Maker-centric: building place-based, co-making communities


Principal Investigator: Fiona Hackney;
Co-investigators: Community Co-Investigator - Deirdre Figueiredo
Research Assistants - Jenny Gilbert and Kauser Husain

Collaborators: Melanie Tomlinson; Gavin Rogers; Laura Onions; John Grayson (artists)
Duration: From 2016 to 2018

Maker-Centric is one of a series of participatory arts research projects across the UK that are funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities programme. The project takes a material placed-based approach to engaging communities in speculative co-design. It argues that ‘making in place’, with all the historical, geographical, cultural, political and economic specificities which that entails, and critically re-imaging place through creative ‘place-making’, is vital to connecting communities and developing, engagement, assets and agency (Hackney & Figueiredo 2017). This project builds on findings from a raft of Connected Communities projects and events, most recently the team’s contribution to the Utopias Festival at Somerset House July 2016. This was led by Community Partner Craftspace, Birmingham in collaboration with Wolverhampton University, and piloted a proposal for how co-created, creative making might provide a platform for community co-speculation as a form of ‘living heritage’ (

Focusing on Midlands’ heritage, the project provides opportunities to connect with the region’s long history of industrial innovation and radical thinking from a contemporary perspective. Locating the project within such contemporary initiatives as the ‘Midlands Engine’ of which Wolverhampton University is a part and that aims to ‘capitalise on the ‘Midlands’ natural strengths and assets’ (Sajid Javid 2016), and Craftspace’s ‘Made in the Middle’ that is currently is in its eight year (, strengthens currency and relevance. The Midlands is a highly diverse multi-cultural region and place-based making includes making in the private spaces of the home just as much as the public spaces of the town or city. As such we work with minority ethnic and excluded groups to reimagine their locality, including women who, although often isolated have shared interests and skills in domestic making (sewing, embroidery, textiles); assets that if supported can increase agency and opportunity through creative practice and knowledge exchange (Hackney 2013).

Partnership working has been at the heart of all our community engagement research to date. It is essential in embedding the research in communities, gaining trust, minimalizing risk and building legacy. This project takes that learning to a new level, working with current partner Craftspace as a Community Co-Investigator, but also extending the learning to the organisation’s like-minded partner network within the region: Legacy West Midlands and Creative Black Country The latter involves knowledge exchange through co-making with Terra Vera, an association in Slovenia that supports community resilience through sustainable development in praxis, including a programme of networks supporting women handcrafters as local entrepreneurs.

The organisation’s remit to work with low-income communities, encourage intergenerational dialogue, provide new opportunities for vulnerable social groups, and promote creative re-use of material and clothes, parallels our research with place-making, ‘making exchanges’ and maker spaces to promote sustainable thinking, build assets and agency (Hackney 2017). Maker-centric builds capacity and impact through co-making communities that are simultaneously locally embedded in a critical engagement with place, and internationally connected through a shared commitment to making.