In summer 2015 I had the chance to do an internship with Glasgow makerspace MAKLab. This blog post has been put together in response to an invitation by MAKLab to reflect on what I’ve achieved in the year and a half since then and what I’ve learned from it.
De/Reconstruct at MAKLab
During my internship I set myself a project: to organise and run my own workshop and talk event on sustainable design called “De/Reconstruct”. You can read more about the event here.
The workshop involved participants getting their hands dirty taking apart discarded consumer goods. Something that really struck me was how effective the ‘hands-on’ approach was in conveying an issue (understanding what is wrong with our current manufacture and waste systems). Rather than being told about the problems, participants could experience them for themselves.
Charity work with Skill Share Dundee
When I returned to Dundee I began to notice further impacts of working with our hands. I help to run a charity called Skill Share Dundee where we teach traditional and useful skills to the community with a focus on craft and self sufficiency. Through constantly building things (often from re-used materials) participants are taught to see everything around them as repairable or as something that can be turned into something new.
MAKLab champion what they call “the social impact of making”, speaking at events around the country about how making “empowers people”. While I was at MAKLab I didn’t totally understand this, it wasn’t until I started to make links between MAKLab and Skill Share that I gradually discovered what they meant: the process of making forms individuals who feel they can fix things, take concepts through to completion and, eventually, feel empowered to change the world around them.
Dissertation on supporting making in Dundee
I decided to write my final year dissertation on how we can support the making culture in Dundee. I began by explaining the value of working with our hands, illustrating it with examples from both MAKLab and Skill Share. I then proposed what I called ‘The Dundee Maker Network’. This network would connect and strengthen the ecosystem of maker-spaces across the city by encouraging a variety of differentiated spaces.
In January 2016 I was asked to present a series of films for BBC Bitesize website to teach school students about the design process. This gave me a great opportunity to show the creation of a piece of design and, hopefully, to inspire some young makers with my work.
You can find the videos here, if you’re interested!
Final Year Project
For my final year project at university, I once again chose to focus on making. I designed a kit in which participants had to ‘scavenge’ parts from the ‘waste’ around them to build their own mobile phone charger powered by a hand-cranked motor. The aim of the kit was to inspire participants to think about what we take for granted as consumers.
If you want to learn more about my Waste Makers you can find my blog here.
Sailing to Scandinavia
After my graduating I needed a break! I sailed to Sweden and back onboard a traditional sailing ship from Shetland as a working crew member… (This is a list of my achievements after all!).
[Thanks to Oliver Beardon for the lovely photograph!]
Volunteering as a boat builder at GalGael
Following my sailing experience I decided to volunteer at GalGael in Glasgow. GalGael are a community run wood workshop and boat builders who take on individuals from backgrounds of long term unemployment and addiction and teach them carpentry skills to show them what they can achieve. Before I came to GalGael I had not understood even a fraction of the potential social benefit of hand craft. To see people’s lives being turned around because they realised that they could give something back to society (regardless of whether it was through skills they had learned or their determination to learn) was truly inspiring.
While I’ve been at GalGael I’ve been refurbishing a wooden boat in the boatbuilding section. I’ve never actually spent such a long time doing ‘pure’ craft every day and I’ve actually found that working with my hands helps me to process my ideas better.
Designing Bookbinding Kits
Alongside my work at GalGael I’ve been developing a bookbinding kit for a friend’s company, the Vintage Paper Co.. We hope to sell the kit as an all inclusive set (tools, materials, instructions and templates) that allows people to get crafting straight away without having to source anything.
At this point, it feels like I’ve come full circle again. Just last week I got the opportunity to work with MAKLab to put on an ‘Introduction to Bookbinding’ workshop! It was lovely to work with the team once again in designing an event, taking all my new ideas and experience into it as well. The workshop was a great success with all places selling out and each participant leaving with their own personalised handmade notebook.
I’ve made the decision to work as a freelance designer for the next few months – and the future is feeling full of exciting possibilities.
Next week I’ll be travelling up to Orkney to set up an exhibition of my work at the Pier Arts Centre which will give me a new context within which to present my work (in Orkney there is much more fine art than product design) and hopefully even the opportunity to run some workshops or a talk on design and making.
Immediately after that I’ll be traveling out to Gujarat in India to research reuse and making culture in a completely different context. I aim to learn from people who actually have very little by viewing how they make and repair to solve real problems.
Finally there’s the prospect of working with V&A Dundee on a new project they will be launching in May. The project aims to show groups across Scotland the power of design and ‘the circular economy’. Stay tuned for more on this one later!
And that’s it! Thanks to MAKLab for asking me to write this piece and for being such an inspiration in the first place. I look forward to many more collaborations in the future!