Highlights from Festival of Maintenance 2019

Maker Assembly is supporting the Festival of Maintenance. In this guest blog, festival organiser Laura James reports on the second edition of the festival.

Photo by Michael Dales

The 2nd Festival of Maintenance took place in Liverpool on the 28th September 2019. Like the 2018 event, this was an exploration and a celebration of maintenance, repair, stewardship and care. We had speakers talking about what is maintained, who maintains and how, and how the labour of maintenance is resourced.

This year’s festival was bigger – we had 80 people present, plus people watching remotely on the livestream – and felt more cohesive. We’d chosen to run it outside London, and Liverpool was a great option with lively, curious communities interested in maintaining, as well as a local hosting partner in DoES Liverpool.  The Festival was held in the Fashion Hub of the Tapestry, in a regenerating area of the city. Alongside the Saturday of talks, DoES held their first Repair Cafe on the Sunday.

2019 felt like something of a maturation, but at the same time, the Festival perhaps resists definition, and maybe that’s partly how we are differentiated from The Maintainers, the Maintainerati and other groups. It’s interesting to consider how the maintenance ‘agenda’ is shaped by the different backgrounds and disciplines that people bring to the Festival – and the challenges of drawing an audience that represents diversity across dimensions. We are aware of the lack of diversity in some of the fields that naturally gravitate towards maintenance ideas, and hope to remain broad and interesting and accessible to both maintainers and the ‘maintenance curious’ from all backgrounds. It is tempting to categorise and structure these conversations, but we are starting to think that our role is to start conversations and be provocative, and to allow and encourage all kinds of people to be involved.

We do know that it was good to get away from London, and to hold a very low ticket price and to share online, to enable as many people as possible to be part of the Festival. We’re not all academics; we’re not all into new technology; the best conversations are serendipitous and between people who could never have anticipated them.

Photo by Michael Dales

In writing up 2019, I thought I’d start by remembering 2018.

I was inspired to set up the Festival at a Maker Assembly event at the end of 2017. Looking back, the context of making and makerspaces was quite powerful – from the start we were thinking about many dimensions of making. The challenges of maintenance in innovation-focussed communities and cultures; the mixture of repair of physical items, maintenance and upkeep of shared infrastructure spaces and tools, the tending of community and care for each other in a volunteering setting, the role of the internet, software, data and shared knowledge and designs. All these aspects together shaped the creation of the Festival and one of our early questions: what can we learn from each other, the maintainers of digital goods, physical items, infrastructures and communities?

This matters because some of the most important activities in the coming decades will need to bring together the physical and digital and social.

The theme of the perceived tension between innovation culture and maintenance culture was highlighted by talks from Lee Vinsel and David Edgerton. A different angle on this idea came from both Alex Mecklenburg linking maintenance in stories  and in the work of marketing agencies, and Alanna Irving on leadership balancing vision and operations. (I could perhaps interpret Natalie Kane’s exploration of how we maintain our bodies to deliver the performance expected (not to mention maintaining digital items in a museum context!) as a left field approach to this topic, too.) Digital maintenance and stewardship were discussed by Daria Cybulska from Wikimedia UK and Chris Mills from the MDN writers’ team at Mozilla, maintaining documentation, open standards, and the open web; Jake Harries from Access Space in Sheffield talked about their work to support local people with computing, and how this has changed as technologies evolve. Maker and repair themes were covered by Janet Gunter from the Restart project, and Chris Hellawell from Edinburgh Tool Library, and maker community and infrastructure by Adrian McEwen on how DoES organise the labour of shared space maintenance, and Lauren Hutchinson on volunteer burnout. Community issues more broadly were explored by Oliver Holtaway in the context of a community owned football club. Public and shared infrastructure maintenance discussion included Simon Elmer on the relative costs of rebuilding and refurbishing social housing, and the anonymous Guerrilla Groundsman taking street gardening and repair into his own hands. We also considered maintenance through the ages – and the introduction of different technologies – with Hazel Forsyth’s talk on repair and reuse in 1500-1750, and Mike Green’s discussion of skills and tools for facilities management since the 1960s.

Looking back, then, this feels like we coherently aligned talks with the structure of our original inspiration! This wasn’t how we assembled the talks on the day though, and my categorisation here distracts from the crosscutting ideas and provocations which attendees were discussing in breaks (and in the pub afterwards). The overlaps – obvious and less so – were where the value lay.

Photo by Michael Dales


On to 2019.

We had stronger themes this year, due to better planning and more team members and discussion. In particular, both fragility and climate felt like important topics to include. (Due to last minute speaker changes, the themes of care and emerging technology were dissolved; we’ll probably return to them next time.)

The eventual feel of the day, to me at least, was of a couple of talks pushing our sights higher to philosophies, culture and institutions, and then the rest exploring maintenance in diverse products and sectors and contexts.

