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A Field Report from Manchester MakeFest 2015

Gareth Halfacree

This past weekend saw Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) host its first MakeFest, an event its organisers explain is only spiritually connected to the Liverpool MakeFest we recently attended. "It was a bit of a happy coincidence, really. We just both come up with MakeFest as a name," explains Susannah Williams, MOSI's contemporary science event manager and one of the team responsible for organising the event, in the bustling entry hall of the museum. "We have got a lot of makers who have been to Liverpool MakeFest as well, you know, they all go around the same sort of circuit. It's been quite nice to have that, especially as we're on the site of the original Liverpool-to-Manchester railway, so we used to send people to Liverpool and we've got that little connection now with the two MakeFests!"

Like the earlier Liverpool MakeFest, there's a wide range of exhibitors. As soon as you're in the museum proper, you're presented with an array of tables surrounding the museum's Avro F aircraft. Many of these will be familiar to anyone who attended the Liverpool and other local maker events: there's York Hackspace, still drawing a crowd with its clever SpaceHack multiplayer game and now showing off member Daniel Bailey's homebrew eight-byte spiritual successor to the Manchester Baby, the world's first stored-program computer, the original taking up the bulk of the far wall; there's Leeds Hackspace, still mesmerising visitors with a water-and-strobe illusion and lighting up the hall with an array of LED-based creations; and further afield, nestled among the giant machines of the Power Hall, you'll find toy hacker John Waltham and Wesley Bower's Lollybot Robotics stand; naturally, maker space DoES Liverpool is also present, easy to find thanks to the crowd of people eager to have a go at its Arduino-powered Nerf shooting range.

Even for people who regularly attend the events, there should be something new to see. A Borkestra, an orchestra which combines digital control via MIDI with traditional analogue instruments, is easy to find by sound alone, as is educational science troupe Noisy Toys with its capacitive 'nose tester' machine and spinning-platter bass generators on which visitors are encouraged to have a go. A large marble run, a collaborative effort between multiple local hackspaces who were each given the job of creating one of a series of boxes to be joined together into one giant run, draws a crowd despite a second-day hitch with a broken Archimedes screw leading to members taking it in turns to manually transfer the marbles from one portion to another.

A portion of the museum's top floor, known as the Learning Loft, is given over to a range of hands-on workshops, the most popular of which, run by local maker space MadLab, gives visitors young and old a chance to try their hand at soldering a simple electronics kit. "We've had a load of makers, crafters, creators, taking over the museum galleries," a visibly enthused Susannah explains of the weekend, "sharing the things they're getting up to, interacting with the visitors, running lots of workshops and demonstrations. We do a lot of making events in the past, but this is the very first MakeFest that we've had, and it's been a really exciting weekend, because we've been able to bring our galleries to life, looking at the collections with the historical machines and the inventing and making that has gone on in Manchester in the past, and kinda juxtaposing it with the present and the future technology that people are using today." 

It may have been the museum's first MakeFest, but it's unlikely to bethe last. Visitors both new and old have reacted more than favourably to the event, with many coming specifically for MakeFest - "hopefully they'll be coming back again," says Susannah - and there's plenty of passion from the exhibitors and organisers for an encore. "Definitely," Susannah says without pause when asked whether the Manchester MakeFest could become a regular event at MOSI. "We're always keen to try new things and have lots of making going on within our regular programme as well, our explainers always do lots of very hands-on workshops throughout the year, so we're certainly going to be carrying on the making fun!"

As for what entices the public to visit and the numerous makers to give up considerable chunks of their free time to show off their creations, Susannah is clear. "It's just the excitement of making, I think. It's a very current hobby, there's lots of different things you can be getting on with," she explains. "We at MOSI tell the story of Manchester's industrial and scientific heritage. That's all about engineering, creative ideas, making new machinery, and all that sort of thing, so the MakeFest has a really nice link to our industrial past and also the future, because who knows where some of these guys are going to take us next?"

Images from the day are available on our friendly journalist Gareth Halfacree's Flickr pool, Creative Commons licensed, while more information on the event is available on the MOSI website. We'll also be running a series of Focus On pieces highlighting our particular favourite exhibits from the event over the coming days.

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