existence. Skill Share has taught me that this can really help to empower people and give them a sense of pride in themselves through having achieved something that they can then hold in their hands and keep or, even better use, at the end of the day.
Making to Identify with Cultural History
Beyond the empowerment of pride in creating something yourself, the making that Skill Share teaches also helps to foster a sense of engagement with the cultural identity of Dundee. The traditional skills taught are often skills that have been shared in the Dundee community for thousands of years, such as fish leather tanning, and this awareness of our historical identity can really help people to define who they are and how they fit into the place they live in.
“Men don’t talk face to face, they talk side by side” – Men’s Shed
Social Interactions through Making
I have also learnt that another way in which making is empowerment is through the social interactions that happen alongside the making process. When people are making next to each other in a workshop there is no social pressure to talk because everyone is engrossed in their own task, this means that the eventual conversations that do happen are much deeper, giving people the opportunities to really open up about issues.
3. Making is Sustainability
Making also gives you a better appreciation of the products that you already own, something that’s very important to me as a product designer being critical of our consumption and waste society. When you’ve spent an evening learning to hand sew a simple t-shirt, or tan your own leather, you really realise the extent of the resources (material and human) that have gone into the things that you own.
Of course we re-use many waste materials at Skill Share but for us it is not just about reducing landfill, it is about an understanding of the material value system that our society has created. When we give objects multiple uses it is another way to re-appreciate the resources that have gone into producing those parts. I found this especially true when it came to electronic items. I have many memories of digging through big boxes of scrap electronics looking for a particular parts, such as a specific capacitor for a dynamo powered phone charger. Upon eventually finding it, you realise how incredible it is being able to re-use something that still worked but was part of a larger component that was officially ‘obsolete’.
This concept is what inspired my workshop that I ran at MAKLab called de/reconstruct this summer.
Making as Citizen Empowerment
The things we’ve built at Skill Share, such as this solar panel made of scrap panel offcuts mounted in a window pane, to me illustrate citizens taking their environmental impact into their own hands. It is a different kind of problem solving approach, the concept of thinking with your hands. Making gives us the opportunity to work through problems through doing not talking and I believe that this is where the best solutions arrive. The sustainability crisis will not be solved from the top down, it needs to come from the bottom up.
4. If we work together, we can build something incredible
This photo shows a workshop during which eight of us built a boat from corrugated plastic. It really was such a fantastic experience to solve all the problems together and, at the end of the day, to row around the harbour in something that supported us, that we could perhaps even go somewhere together in…
Or maybe not in this case!
5. There’s something incredible about Dundee
To finish up the talk, I wanted to reflect on the bigger picture of Dundee. Skill Share was my first step out of what we now call the “university bubble” in Dundee. Since then I have become more and more involved with the creative community within the city and I have really begun to believe that this is a special place. I believe that Dundee’s condensed creativity is because the creative scene has grown from the bottom up, from the citizens of the city itself rather than from government bodies or external groups.
In conclusion, Skill Share isn’t about sharing skills, it’s about the impact that the workshops have on people. Skill Share is about a system of value creation between individuals that builds up into a strong and resilient community and it is groups like this that are helping to shape Dundee’s future towards the holistic, people-focused creative city that it is becoming.