A sense of community is at the heart of everything which MadLab does. Much of our training and grassroots innovation programme comes from dialogue with experts within the extended MadLab community, with community benefit in mind.
Since 2009, MadLab has been home to a diverse and creative community of makers, technologists, scientists and artists. Although the second largest makerspace in the UK according to Nesta, with over 40,000 users every year, it is one of only 24% of the UK’s current 97 makerspaces not to charge for the majority of its services – a conscious decision from the start. Our aim was to make a diverse and welcoming space for all.
From the outset we have fashioned MadLab as an outward-looking organisation rather than one which solely serves existing digital technologists and makers, and this is reflected in the communities which we foster – software development, computer games programming and electronics but also film-making, photography and jewellery-making. We have an active Equal Opportunities policy, and cater for an audience demographic which is much more diverse than the industry norm.
We teach Manchester residents emerging skill-sets which are simply “not available anywhere else” (65% of annual survey respondents reported this).
MadLab has achieved many successes in expanding our audience beyond a typical “white, male, with an engineering degree” tech industry demographic by delivering activities and programmes specifically created to appeal to groups less engaged with making and creative technology – and traditionally “hard to reach” communities in particular.
So who comes to MadLab?
Women comprise over 46% of MadLab’s users. While there is still work to do, this skewers the typical “digital technologist” demographic, which is typically 90% male. 15% of users are under 24, 7.5% of users are over 55.
Most users (80%) come from the Greater Manchester region, with about a third of these from Manchester, and around 10% each from Salford and Stockport. Around 2% percent of users come from overseas, some coming to the UK specifically to attend events and training.
MadLab is home to some 60 self-organised community groups, who mostly meet monthly or quarterly. These groups, all free to attend, are run by over 400 volunteers who are experts in their field, and motivated to share their expertise with their peers.
MadLab offers free space to community groups, as well as organisational support (setting up meeting rooms, free use of technical equipment, promotion). Those able to donate are encouraged to do so in order to make the space available to other groups who are not (our “grassroots guarantee“). We do not derive income or core-funding for hosting these groups. However the ongoing relationships we have with the organisers (and many of their members) enables us to work together to deliver MadLab’s core educational and social objectives – many have volunteered on MadLab’s outreach projects for example.
Digital Skills for Women is a regular feature in MadLab’s calendar. It has reached 500 unemployed and underemployed women in Greater Manchester since its inception in 2013, providing training from the very basics, to coding, WordPress and Social Media for business. DSW attracts diverse audiences, with 44% of the 2017 cohort being BAME, and 17% disabled.
“It came at a time when I was really low, a single mum living with my parents no job etc., and not only was it a really smart course, but the people on it were smart as well… And then the very next day I managed to get my ideal teaching job, at a brilliant school just round the corner from where I live… I’m sure my confidence boost from the course and the way I could chat about it helped.”
Curry and Coding (2015). A monthly informal lunchtime event aimed at women, Curry and Coding gave participants an understanding of programming. The benefits of learning to code – be that becoming a professional programmer, having an idea of how computer programs work, being able to script small everyday tasks or improving strategic thinking and structuring abilities – were covered in practical sessions over a curry buffet in Longsight Library. The event was attended by a diverse cohort including several women from a refugee association, and young women who were not regularly able to attend events in the city centre.
Make Stuff: According to NESTA (which consulted MadLab for its Young Digital Makers report in 2015) 82% of young people are interested in digital making but less than half have the opportunity to do so. Make Stuff takes the newest technology directly into communities that have (predominantly) not experienced digital tech and making previously. Audiences participate in tech for the first time (e.g. Arduino circuits, or a VR experience) and develop new skills which they can then use at school, in work, or simply for fun. Engaging nearly 10000 people in 2016/17, Make Stuff won ‘Best Tech for Good Project’ at this year’s Big Chip Awards, receiving praise for ‘encouraging hands on use of technology and breaking down the barriers between tech that’s transforming our lives. Exemplary engagement across the North.’
Code Club Salford/ Manchester is a free weekly drop-in session for children age 9-11 (and their parents) that enables children to learn about coding at their own pace. The hour-long session is staffed entirely by a dedicated team of MadLab volunteers, with regular special events (such as visiting experts like Mitch Altman, or trips to technology events). Code Club Salford was the first such club in the UK to not to take place in a school. This is primarily because some of the schools in the Club’s catchment area do not have computers, but it also allows the Club to take place on a weekend when volunteers are more readily available. The Raspberry Pi Foundation and Let’s Go Global have generously donated and loaned equipment for the children to make use of.
MadLab has hosted Young Rewired State, a national collaborative hacking event for young developers to solve real-world problems, every year since its inception in 2010. It quickly grew to become the biggest national centre (of some 60 centres), hosting 50 children and 20 adults over one week every summer. It also advised the BBC and Oldham College in forming their own centres, and trained its volunteers. Manchester children have done exceptionally well at YRS, consistently winning national prizes and awarded prestigious internships (Facebook, Google) as a result
MadLab has worked with organisations such as the Ideas Foundation to prepare teachers and pupils for changes to the national IT curriculum by developing creative learning programmes in Arduino, Raspberry Pi and coding (e.g robot-making)
Video CVs (an EU research project). MadLab delivered training to over 40 unemployed young people with social and educational needs, creating 25 video CVs. Although ongoing, initial evidence suggests the scheme has led to employment and increased confidence for many participants, who are predominantly from a BME background, “hard to reach” and/ or with few qualifications or special needs. For those who haven’t yet secured a job, MadLab has continued to provide support and signpost opportunities. In addition, MadLab is providing training to partner organisations (Connexions, Breakthrough UK, Factory Youth Zones) in order for them to film and edit their own videos.
‘Cool and Quirky’ – increased the skills and confidence of 28 young Asian women, in the field of computer programming and coding, building links between the Community and Cultural Services team and the wider Asian community. Activities included creating wearable electronics with Manchester Girl Geeks, making buzzing robots from toothbrushes and an introduction to Arduino, led by 14-year old Amy Mather [link].
Creative Tech Open Days (supported by Manchester City Council) saw Longsight Library turned into a digital- and bio-technology lab over several days. Activities on offer included extracting DNA from strawberries, using banana-powered Makey-Makeys to play computer games, and drop-in sessions on coding and projection mapping. Over 100 people attended the sessions, predominantly from a BME background.