March of the Makers

Mar 31, 2014 in Chris Tribe Blog | One Comment

The ‘March of the Makers’: I don’t know whether you remember this term, coined by the esteemed George Osborne in his 2011 budget speech.  His idea wasn’t new – that ‘Made in Britain’ and ‘Designed in Britain’ are phrases that should ‘drive our nation forward’.  Not world-shattering perhaps, but his use of the word ‘makers’ rather than ‘industry’ or ‘manufacturing’ was unusual– it seemed to suggest small businesses ‘making’ things rather than large factories with sophisticated  machinery and large payrolls.  I’m not quite sure what progress he has made towards his goal, but I’m also not sure how many of us still have the skills or design-awareness to make things successfully and competitively.

The reason I was reminded of George’s ‘vision’ was because I recently heard an interview on Radio 4 (  ) with Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London, who has a ‘bit of a thing’ about making.

Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London

Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London.

He agrees with George, that we need more making and less ‘pontificating’ in our society, and he is trying to redress the balance in a number of ways.  The idea that particularly grabbed my attention was that of replacing libraries with workshops, so that everyone has access to the tools and facilities to make things.  He argued persuasively that libraries are no longer necessary: ‘We have internet access to more books than we will ever read, but little more than a toolbox at home’.  ‘Tactile knowledge’ can’t be shared in the same way as facts and ideas: you have to touch, handle and use materials to understand how they work and what they can do.  We need the opportunity to play with physical stuff.

This is an idea that is close to my heart, particularly because of my interest in sharing my woodwork knowledge with others. When I started to teach woodwork (to adults) it was at one of the ‘old style’ Adult Education classes.  They not only provided an opportunity for adults to access tools and facilities, but also to improve their understanding of wood.  Those were the days.  Now I have enough people on the waiting list for my weekly classes to run a class every evening (if my wife would let me!), and people are prepared to travel miles for the opportunity to access tools, workshop space and learning.  Making things is important – it helps us to tune into a part of us that is usually buried by daily life; it’s a form of human expression; Miodownik goes so far as to say that ‘Making is who we are….it materially connects us with the world we inhabit’.  But how can we ‘make’ without the physical space and resources ?  Perhaps we DO need a public workshop in every town.  I’m not sure I completely support Miodownik’s cause, as I’m a big fan of public libraries too, but I agree with most of his hypothesis.  If he can get George on his side then he may even have a chance of success.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Tysoe
    April 13, 2014


    It is almost as if the communal workshop idea is for people who already can make (to some degree) but who just do not have the space to do so, which admittedly is a big problem. And of course there would be, to a certain extent, a passing on of knowledge and skills. But what of the problem of instiling the desire to make in the first place? There should be some movement to get craft subjects back into schools — regarded in equal value– to ‘academic’ subjects. The new school curriculum recently introduced makes this harder than ever. Although it is never too late to learn (indeed, one should never stop learning) it seems to me that teaching adults who may never have had the opportunity to try these things before, is a bit of a shame, when it is often only society and government policy, that has prevented this. It is not ‘tool libraries’ that will get people making things, though they might facilitate makers continuing to do so, but the education system. Working in a girls grammar school D&T department, I see first hand how designing and making things is regarded as the poor relation to most other subjects and how very enthusiastic the students who do the subject are. It is almost as if makers of things are looked upon as second class citizens, right from an early age and this societal attitude needs to change. If it did, the need for ‘tool libraries’ would be unnecessary as making things would be part of the fabric of everyday life, as it used to be, and the facilities for people to do so would be all around us. Now I’m dreaming!



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