Coachlines - April 2018

22.04.18 John Blauth

Imperial progress in the shadow of Grenfell

PM Marcus Wills and I travelled west to White City in April, to make an initial visit to the Imperial College London (ICL) Outreach Programme. Our destination was ICL’s Makerspace to talk about the Maker Challenge Move Up, which Coachmakers have helped to fund through our Charity Trust, writes John Blauth.

Makerspace provides inspirational and practical sessions in engineering and design for children

Makerspace provides inspirational and practical sessions in engineering and design for children

The basic concept of Makerspace is similar to that of the Kingston University Saturday Club (with which we are also involved) but on a wider scale and with a significant difference in the background and circumstances of the children involved, who are aged 14-18.

The aim of Makerspace is to provide inspirational and practical 10-week courses in engineering and design for children. The fixed commitment is to attend for four hours one evening each week, with a meal provided for energy after a hard day at school, and on Saturdays. It requires a high level of dedication and grit.

A key distinction in this programme is that, following a comprehensive and serious safety briefing, they are not told what to design or how to make it, but are helped by undergraduate mentors to develop realistic projects. Crucially, ICL is also home to a business start-up incubator programme also available to the Makerspace students when relevant. Not only is this a safe place, it is geared to generate and foster initiative and imagination as well as demanding integrity and good humour among participants.

The list below is just a few of the generalised problems in the White City area, and which Makerspace seeks to address by instilling a new sense of purpose among its participants:
• White City is an “unstable academic environment” in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and in the lowest UK quartile for child poverty despite sharing its eastern border with Kensington and Chelsea;
• There are diverse ethnic languages and in several cases the parents, despite having lived in the UK for some time, do not speak English and are unable to communicate in any meaningful way with their children’s school teachers;
• There is violence – a “gang culture” and a “tribal” rivalry between schools;
• Schoolteachers often have to escort children to bus stops to protect them.
• The blackened hulk of Grenfell Tower looms less than 400 metres from Makerspace.

Against this tricky background, Makerspace provides an environment where conversation and fellowship between children from several schools and from “rival estates” is possible and indeed required. It is a safe space in which they can discover and develop their own interests, and see themselves in a very different and more positive light.

After only two full term sessions – with zero dropouts once the courses started – it is too early to assess results in any statistical form. One measure might be the unexpected demand for continued access to Makerspace, which Coachmakers funding will provide. Over three years, over 200 students will have be able to continue to develop their skills and interests in additional monthly sessions as part of Move Up Makers Challenge. Even in the early days, there is solid feedback evidence to indicate that the concept is both achievable and already showing positive results. ICL has provided impressive laboratory equipment, and we saw several examples of original ideas ‘coming to life’ through, for example, 3D printing.

After just two full term sessions, there were zero dropouts once the courses started

After just two full term sessions, there were zero dropouts once the courses started

Beyond the confines of Makerspace, however, there is an exciting possibility to create synergy with some of our other charitable interests – for example with Livery Schools Link and the annual Showcase.
ICL through Makerspace is giving these children the inspiration they may lack in their home environments. The mentoring ICL undergraduates demonstrate first-hand what is possible, rather than what the children themselves too often see as unachievable outside a perceived elitist university environment of which they believe they could never be part. We will play a very significant part in driving that fundamental change of outlook.

Our enthusiastic hosts for the visit were Mary Crowley (Trusts and Foundations Manager) and Kate Mulcahy (Reachout Makerspace Programme Co-ordinator). The concept is still in a relatively early stage, though it will clearly run and grow, not least through Mary and Kate’s drive. We were deeply impressed by all that we saw and heard, and are confident that our investment over the next three years (£40K) will be very well spent.

Whenever you find yourself in a state of dismay about the modern world, and feel sometimes that we’re ‘going to hell in a handbasket’ to coin a phrase, take heart. The students we see each year at the LSL Showcase; the brilliant young enthusiasts at the Saturday Club, and now the high-climbing young people who are the pioneers at White City are clear, strong and irrefutable evidence that the future is sustainably positive. All of these young people are the counter to much negative nonsense you sometimes read in the press.

The images were supplied by Imperial College London.