A heart rate monitor embroidered into clothing; 3D-printed wheelchair parts; a robot made out of old junk, then brought to life through code; these are just some of the things young people can create as part of the Crafts Council’s Make:Shift:Do programme.
The initiative is now in its third year, and looks to educate kids about the joys and capabilities of combining craft and art, with technology and science.
Taking place over two days this month, libraries, galleries, museums, makerspaces and universities will open their doors to children of all ages, offering free, hands-on workshops on various crafts.
Making products focused on health and wellbeing
This year’s programme is in partnership with London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum and the Institute of Making at University College London (UCL), which will both be hosting workshops of their own.
Make:Shift:Do is not restricted to the capital, however; workshops are taking place all over the country, from Manchester and Plymouth to Southampton and Liverpool.
These include 3D-printing, textiles and embroidery, drawing and illustration, robotics, laser-cutting and coding. This year’s theme is health and wellbeing, so many of the activities are focused around creating products like step trackers, heart rate monitors and items for people with disabilities.
For those “who haven’t experienced craft before”
While the workshops are available for any child or school, the programme is particularly aimed at those from deprived, low-income and ethnic minority backgrounds, says Zoe Dennington, learning and participation manager at Crafts Council.
“The main aim is to open the door to craft innovation for those who haven’t had a chance to experience it before,” she says.
“We also want to encourage children to think about craft, and craft careers, differently,” she adds. “People’s perceptions of making can be quite narrow, and they often don’t think about digital tech being part of it.”
Crafts Council “very concerned” about drop in design students
Founded in 2015, it is not a coincidence that this young programme has come about at the same time that schools and universities have seen a dramatic drop in students taking art and design subjects.
Recent figures show that nearly 27,000 fewer students took art, design and technology subjects at GCSE in 2017 compared to last year, while 14,000 fewer students applied for art and design university courses.
“This is something we are very concerned about,” says Dennington. “There’s been an absolute decimation of craft and tech at secondary schools, because it takes up time in the curriculum, uses expensive equipment and makes a mess.”
“Schools are closing entire departments, getting rid of equipment that is hard to replace and teachers are leaving their jobs,” she adds. “It is being squeezed out of the curriculum, and students don’t have the opportunity to make with materials anymore. It’s often budget-related, and schools are under pressure. But when you look at the benefits on children’s wellbeing and their learning, it is worth investing in.”
Making families aware of opportunities outside of school
Dennington says the Craft Council’s aim is to address this current gap in education through various programmes. Make:Shift:Do follows on from another Crafts Council programme called Make Your Future, which also partners with institutions year-on-year to teach school children about craft skills.
It also aims to make parents and teachers aware of the opportunities that exist outside of the school system to create things and explore creativity.
This includes “makerspaces” – places where people can co-create, share resources and knowledge, work on projects and network – many of which are free to access and based in libraries, such as Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Manchester Central libraries.
“There are amazing makerspaces in the community but people don’t know they’re there, or how to access them,” says Dennington. “They have fantastic tools and equipment that people couldn’t buy themselves. We want to make schools aware of these and find other ways of getting students involved in crafts.”
Make:Shift:Do is an annual Crafts Council initiative, which has been funded by the Arts Council. It runs 27-28 October 2017 across the country. Entry to most workshops is free. For more info and full listings, head to the Crafts Council site.