All the fun of the faire

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Al Dean jumps aboard a train bound for Newcastle with his lad, Jack. Their aim? To visit Europe’s largest Maker Faire to find out what the next generation make of the whole thing. Turns out it’s quite inspiring for all
If there’s one thing that warms the cockles of your heart, it’s seeing one of your kids being creative. Whether it’s drawing on a notepad, clicking together a Lego model or building a den in the garden.

The UK Maker Faire was buzzing

As they say, it’s all good. What’s interesting is watching what gets kids engaged in designing something, solving a practical challenge and thinking something through.

We all learn from our mistakes and missteps and it’s something that starts very young. I’m pretty sure we can all trace back the point when our paths towards being designers and engineers started.

For many of a similar age to me, that was probably the clunk of Lego or the stripping of knuckles on a Mechano spanner. I’ve heard stories of that spark coming from seeing Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s name in feet high letters on the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Engagement + technology

As a dad, there’s nothing I love more than showing off a bit of technology to the kids, showing them how things work, explaining what something is.

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Recently, it became clear how technologies like 3D printing can engage with the young ones.

The ability to physically manifest an idea, from screen to something held in the hand is incredibly captivating and inspiring — for all ages.

So, with all that in mind, DEVELOP3D ended up supporting Europe’s largest Maker Faire in Newcastle at the tail end of April.

If you’re not familiar with a Maker Faire, the idea began in the US by the team behind Make magazine.

Maker Faires are typically localised events, bringing together all sorts of people, with all manner of interests and showing off all manner of projects. If you made it, you’re welcome to pitch up, take a table and talk to people about it. What’s not to love about that?

Even though we weren’t too sure what to expect, we packed up for an overnight stay in Newcastle and a visit first thing on a chilly spring Saturday morning.

Like minds meet

Held in the Life Centre in the centre of Newcastle, the UK Maker Faire was buzzing even before the event opened.

Pitching up early, we got our passes, got let in and immediately bumped in to Alice Taylor, CEO of MakieLab, who was presenting (along with her husband, Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing fame) later on in the day. It seems they’d also brought their daughter along for the weekend.

As Jack and I wandered around the halls, it was clear that this was an event that satisfies anyone with a curious mind.

Amongst the many stalls, we saw robotics, we marvelled at the PancakeBot (a 3D printer for pancakes — pancakebot.com), we had a drive of BattleBots and gazed at a demonstration of how to bend glass to make neon lighting (by Sarah Blood).

We also took photos of the Star Wars cosplay folks that seem to be ever present at these things and, of course, the Daleks.

Jack had a go at building a Minecraft model and learned about the Printcraft service that will realise it in a 3D print or give you an STL.

He learned how to hack a website using Mozilla Webmaker and Google X-Ray with an incredibly patient lady — even if he did panic a bit that he was changing Nintendo’s actual website!

Is this the next generation?

What was interesting for me, was seeing the make up of the crowd. It was the broadest cross section of society. Parents with kids, teenagers, older folks and even the odd pensioner knocking about the place. The gender split was about bang on equal.

It struck me that while the government is talking about supporting manufacturing in this country with all manner of concocted schemes and initiatives, it’s this type of grass roots event that it should be supporting. Not specialist events, but general access events, that anyone can go to, that anyone can dive into and find something to spark an interest.

After all, it’s that formative point where, as a kid, you see something interesting, something that sticks in the back of your brain and sits there, through your schooling, through your education and helps determine your life choices.

As a final thought, there was something absolutely delightful about seeing parents sitting with their kids, around a bunch of tables, soldering electronics kits together. A collective experience involving molten metals, steaming hot irons and a little bit of magic.

It might be easy to dismiss Maker Faires, but I’d advise taking a trip to a local event at least. They’re encouraging, enlightening and gives you confidence in the future.


Al Dean explores UK Maker Faire 2013
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