Indy Johar spoke of how foundational economies of energy, matter, information, human development have fundamentally different realities to them, and we need to think about them separately and differently (we don’t do this today). Climate change is a symptom of a structural issue – we shouldn’t try to fix the symptom, but instead strive for “a deep code innovation to transition to a new economy” – a maintenance economy, through a deep system change. Indy spoke of issues of land wealth and public goods; the idea of self-sovereign rivers and forests; our unhelpful conflation of corporations and humans. (Corporations are machines and operate as machines; humans operate through acts of ennoblement.) In terms of architectures of governance and control, Indy proposes regulatory innovation. Code has the capacity to do many things, and today regulatory control is designed around loosely coupled mechanisms – but we are careering towards tightly coupled systems, which would not be ennobling. We need warranties and receipts that work for parts of products, enabling a circular economy that works for real situations. A Boring Revolution.

Indy Johar – Photo by Michael Dales

Indy’s key question was: What are the institutional infrastructures for a maintenance economy?  Everything is optimised for consumption and use at an infrastructural level, and that’s wrong now in developed countries and regions.

Shannon Mattern spoke remotely, questioning the doctrine of growth, with ideas of degrowth or decoupling. She talked of techniques to avoid collapse, the value of care and social infrastructure, reimagining design and the nature of work. Considering the energy consumption (and other costs) of Google, Facebook, Amazon etc, she called for us to look beyond privatised individual solutions such as quitting Facebook. If we were to degrow a digital universe, distinct from today’s tech monopolies, what would it be like? Community structures for connectivity? Offers of reparations for those hurt by digital redlining? How can we create pedagogies that prioritise calm and care? From digital to the infrastructure of our cities, who deserves and performs maintenance and care?

Shannon Mattern speaking remotely – Photo by Michael Dales

Shannon’s call to action was: what can we do, now at a conference, to start to build the new world, before change is forced on us in a more damaging way? Shannon’s talk is now available in essay form here: http://www.lapsuslima.com/minimal-maintenance/ 

Then we had talks on preserving herbarium items, the self made burden of community IOT networks for flood monitoring and more, heritage organisations preserving digital materials of all kinds with story telling and institutional memory, the hidden costs of potholes and the systemic challenges to tackling them, visible clothes repair and the loss of textile skills, the systems that make bins and buses work, collaborative creation and maintaining open data about legislation, a lifecycle view of decarbonising digital systems, care work in social housing maintenance, and building and decommissioning bridges.

Photo by Michael Dales

I was particularly struck by the idea that the wartime slogan “make do and mend” had devalued repaired clothing, making items seem like compromise instead of a bond forged with clothing through the love of undertaking repair.


The audience was different to London – more diverse, particularly in age. There had been concerns that we wouldn’t have enough material for another high quality event, but clearly we did, and we had at least as many top speakers again who couldn’t make it for various reasons this year.

The whole thing was livestreamed and you can find it on Youtube.

So, what next? it seems like 2020 will happen. We’ll do a ‘retro’ to see what we can learn and improve. A huge thank you to all the volunteer team, and of course our sponsors (including Maker Assembly, supporting us for a second year).

We’re looking into how to keep the conversation going between events, in an accessible way – do get in touch at hello@festivalofmaintenance.org.uk if you have ideas or would like to help.

Making in the Commons – 9 October 2019

As part of our series of co-produced events in Birmingham with STEAMhouse, Kat Braybrooke and Adrian McEwen will be speaking on 9 October about how makers can use, defend and contribute to the commons.

From open source hardware to how-to videos, grassroots projects to cultural institutions, making increasingly happens in the ‘commons’.

Whether located in the makerspace or the museum, or accessible thanks to digital platforms and communities, these common goods are freely available to all and allow us to share knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world, transforming how we make with, and think about, the things that surround us.

This event is free. Book your space here.

Festival of Maintenance 2019 in Liverpool

Following the success of its inaugural event in 2018, the Festival of Maintenance is returning on 28th September and brings the celebration of maintainers to Liverpool.

This year’s Festival explore what maintenance means in complex and changing times, bringing together new stories about creativity, craftsmanship, and the challenges of maintenance.

Maker Assembly is supporting this community-run event crated by volunteers and invites you to discover an exiting programme of talks on repair cultures, predictive maintenance, automation and care, urban systems, data, community infrastructure and many more.  

STEAMhouse, Birmingham, 2019

We’re working with STEAMhouse on a series of co-produced events in Birmingham, that will run throughout 2019. Through these events we hope to support the growing community of makers at STEAMhouse, and provide an opportunity for a diverse group of designers, craftspeople, artists and technologists to learn, be inspired, and get to know each other.

STEAMhouse is a new centre for creative innovation and cultural production that brings artists, inventors, engineers, entrepreneurs and makers together,  developed by Eastside Projects and Birmingham City University.

