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#PickoftheGEEK: The Brighton Makerlab

In conjunction with our #pickoftheweek feature, we thought it would be great to start featuring awesomely cool and geeky projects that are shaping, nuancing and developing the creative technology industry.

This week, we’re in Brighton, a town renowned for its clean, green and innovative outlook on life. MakerLab is Brighton’s first digital educational space, dedicated to learning about technology and exploring creativity. Simon Riley (Founder and CEO) and Declan Cassidy (Marketing & Community Manager) are definitely proving that you certainly do not have to be in London’s East End to build a thriving start-up.

Brighton Makerlab

What makes MakerLab so great, is that technological facilities, such as sessions in Minecraft, virtual reality, coding, robot building and STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering and Maths) enrichment are available to all aged 9 and over. MakerLab’s key aim is to aid, facilitate and encourage the next generation of techies, but doing so in a creative way. When I spoke to this entrepreneurial duo, they had some interesting things to say…

How important do you think it is to combine creativity and technology?

Innovation IS creativity. China has a big problem with this, the country is full of incredibly well educated engineers, developers and mathematicians, but without a solid arts base, coming up with new ideas is just a slog. To be really successful at any of this stuff, you need to be able to balance technical knowledge with imagination; kids do this extremely well, it’s adults that have the problem most of the time.

How are you getting kids interested? 

I think they’re are already inherently interested in building things, add the tech savvy nature of most young people and it’s not that hard to get at least a second look at what we’re doing with MakerLab. Much of our stuff takes already popular things, like Minecraft and starts to weave learning into it. We’re collaborating with schools to deliver outreach workshops, plus we’re building on national campaigns that have been launched by others. So far, most parents are incredibly receptive to digital making, they totally get how important it is for young people to be doing stuff like this.

Are there more boys than girls attending your workshops?

Unfortunately, yes. We have seen a far greater interest and take up of technology workshops with boys than we have with girls. I’d say its about 80:20. It’s a real shame, as on the rare occasions we do a have a fully mixed session, there’s a real buzz in the room with loads more ideas and dynamics going on. Society, and the technology sector especially, has done a terrible job of getting women excited about innovation, engineering and science. It is changing, but you’ve got a generation or so until we see it manifest itself in the minds of young people from day one. It’s already happening with ‘nerd’ culture, from comics to the maker movement. You used to get beaten up at school for liking this stuff, now it’s something to be proud of. Both boys and girls have limitless imagination and an inherent pride in making things, especially when they’re young. But around the age of 7/8 things start to diverge and standard societal gender roles start taking clear shape. Technology shouldn’t really have anything to do with gender. It’s just a tool to be creative with, whether it’s problem solving, idea generation and or just hands-on fun. It’s awesome, whatever sex you are.

Are women involved in running your project?

Both the main workshop providers who run sessions in the Brighton Makerlab are run by women, Jacqueline Currie, who runs Curiosity Hub, and Jill Hodges who runs, Firetech Camps. We are also working closely with Genevieve Smith-Nunes, from Ready Salted Code, in developing our online learning environment. There’s also the brilliant Donna Comerford who runs the Brighton Digital Festival’s education programme. I think Brighton might be a little better represented than much of the country, but there seems to be a good core of women in education technology and we’ve had the pleasure of working with many of them.

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Quizzing MakerLab on the issue of gender and their workshops does perhaps highlight some negativity in the tech industry. Clearly there are not enough girls showing interest in projects such as this. Is it that girls just genuinely are not as interested in tech? Or is it because they are brought up to think they shouldn’t be by their parents, teachers and society in general? Women make up a mere 13% of the tech industry in the UK and over the pond, Silicon valley’s reputation as the beacon of technical innovation, has been tarnished by increasing reports of sexism and for becoming like a modern day ‘boys’ club’. It’s positive and refreshing that projects such as MakerLab are now conscious of this issue and are endeavouring to encourage both sexes into creative technology. As MakerLab have also clearly demonstrated, it’s imperative that there are positive female role models within technology education too to ensure it becomes the norm.

Recently, MakerLab successfully managed to raise over £4,500 from Kickstarter in order to provide more in-house laptops, 3D printers and a laser cutter. So they’re well on their way to growing and developing their business. Being a geek is the new “cool”, and if we can get as many boys and girls as possible to discover the great potential of technology, we’ll be able to keep up with our global competitors and hopefully secure future gender equality in the world of tech.

 

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