MAKERVERSITY | LDN
Makerversity is a social business that provides work and making space for practitioners and start-up businesses, and applied learning opportunities for young people.
Our membership of 200 + makers are based deep in the belly of Somerset House in London, right on the banks of the River Thames.
Over the last 5 years we have built a team of around 10 staff who run the business, supported over 800 new businesses and over 1000+ young people in London and beyond.
We were approach by Somerset House to consult on some disused and dilapidated spaces.
The spaces were in the belly of the building, most recently used as a mixture of old post rooms, storage spaces and server facilities previously occupied by HMRC, formerly naval rooms for drawing maps.
The spaces were a combination of big expanses spaces, connected up by a labyrinth of tight corridors and warren like walk ways.
They were filled with rubbish. Damp. Asbestos. Mice. Weird and whacky props. They had 30 years of smoking embedded into the walls and ceilings. Yellow. Unloved but very lovable - packed full of charm and character.
Somerset House didn't have significant funds to invest in the space but had a desire to have regenerative activity more in keeping with their cultural and social values.
We pulled together a brief proposal that outlined what we would do with the space. We had three main objectives:
- To build an affordable membership organization for people who make things for a living - Bringing makers, who are often pushed to the edges back into the centre of the city.
- To provide shared workshop and fabrication facilities allowing people to go from plans to prototypes at pace.
- To utilize our membership and facilities to develop learning and employability opportunities for young people in London.
We proposed instead of taking a fee for the work we get access to the space for 12 months free, to give us adequate runway. After this time we would have a sustainable business that would begin to pay the Trust each year. They agreed to give us a shot.
Our lack of resources and desire to remain independent meant we did a lot of the initial renovation work ourselves. We roped in friends and family. Put our mums on rollers. Had our dad on their hands and knees tearing up floors. Long suffering girlfriends on endless tea runs.
This DIY attitude fed into the way we built our membership. With a need to make money right away, we sold cheap memberships from the day we moved in. We had no services. No wifi. No furniture. We ran events and parties for a fee. They often flooded.
Early members had to be imaginative and believe in what we were trying to do. This proved to be pivotal. They helped us paint. Advocated for us. Filled in the gaps in our knowledge. Genuinely cared and contributed. We relied heavily on their patience. A touch of humor. A lot of pints. Theres something quite special around starting out alongside a whole other people who are doing the same.
I talk more about the approach we took in this talk.
The breadth of our activities, and the emergent nature of the business created both opportunities and challenges in relation to the brand.
Positively, the intersectional nature of the business between education, art, design, social enterprise and activism, provided space for people across a wide spectrum of industries and with a variety of interests to see themselves in our mission. The challenges were what we did not being immediately understood, we were constantly evolving and lacked of a clear focus for people to point towards.
In addition to this we were always open to the business growing in a variety of ways including through licensing models, and therefore we needed to ensure the brand was strong, but was transferable and flexible to adapt as we grew.
As an organization with a social and cultural mission as well as financial goals, the business model is designed around a "70/20/10" principle.
70% Commercial - of what we would do as a business would need to be revenue generating and commercially focused.
20% subsidized - whether that was providing discounted memberships to those just starting out or new graduates
10% free - we keep 10% of memberships, learning opportunities and resources entirely cost free to those who access them. This allows us to support and empower those who have the least access to resources.
We attempt to apply this model across the entirety of the business - whether thats memberships, spots at events or how our teams spend their time etc. This is iterative and we are constantly challenging ourselves to find clearer, more measurable ways to ensure the model has the desired impact.
Over the last five years we have featured in renowned and respected publications including Wired, The Financial Times, The Times, The Guardian, The Evening Standard, Design Week as well as being featured in BBC's 'Back In Time for the Weekend' episode on The Future.
In 2016 we were recognized as one of the UK's 50 New Radicals -organizations actively changing their communities for the better - by the Observer and NESTA.
In 2016 we were awarded Europe's most innovative social enterprise by N.I.C.E.