For full details – and to get tickets for forthcoming events – please see the STEAMhouse events page.


13 March – Making tools for Makers: Kniterate and Assemble


Makers are natural disruptors – modifying processes, developing tools and finding solutions to practical problems through the act of making. But how are we doing this in the 21st century? When makers identify a gap or opportunity what new solutions emerge?

We are delighted to welcome Triambak Saxena from Kniterate and Joseph Halligan from Turner Prizewinning architectural collective Assemble to Birmingham to talk through their work, and experiences, as makers making tools for makers.

10 April – Making Materials: Materiom


Imagine if all our materials were nutrients. If there was no waste, but rather that our plastics and composites nourished living systems.

Materiom is an open platform that lets anyone contribute, use or adapt recipes for materials that learn from nature’s techniques for sourcing, building and breaking down the ingredients that make them up. Their mission is to enable everyone, everywhere to participate in the next generation of materials.

Multi-disciplinary designer-maker, and materials researcher Zoë Powell joins us to talk about materials that are regenerative by design and how designers, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists and citizens can use their open platform to work collectively on some of the greatest material challenges in the circular economy.

8 May – Making Data: Grow Observatory


Professor Mel Woods, Chair in Creative Intelligence at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, joins us to talk about the GROW Observatory (GROW) and the potential of participatory culture, citizen sensing and citizen science. Grow Observatory is a Europewide project engaging thousands of growers, scientists and others passionate about the land. They are using Flower Power sensors to generate data on soil moisture, temperature and light, discovering together how to better manage soil and grow food whilst contributing to vital scientific, environmental monitoring.

With 2,500 sensors currently returning data, and several online MOOCs GROW is addressing the problem of amplifying scale, whilst supporting meaningful participation with citizens and grassroots organisations, as well as policy makers and scientists.

19 June – Reimagining Materials: Aeropowder and Studio Ilio


How can existing materials be transformed into something new? How can we use the valuable properties of waste materials to make something useful? What happens when we apply novel processes to the abundant materials that surround us?This month we welcome two makers who are working with overlooked materials in surprising ways: Ryan Robinson, from Aeropowder and Fabio Hendry, from Studio Ilio.

From human hair to chicken feathers, these designers are creating new materials, finishes and products and changing the way we think about the materials that surround us.

10 July – Making Histories: Thrifty Science and the Lucas Plan


Many of the questions makers are asking today have been asked before. How can we work more sustainably? How can we make a fairer world? This month, we invite two guests who can offer a new perspective on present day challenges by looking back to the past. 

Simon Werrett shows us how, in the 17th and 18th centuries, scientific experimenters used the tools and materials readily available to them to make some of the most important scientific discoveries of the day. In this ‘thrifty’ approach to science, experimenters transformed their homes into laboratories as they recycled, repurposed, repaired, and reused their material possessions to learn about the natural world. What can small-scale experimental makers and technologists working today learn from these pioneers?

Adrian Smith tells the story of the Lucas Plan, the bold, utopian project forged in 1976 by workers from the failing Lucas Aerospace plant to re-organise their work to make ‘socially useful’ products. While their plan received a hostile response from management, their ideas  lived on to inspire a new generation of utopian makers who want to manufacture a more just world.

9 October – Making in the Commons


From open source hardware to how-to videos, grassroots projects to cultural institutions, making increasingly happens in the ‘commons’.The commons are the things that we inherit and create jointly, and that will (hopefully) last for generations to come – they consists of gifts of nature such as air, oceans and wildlife as well as shared social creations such as libraries, public spaces, open source resources, scientific research and creative works.

Whether located in the makerspace or the museum, or accessible thanks to digital platforms and communities, these common goods are freely available to all and allow us to share knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world, transforming how we make with, and think about, the things that surround us.This month, we look at how makers can benefit from, and why we should contribute to – even defend – our commons. 

Kat Braybrooke is a social scientist and designer whose work explores the politics of digitally-mediated spaces and practices, in particular the emerging relations between maker cultures and new modes of production. 

Adrian McEwen is a geek and entrepreneur from Liverpool who makes, consults and writes on the Internet of Things. He’s also the co-founder of DoES Liverpool, a co-working and maker space. He has an interest in how we democratise access to the machinery of manufacturing, not least so he can use it himself; and how we smooth the path from one-off to mass-manufacture.

13 November – Making and Maintaining


This month, in partnership with the Festival of Maintenance, we ask whether thinking and talking about innovation can lead us to neglect maintenance and maintainers and fail to recognise the potential for repair, reuse and recycling, those who keep things going and the often hidden work done in repair, custodianship, stewardship, tending and caring for the things that matter. Maintenance work can be routine or highly skilled and maintainers can be found in many contexts, including nature, software, infrastructure, communities, industry, information technology, arts and heritage and work across traditional disciplines of maintenance, repair and stewardship and new areas such as supporting digital products, sustaining open source software, and moderating online communities. They are involved in design for repair and reuse, local manufacturing, software and open hardware maintenance, remanufacturing, dataset stewardship, online and offline communities or the physical and digital commons.

