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A Field Report from Liverpool MakeFest 2015

Gareth Halfacree

We're always eager to see what others in the maker community are up to, and although we didn't have our own stand at the inaugural Liverpool MakeFest this weekend we didn't want the event to go by unmarked: we sent tame journalist Gareth Halfacree along to document the launch of what we're hoping is going to prove an annual institution for makers around the Merseyside area.

The MakeFest, held at Liverpool's stunning Central Library a short walk from Lime Street Station, is the brainchild of a two-person team: couple Mark Feltham and Caroline Keep. "It's a fun, free, family festival of everything makey," Mark explains, hiding from the surprisingly bright sun shining on the Library's main entrance behind a pair of mirrored aviator glasses. "Science, technology, engineering, creative arts, all coming together and how they're shaping our world."

"Along with a lot of pop-culture based things, making Daleks, making anything people really wanted to see in physical form, and fabrication, cheap fabrication, design thinking, fast prototyping, has made that possible now," adds Caroline, standing next to her partner in both the event and life itself. "We wanted to get a lot of people involved so they could see that there are places you could go to, like DoES up in Liverpool, our makerspace here. There are various locations across Liverpool you can work in and get involved in making."

The pop-culture references hit thick and fast the instant you step through the glass doors into the Library. A Dalek, controlled by a staff member wearing a microphone linked to a ring modulator designed to reproduce the familiar sounds of the Dr. Who villains, patrols the entrance and greets children and adults alike. Dodging its attentions reveals a stand where interested parties can buy a pre-made modulator of their own, along with screen-quality Dr. Who props and masks - and even watch as a monster head is carved from clay by a master craftsman.

Spread across three floors, other attractions range from the aforementioned DoES Liverpool and its Arduino-powered Nerf shooting range with a constant queue of visitors chancing their arm for a high score to workshops for building everything from Lego-based submersible vehicles to reactive artwork, from a stand in the reading room selling electronic components at wholesale prices to a company which specialises in remote-operated drone aircraft for the film and photography industries.

"We put a call out for six weeks," Mark explains of his efforts to recruit exhibitors from the local maker community. "After four we had to close it, as we were full, and turn people away!" "We thought we'd get maybe 30," Caroline explains, "we've ended up with more like 60. Everybody here has worked for free, they've brought the resources for free, they've given their time for free, everybody has done everything for free to keep it a free event for Liverpool so people could get involved."

Mark and Caroline's close relationship helped with organisation - "we live together, and effectively it's been useful because otherwise we'd have lived in each other's pockets with MakeFest for the last five months," explains Caroline, smiling at her partner - but while they may have launched the MakeFest ship it required a larger crew to steer. "We had a mad idea in February, and the Library ran with it," Mark says. Caroline describe's Denise Jones, from the Central Library, as the third MakeFest founder. "Denise has been stellar at the Library, she's been phenomenal," she explains, "and the Library has really supported us with this. We also put together a key board of makers, when we realised it was going to be quite big, from the community, key people who really know their stuff."

With more than a thousand people attending on the first day alone, the first MakeFest was a smashing success - and one Mark and Caroline are keen to repeat, once they've recovered. "Put it this way," Mark jokes, watching the crowds mill around the Library entrance. "If the people of Liverpool want this to be an annual event, and the makers want this to be an annual event, it will be an annual event." "I know the board'll be behind it," Caroline adds, "so yeah, I think we'll be able to pull it off."

More information on the Liverpool MakeFest is available from the official website, while all our photos from the event are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence on Flickr.

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