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Can-do spirit key to the maker movement in New Hampshire

Special to the Union Leader

March 30. 2014 4:10PM
Bill Church shows a small computer board that can be built for less than $100 from open source instructions on the Internet. (DEBRA THORNBLAD PHOTO)

The old saying "everything old is new again" might be the best way to describe the maker movement, a new way of looking at how the can-do spirit of making what you need is growing.

Bill Church, owner of White Mountain Science in Bethlehem, held a workshop at Berlin WREN to explain what the movement is about. It was well-attended by people who are crafters, people interested in making their own technology equipment and teachers considering fitting this into their curriculum.

Church focused on science and technology, but that's just two areas in the all-encompassing movement, which includes anything people are making, from computers to crafts.

In New York City, a Hall of Science has taken over an old World's Fair building, and it's visited by thousands. Maker Fairs have been held in London and San Francisco. In New Hampshire, Church said he knows of two maker spaces, Make It in Nashua and Port City Maker's Space in Portsmouth.

In Bethlehem, WREN (Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network) bought a small house behind the retail storefront on the town's Main Street. The building now houses WREN offices and three small incubator spaces, which are being used by an accountant, a musician and Church's White Mountain Science.

WREN Executive Director Marilinne Cooper said they never thought about the space as maker space until Church moved in.

"Having Bill come in brought up this whole new ideas of maker space," Cooper said. "We can see that this dovetails with the WREN mission."

In Berlin, WREN is renting the former Congregational Church from Tri-County CAP. WREN organized the summer farmers market.

Laura Jamison, in charge of the Berlin office, has been running classes she's labeled the "Maker Series." They have included art classes, classes on cooking, soap making, music, writing, natural living, marketing and computer programming.

"We tried the regular business curriculum program WREN offers elsewhere, but discovered people in this area weren't really interested in that. Many were already running a business, but didn't realize it. They thought they were just doing something on the side," Jamison said. "What they wanted was to learn to make things. People here are very hands on. I think that comes from the mill history."

Jamison said she has met with Clint Crosby of Port City Maker's Space and toured that facility. It started as a group of high school students who had things like bikes, kayaks and other equipment they wanted to share. The original concept was to rent a garage so they could do that.

"I would love to have something like that space here in Berlin," she said.

They don't think the church building would be conducive to that use and are looking around and are considering a couple of spaces on Main Street. They want space for different uses, such as a commercial kitchen, some industrial/mechanical space and space for artists.

Putting different uses together is what is making the maker movement work.

Making things is not new, Church said. The new piece is the collaboration between makers in different disciplines.

"What would happen if you put a welder together with a potter?" Church said.

And the collaboration is often intergenerational. Young people are starting to come to these spaces through school programs, watching and learning the skills older adults have.

On the technology side, the trend toward open sourcing — in which coding and specifications for software and other technology is shared and improved upon — has helped products become cheaper.

Three-dimensional printers, for example, are not new. They were patented in the 1980s, Church said. But people figured out how they worked and open-sourced the technology. They can now be found for less than $1,000 and are showing up in homes and libraries.

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