Naomi Turner is one of the organisers of the Festival of Maintenance. In her day job, Naomi is a Product Manager at the Ministry of Justice, thinking about what the internet means for people in prison.She says, “I became involved in the festival partly as an outlet for my frustration about a culture that focuses on the shiny and new, especially when we barely care for what we already have.Many think that maintenance is unskilled, repetitive, ‘low’ work – indeed the opposite of innovation, but this simply isn’t true. My hope is that the Festival highlights how varied and undervalued maintenance is as an activity, and that it fosters new conversations about how we can better care for others around us, our communities and environment.”

Lauren Hutchinson is Managing Director of Oxford Hackspace, a core organizer for the UK Hackspace Foundation, a lifelong equality and minorities activist, geek herder, sign languages enthusiast and ASL community mod. Her background in minority law, post-colonial literature and translation helps shape her work as a leader in the maker community, and more recently she has studied radio, electronics, and boundaried empathy and connection between people. 

She has lived all over the world, trying to learn how to care for people, and once nearly had to help deliver a baby during an AGM. She will talk about burnout, pressures and bullying in low emotional quotient communities, and share thoughts on what maintainers and volunteers can do to safeguard and heal their communities and themselves.

New series of events at STEAMhouse in Birmingham

We’re very excited to be working with STEAMhouse on a new series of events in Birmingham, that will run throughout 2019.

STEAMhouse is a new centre for creative innovation and cultural production that brings artists, inventors, engineers, entrepreneurs and makers together,  developed by Eastside Projects and Birmingham City University.

Through these events we hope to support the growing community of makers at STEAMhouse, and provide an opportunity for a diverse group of designers, craftspeople, artists and technologists to learn, be inspired, and get to know each other.

Our first event is on Wednesday 13 March, featuring Triambak Saxena from Kniterate and Joseph Halligan from Turner Prizewinning architectural collective Assemble to Birmingham to talk through their work, and experiences, as makers making tools for makers.

Future events will be on the second Wednesday of each month.

Follow STEAMhouse news for more details.

The first Festival of Maintenance

Maker Assembly is supporting the Festival of Maintenance. In this guest blog, festival organiser Laura James reports on a day of talks on communities, systems, organisations and how much care is needed to maintain the things that matter

I was inspired to create the Festival of Maintenance last December during the Maker Assembly Summit.

The Summit brought together a community of people interested in critical discussion about maker culture: its meaning, politics, history and future. We talked about how a lot of maker culture is about making new things, and in many Western contexts, that’s making gadgets and gizmos that are fun for a while but generally then gather dust until eventually thrown away. The Summit also discussed the sustainability of makerspaces, and how they are maintained past initial capital and enthusiasm; local manufacturing, and the unrealised potential for repair, reuse and recycling. These issues lead us to think about business and capital models, and their relationship to sustaining systems and maintenance, and about the culture of looking after things vs making new ones. You can read my reflections on the Summit here.

There are amazing individuals and projects striving to maintain, to repair, to reuse, to sustain, to steward, to remanufacture and to recycle things of value – hardware, software, data, infrastructure, communities. They work in the public sector, the private sector, at charities and non-profits, as volunteers, in co-ops and collectives. Too often, they are invisible to those who benefit from their work. From the Maker Assembly Summit conversations, some of us felt we should celebrate maintainers, learn from the different forms and practices of maintenance, and the ways organisations are finding to support these, and figure out how to build and manufacture more sustainable products and systems — because some of the most important activities in the coming decades will need to bring together the physical and digital and social.

Following these conversations, a group of us set out to organise a Festival of Maintenance, and on Saturday 22nd September, it happened!

We had stickers!

If you like this sort of thing, follow us on Twitter, or sign up for very occasional email updates. It went well, and I rather think we’ll do it again 🙂

Read on for a summary of the day and audience feedback. You can also follow #Maintain2018 and listen to audio recordings of the sessions.

The first session was a set of provocations around the nature of maintenance and where it fits in our world.

Simon Elmer from Architects for Social Housing shared a great data-driven investigation into the relative costs of rebuilding and refurbishing social housing in London — and the side effects of these choices.

Simon Elmer

Natalie Kane, curator of digital design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and one-half of research project Haunted Machines, on how we both maintain our bodies, and deliver the performance expected in some roles (in space, or in warehouse/factory work), using adult nappies.

