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Focus On: Sheffield Hardware Hackers & Makers' Janine Kirby

Gareth Halfacree

We recently attended the Halifax Mini Maker Faire 2015, and took freelance journalist Gareth Halfacree along for the ride. This series of Focus On features is designed to offer a sampling of who you can expect to see at a Maker Faire event, why they're there and what it is that drives them.

Taking over the majority of the pretend Post Office located in Eureka's main hall, Janine Kirby of Sheffield Hardware Hackers & Makers has certainly brought plenty to talk about at the Halifax Mini Maker Faire. "We're a hackspace based in Sheffield at the Portland Works," Janine explains of the team that have come with her to the event. "As a group we've been together for about five years, but we've recently moved into our own space and we're doing things... We're a do-ocracy, so it's whatever the members want to do.

"Our background is in 3D printing and Arduinos," Janine explains, gesturing at a 3D printer set up at the rear of the Post Office for live demonstrations, "but we're branching out a bit more: we've got woodworking and one of our members has made a Deek Chair, which is a deck chair for geeks, we've got egg incubators on display, we've got a nerve cell that will have flashing LEDs showing the impulses that come down to the muscles to make us move, we've got a mood light with LEDs changing through multiple different colours."

That alone would be enough to ensure interested crowds of visitors, but there's more. "On the other side of the table," Janine says while gesturing to a second table set up on the opposite of the Post Office, "we've got a weather station, and a kite-cam, as well as a Raspberry Pi set-up for Scratch to get people into coding. That's us in a nutshell!"

For Janine, and the other representatives of Sheffield Hardware Hackers & Makers, the event is a chance to let people know of their existence. "We came to Maker Faire because we've now got our own space, so we want to make people aware that we are there. We've been around as a group but people say 'oh, we didn't know you existed,' so [we're] improving that. To see what other people are doing, as well, you know, there are a lot of people here, like Small Machines, oomlout, who have got pieces of kit that we like to buy and play with in our hackspace, so it's nice to see what new bits they've got."

Networking with other hackspaces is another reason for Janine and her friends to give up a weekend, "so that we can all learn from each other as well, and just kind of teach everybody about making things, really." There's also a clear re-education aspect, as you might expect from a group whose members self-identify as 'hackers': "Explaining what a hackspace is," Janine adds as an important job for the two-day event, "because I think some people think that 'hacking' is a bad thing, where actually it's really just re-purposing and remaking stuff."

For those concerned that attending a hackspace would be daunting or unfriendly, Janine is clear. "No, it's a very social environment. Since having our own space we've had three barbecues already this year, just sort of at the end of a day, we all had a food-making day where we had more people coming in making sorbets and ice cream with dry ice. It's very much a social [gathering]. I'm currently trying to get together a word cloud, and so far from the people who have responded the key things are the social and the community feel of the whole group as well."

More information on the group and its projects is available at the official Sheffield Hardware Hackers & Makers website.

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