Liverpool MakeFest is a celebration of science, technology, and creativity, inspiring young people and showcasing the diversity of industry. It’s an opportunity to make innovation, and to see what other projects are underway. We speak to Caroline Keep, the co-founder of Liverpool MakeFest.
What led you to create Liverpool MakeFest?
I wanted a place where young people could go and be inspired by science, technology, engineering, art, and craft projects, and all the cool things that are around right now. There wasn’t anywhere that you could take a bunch of school kids to go and see what I think of as ‘maker’ projects.
It’s all about allowing young people to see these amazing projects and how they are be being used in industry, and changing the way that we live. We wanted a place where ‘makers’, those who create and innovate, can get together once a year.
Can you tell us a bit more about Liverpool MakeFest?
We describe Liverpool Makefest as the one day biggest free maker events in the UK. It can always be tricky to describe a Makefest. It encompasses everything from playing around with virtual reality, to designing robots to do incredible art projects.
You can see anything and everything. It’s free to attend for everyone, and free to be part of too.
Mark Feltham, Denise Jones and I even wrote the national guidance on setting one up for yourselves for DCMS this year!
My most favourite memories of Liverpool Makefest are seeing Darth Vader riding an escalator in the Liverpool Central Library building, or having The Cassandra Complex showcase their interactive, electronic fortune teller machine which always reminds me of Tom Hanks in the film “Big”.
This year we attempted the biggest 3D printed rocket ever collaboratively built, which is going to be judged before our next MakeFest.
You can pretty much try anything at MakeFest, and being in a library you also can access all the books in Liverpool Central Library. The Library is important to us, allowing young people to be able to look at a project, and then go find the book that would allow them to build our project themselves, or build their own ideas themselves. It’s something we’re very proud of.
What obstacles did you face when you were putting MakeFest together?
The obstacles were intense. Denise Jones and Dr Mark Feltham and I had a mad idea, and then had to convince everybody that this was a good idea! It didn’t take too long before we had a team. We are incredibly grateful for the community of Makers that are behind us.
I’d say some of the biggest challenges were funding in the early days, which meant that my first year of the teachers PGCE fund was spent on putting together Makefest.
Sometimes you’ve just got to really commit to the idea and push it through whether it be financially or on time. I was exceptionally lucky to have an incredible team of volunteers. We were established that first year and we will be celebrating our 6th birthday this year.
I still have fun memories of those early days, trying to figure out how to feed everybody in the building, and watching Dan Lynch and Les Pounder rallying round to find pizza for 200. Sometimes the obstacles can feel like the best memories later down the line!
Who are your biggest inspirations?
I find inspiration from my colleagues and my friends too, for example Denise Jones at the Liverpool Central Library is always a consistent inspiration in her dedication to making sure young people get the best digital education they can.
I have always loved just listening to Adam Savage, even more when I was younger. Adam was the main inspiration and taught me categorically that anybody could be a scientist, that anybody could experiment, and that you could build anything you wanted. He is absolutely my hero.
What does feminism in the workplace (and the tech industry) look like to you?
Feminism in the workplace is a massive issue. It’s not enough to have young woman being encouraged into the pipeline, it’s certainly not enough to be able to host #womenintech or #womeninstem events.
The biggest problem is the women that you see and you know every day. Women that are working in the industry right now are the big issue, and I feel they don’t have the opportunities to rise to those leadership positions. It’s more a concrete ceiling than a pipeline issue.
I think true feminism in the workplace comes from internally celebrating the women and supporting the women that you work with. If everybody paid, encouraged and supported the vision of the women they worked with equally to the men they work with, we probably wouldn’t have a problem.
What’s you’re go-to motto when you’re having a tough week?
I probably have 2 that are quite contrasted, that normally help when I’m having a tough week.
The first is from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich the Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian who specializes in early America and the history of women. This is on a big picture in my office, often giving me the courage to go with what I think is right.
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
The 2nd is far geekier, from the series Mr Robot by Sam Esmail shown in 2015 which I totally love, in which the idea of hard work and resilience is totally summed up.
“Every day we change the world. But to change the world in a way that means anything that takes more time than most people have. It never happens all at once. It’s slow. It’s methodical. It’s exhausting. We don’t all have the stomach for it.” – Elliot
This one keeps me going and I also keep it in my living room in a picture, to remind me every day it’s showing up that counts and keeping going that matters.
We hear you are starting a podcast, tell us more about that?
I do, I have a podcast with @methoddan the amazing founder of the largest open source software festival in the UK, OggCamp (who just celebrated their 10th birthday), in which neither of us talk tech or software!!
We just geek about and often talk comics, TV, and films. You can hear it at podfactory. Given both our lead roles, we just wanted to have something we could geek out on, and enjoy talking tech, comics and pop culture. Although we often end up mostly laughing!
How does it feel to be the winner of so many awards?
Strange, to be honest, I don’t tend to think about it so much as I’m always looking to get better. It’s a massive honour and I’m aware that it rare to be given awards nationally at the top of teaching and tech.
However, I only need to see my close friends and family to get some reality. That keeps me really grounded and I prefer that. My mother still describes my festival and job as “messing about with a robot or something to do with science”.
Any exciting plans or future projects you can tell us about?
Well I’m currently planning Makefest 6th birthday in June. It’s looking super, super cool so I’m sure we will be doing the announcements after January. Till then I’m keeping my lips sealed ….