Natalie Kane

Alanna Irving talked about different facets of leadership, and the need to balance visionary with operational leadership within a team. A subject close to my heart! Alanna touched on the hidden and challenging labour which makes big visionary ideas a reality, and the need for empathy in both directions — both from visionary to operational leaders and vice versa. You can watch Alanna’s talk here — she joined us live from New Zealand for Q&A.

Alanna Irving

The next session was about what has happened to maintenance, and its status.

David Edgerton, author of Shock of the Old (highly recommended!) gave a great talk about the ways we think about technology and maintainers. Maintenance work can be routine — or highly skilled. Maintaining things can be harder than making them; but then an old jet engine, seemingly more worn and in need of care, may take less time to maintain than a new one, as the maintainers have learned how to do it. Historically, engineers mostly worked on repairing things, keeping them safe, whereas today they want to present themselves as creatives, disruptors.

David had a political point about the criticality of maintenance in a society, and what that means for the way the society is managed; despotic governments which ensure maintenance is carried out might be justifiable if a society is at great risk otherwise. He touched on our cultural focus on innovation and entrepreneurship — which is often imitation, not real innovation. We often overlook material things; but perhaps Brexit is changing that, as we recognise the importance of supply chains for food and energy. The Chequers proposal separating regulation of goods and services illustrates the disconnect of the current government from reality — people who know about real business, and maintenance, recognise that goods and services are inseparable now.

David Edgerton

Hazel Forsyth from the Museum of London took us back to 1500–1750, for a look at repair and reuse across buildings, documents, garments and precious metals.

Hazel Forsyth

Alex Mecklenburg drew beautiful parallels between maintenance in stories — and in the work of creative agencies in marketing and advertising. Once you’ve slain the dragon, who is going to look after that huge castle? Alex talked about her enjoyment of stories which describe everyday living as well as adventures, and the frustrations of work in agencies where short lived heroics get the attention, when steady ongoing customer relationship maintenance is essential.

Creativity and maintenance go hand in hand. And in a mature ecosystem as much energy goes to maintenance as goes to creativity.Gary Snyder

Alex Mecklenburg

Mike Green, Chairman of the Central London Maintenance Association, explained the incredible scale of facilities management and the amount of maintenance that goes into it — maybe 5% of GDP. The CLMA was created when new technology started to change the sector in the 1960s; and now it’s reinventing itself to do the same as the internet transforms the work again. It seeks to support practitioners to understand and work with new tech, when the professional bodies can’t keep pace. Maintenance is much less “shit and grit” and more about monitoring, preventative activities, managing energy — maintainers with laptops tracking all kinds of information.

Mike Green

After lunch, I was delighted that the Guerrilla Groundsman, a real local hero, could join us incognito to share reflections on random acts of tidying and maintenance in public spaces in Cambridge.

Read about his work fixing benches, cleaning signs, painting bollards, and even checking the typefaces and moulding on street name signs to retain original designs when repairing them.

Guerrilla Groundsman,

We moved on to a session about communities involved in maintenance, and the maintenance of such communities themselves.

The afternoon sessions brought in more ideas and speakers related to the maker movement and makerspaces, which had played a big role in inspiring the Festival in the first place.

Adrian McEwen from DoES Liverpool talked about how to organise the work of fixing and improving things in a volunteer community. If you mention something that’s broken, it’s easy for folks to respond “well volunteered!” — discouraging people from highlighting problems. DoES have developed a “Somebody should” list, which tracks things that need to get done and when they are fixed. This also recognises the labour of maintenance, as you can see who did something, and also builds knowledge of how things were fixed.

Adrian McEwen

Adrian reminded me of a photo I took in a community space in Istanbul. It’s a P J O’Rourke quote, and both fits with this local community context, and broader spheres of tech entrepreneurship and change-making.

Oliver Holtaway helped to make Bath City FC a community-owned football club, and talked about what’s happened since that initial project, now the community have to maintain the club. There’s been a lot of innovation, especially around the model and creating democratic procedures, which create maintenance obligations around governance. Oliver also talked about the challenge of understanding the motivations of different kinds of volunteers — creative folks doing specific tasks are easier to understand and motivate, maybe, than those doing more maintenance-type work.

Oliver Holtaway

Lauren Hutchinson talked about the dangers of burnout and bullying, and the often-thankless emotional labour in volunteer communities. Maintaining shared goods and communities is exhausting, and when stuff goes wrong problems often snowball, and the pressure can fall disproportionately on a small group or individual. If the community isn’t just where you volunteer, but is your friends, your social support network, your workplace, stepping away is a big sacrifice. It was an important talk about mental health and looking after yourself as well as maintaining the collective goods and community.

Lauren Hutchinson

The next session looked at maintenance in digital technology — looking after shared public knowledge, and enabling the infrastructure of the internet to be maintained by tending the documents that explain it for software developers.

Daria Cybulska from Wikimedia UK talked about how Wikipedia in English is growing, but the community of editors and contributors is not. Making it possible for more people to contribute is a challenge in both culture and process.

Daria Cybulska

Chris Mills talked about the work of the MDN writers’ team at Mozilla, maintaining open standards, and the open web. Openness makes it easier to do things, and to maintain things. There’s a lot to maintain at Mozilla and in the open source documentation space though!

Chris Mills

Our next highlight was a remote talk by Lee Vinsel, creator of The Maintainers in America. The papers from this conference and the articles linked to it helped us explore questions of maintenance through 2018 and we’ve been highlighting this and similar work through the #maintenanceinspiration hashtag on twitter.

Lee talked about how unhelpful ways of thinking and talking about innovation lead us to neglect maintenance and maintainers. Innovation isn’t always a good thing — and tech is not the same as innovation, either. We overlook the criticality of infrastructure, and the nature of the labour, status, identity and inequalities relating to maintainers.

Lee’s tagline is — How maintainers, bureaucrats, standards engineers and introverts created technologies that kind of work most of the time. 🙂 

Lee Vinsel

Lee’s slide about engineering

Our final session looked at new paradigms around maintenance, and novel ways people are supporting and enabling maintenance.

Chris Hellawell, founder of Edinburgh Tool Library, talked about affordable access to tools, but also the ways that tools can bring people together, through learning about tools and how to use them, working with others to fix things together. (An echo of the common makerspace idea that folks “come for the tools, stay for the community.”)

Chris Hellawell

Jake Harries from Access Space in Sheffield talked about their work to support local people with technology, and how this has changed as technologies evolve. Fixing up old computers with Linux was well received, until smartphones took over. Now they are looking at digital fabrication.

Jake Harries

Janet Gunter, co-founder of The Restart Project which promotes community repair of electronics, discussed what needs to change for us to dismantle the 50m ton e-waste mountain. Restart have a campaign running and are part of International Repair Day which is on the 20th October this year. It’s important to both work on everyday repairs, and to engage in this wider policy and political debate, because forces are assembling to prevent repair, by demanding only authorised folks can do repair, by deeming spare parts ‘counterfeits’ and so on. Not everyone wants repair and reuse to be possible.

Janet Gunter

A huge thank you to all our speakers!

The event was run by volunteers and on a non-profit basis. Through a mix of good planning and good luck, we almost perfectly broke even financially. We had 40 paying attendees plus 15 speakers plus 5 organisers on the day (plus 2 remote speakers).

Here are some of the things people said about the Festival:

  • The Festival of Maintenance made me happy to realise there were so many different types of maintainers out there.
  • A wonderful little festival, full of fascinating speakers and ideas
  • A mind opening festival, where people discuss the aspects of work and life that are too often overlooked. I feel inspired to maintain things!
  • The ubiquity of the innovation vs maintenance question meant an incredibly diverse range of speakers and attendees, it was really well done.
  • Maintaining the maintainers provides a really special moment of reflection on modern era’s fascination with the new at the expense of the existing. Relevant for anyone who is tired of hearing about innovation and wants to support the existing to make it better.
  • The conference was a stimulating experience, demonstrating how the concept of maintenance faces major issues across a whole range of sectors.
  • Loved meeting people that were so far removed from my day to day commercial activity will be back next year.
  • Great group of people with varied interests, and a really provocative, expansive definition of “maintenance”
  • The 2018 Festival of Maintenance was an eye-opening event, bringing together people with incredibly diverse interpretations and experiences of what maintenance is all about who nonetheless touched on a bedrock of shared passions and commitments.
  • It was very helpful, and very timely, to get chance to hear experiences, expertise and ideas that framed maintenance as a counterbalance to the rhetoric of innovation, creativity and transformation.
  • Like discovering an entire other hemisphere of the world.

Many thanks to Maker Assembly and Maintain Our Heritage for their support. Thanks to all the volunteer team — especially Naomi Turner for wrangling speakers, schedule and venue, Jackie Pease for fighting camera gear so we weren’t so London-centric and Liverpool could take part too, Calen Cole and Marc Barto for keeping the event schedule on track and looking after attendees; plus Hwa Young Jung for our lovely logo design, Tati for the website, Michael Ball for domain support, Michael Dales for photography, and all the others who have helped with advice and guidance and ideas along the way (especially Andrew Back).

We’ve got a lot of speakers on our wishlist who couldn’t join this year, or who were suggested after our programme was finalised, so we could definitely do another day in 2019 and cover a similarly diverse range of topics.

See you next year!

Supporting New, New England House in Brighton

In 2018, Maker Assembly is supporting a series of network activities by Maker Groups across the country. The first of these is New, New England House in Brighton.

New England House is a council-owned, multi-storey factory in the middle of Brighton. New, New England House is a project led by local regeneration agency, Spacemakers, to “reorganise the building, from the bottom up, from the inside out”. Working with building tenants, the creative communities of the city, and with partners including Assemble, Europa and Peter Nencini, their ambitions are to create a space that will:

  • be an open, affordable and public factory for the benefit of the whole city
  • create a new economics for the building, and increase the surplus the building generates for the council
  • be a cheap, rough and ready place to make things, by hand or on screen
  • be a place where Brighton can produce, instead of just consume

Maker Assembly is supporting a series of community events (“Talks on Production”) throughout the summer to invite people into the building, galvanise interest in the project, and learn from others working to similar ends.

So far, two events have been held; the first with Kathrin Böhm of community drinks enterprise Company Drinks, that links east London’s history of “going picking” with a full drinks production cycle. She talked about collective products; International Village Shops; undercover feminism in German villages; being an arts project and a drinks company at the same time; and how to build an economy that makes more people happy.

The second event was with Amica Dall from architects and designers Assemble, who talked about working with communities who’ve been defending their houses from the threat of demolition for decades, and refurbishing those houses with parts made from the rubble in the streets around them; setting up open-access factories that people can actually access; creating Assemble’s own factory, and sharing tools with carpenters, ceramicists and metalworkers, for mutual benefit; and the difference between making it look like something’s happening in a community vs. creating the infrastructure for a community to do it for themselves.

We’re looking forward to the next two events with Ruth Claxton on 27 June and Peter Nencini on July 12.

Making Matters event at the RSA

Our very own Liz Corbin spoke at this event held by the RSA in collaboration with the Comino Foundation to discuss: “why access to making is important for everyone; how we risk losing the chance for young people to learn through making; and what the RSA, Comino and others are doing to challenge that.”.

The full video is below. Liz is on at about 10 minutes, and gives a good overview of what we’re trying to do through Maker Assembly.

Also see this companion piece on the RSA site by Comino trustees David Perry and José Chambers: “Does Making Really Matter?”:

How can we make science and engineering come alive for more young people and for more communities? Engineers need good theoretical understanding, but do they also need hands-on experience? David Perry and José Chambers of the Comino Foundation, which has been asking these kinds of questions over many years, explore the growth of makerspaces and the kinds of experiences that should be on offer, both in schools and communities, if we are to be sure of having enough engineers in the future.

Edinburgh, 3 March 2017


We are very much looking forward to our next gathering in Edinburgh, which will be a special edition of Maker Assembly, developed in collaboration with the British Council.

More than ever before, we will be expanding Maker Assembly’s reach to an international audience. We have invited makers, thinkers and doers from around the world, including representatives from the UK, South Africa, China, Nigeria, Turkey, Mexico and Ukraine, to participate in the day’s discussions and to share their knowledge, skills and experiences. In addition to the day’s sessions and activities, we will have the opportunity to hear more about the British Council’s Maker Library Network and Hello Shenzhen programmes.


09.30 – Arrival and registration
10.00 – Welcome address by Liz Corbin (Institute of Making)

10.15 – Session one: Networks
Fi Scott (Make Works)
Mara Balestrini (The Bristol Approach)
Maker Library Network Legacy
Chaired by Andrew Sleigh (Lighthouse)

11.30 – Coffee break

11.45 – Session two: Designer-Maker
Jasleen Kaur (Jasleen Kaur)
Micaella Pedros (Micaella Pedros)
Silo Studio (Silo Studio)
Helen Steer (Do it Kits)
Chaired by Irini Papadimitriou (V&A)

13.30 – Lunch and chats
Lunchtime Activity: The Incomplete and Crowdsourced History of UK Maker Culture.

Explore and add to the on-going Maker Assembly timeline of UK maker culture
Explore and add to the on-going Maker Assembly timeline of UK maker culture

14.45 – Session three: Making in the open
Hannah Fox (Derby Museum, The Silk Mill)
Jo Ashbridge (AzuKo)
Janet Gunter (Restart Project)
Chaired by Phoenix Perry (Code Liberation Foundation)

16.15 – Coffee break

16:30 – Keynote address: In conversation with Daniel Charny (From Now On) and Alice Rawsthorn (Author and Design Critic). Chaired by Sarah Mann (British Council).

17.15 – Closing remarks by Clive Gillman (Creative Scotland)

17.30 – Drinks reception
18.30 – Traditional Scottish ceilidh (closing at 21.00)

We want everyone who attends our event to enjoy the day and feel able to express their views. As such, we expect all attendees to follow The Ada Initiative Code of Conduct.

Follow us on twitter – @MakerAssemblyUK – and join the conversation by using #MakerAssembly.


GRAS, The Custom House, 65-67 Commercial Street, Leith,
Edinburgh EH6 6LH


As we have limited capacity, we ask for a £10 booking deposit that will be refunded on the day. Your ticket also includes a communal lunch and refreshments throughout the day.

Eventbrite - Maker Assembly Edinburgh

About the British Council

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries. We do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust.

We work with over 100 countries across the world in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Each year we reach over 20 million people face-to-face and more than 500 million people online, via broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934, we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body.

Arts is a cornerstone of the British Council’s mission to create a friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and the wider world. We find new ways of connecting with and understanding each other through the arts, to develop stronger creative sectors around the world that are better connected with the UK.

Maker Assembly Edinburgh is supported by:




Photos by Dan Sumption and Keziah Suskin


Maker Assembly Manchester in review

This is a guest post by David Perry of the Comino Foundation. Thanks to David for sharing his thoughts.

Maker Assembly’s progenitor was the first gathering of makers from around England in April 2014, also at MadLab, sponsored by the Comino Foundation and run by Nat Hunter, then of the RSA.

This one started with an introduction from Liz Corbin of UCL who spoke of why we make, its situation in communities and how she was hoping for a ‘critical conversation’ – which was highly likely. Notably, the participants were almost precisely balanced in gender.

This was a day of contextualisation and community expansion with the first session’s theme being Learning from International Making Cultures including speakers from South Africa, France and Shenzhen, China. The first, Craig Dunlop talked about the extreme inequalities in South African society continuing so many years after the end of apartheid. He had recently benefited from a residency in the Machines Room in Shoreditch giving him clarity through distance. Addressing local needs in Cape Town meant drawing in local unemployed and using their skills to establish their makerspace commenting that as most then went on to employment they would not continue to be makers.

Justyna Swat then described the fun, hard work, confusion and emerging success of POC21 a five week 50 people venture in an almost empty French chateau and its grounds, exploring community building through social negotiation and taking responsibility and being disruptive but creative, eg changing attitudes to climate change through music. Whilst referring to ‘the beauty of dirt and imperfection’ she also admitted to the way that the need to take hold of emerging situations led them to accept the necessity of managing the event.

David Li from Shenzhen examined that unique city’s culture of making: the problems and opportunities of open source; the long tail of niche products based on a commitment to ‘deliver to needs’. He called electronics ‘the folk art of Shenzhen and described the eco-system of component supply and transactions that is its life-blood being based on a community of trust and facilitation with no boss to see things through. Surprisingly he called this a ‘trouble free production platform’ though small businesses often amount to no more than a two minute video and a web page! He contrasted this scenario to the likes of Foxconn making huge numbers of products for the likes of Apple Corp.

The second session, entitled Making and Humanitarian Relief was led by Laura James of Field Ready who are developing a different approach to aid utilising hyper-local manufacturing as far as possible: in the location where the aid products are needed. She identified these as ‘developments forced by circumstances’ describing those involved as ‘humanitarian makers’. After seeing a number of sample products, small groups then discussed how the organisation might progress, contributing ideas which Laura said were valuable and would be carried forward.

Lunchtime, and while shovelling in quantities of MadLab’s enviable hot food, people added events to The Incomplete and Crowdsourced History of UK Maker Culture in timeline format, which consecutive Maker Assemblies are compiling.

The afternoon’s Making and Manufacturing session chaired by James Tooze from the RCA’s Redistributed Manufacturing project started with Alan Meron discussing informal making/repairing events, noting that Sweden has removed vat from repairs and referring to Fixperts 1:1 design projects with a 1000 people now having been involved. But how to scale this up?

Ruth Claxton from MakeWorks, Birmingham, a hybrid space with provision for arts, crafts and engineering in ‘the City of a Thousand Trades’, described their venture to link manufacturers, suppliers and fabricators to help the scaling up of makerspace innovations, also referring to the online directory of Scottish making and manufacturing resources. Both aim to facilitate access to specialist manufacturing provision beyond the capability of makerspaces improving on the capacity of the Web plus ad hoc chats with people.

The irony of reduced choice resulting from higher volumes of production was commented on.

Adrian McEwan considered how to design to accommodate scaling up to manufacturing and suggested that more sophisticated approaches to resourcing manufacturing capability than touring local industrial estates was needed! He introduced us to the RCA project’s indie manufacturing site.

Paul Sohi from Autodesk showed their Fusion 360 product which is free to startups while staying below a given turnover limit and showed us Ikea’s Space 10 innovation and a Kickstarter approach for a Morphy Richards desktop vacuum former.

The afternoon’s final session was The Role of Making in a Wider Civic Infrastructure (no small horizons here!), a keynote by Laura Billings of the Lambeth OpenWorks project showed how in suburban West Norwood a high level of local participation was achieved through six months preparation, a year of action and six months finishing-off. Hundreds of items a week were repaired or made with a lot of emphasis on bartering. But this revealed how unfamiliar people are with participatory activities.

A great day – and thanks to the organisers for all their work in setting it up.

– David Perry