OpenMaker at Makerstown


In May we visited Makerstown in Brussels, a one-day event where inventors, makers, schools, businesses and policymakers join together to discuss what the town of the future will look like. Makerstown gives a space for makers to display innovative products, which range from 3D printed robots to on-the-spot blood testing kits, offers platform for policymakers and startups to debate how makers can be supported, and provides an educational opportunity for children – inspiring the next generation of makers.

Here, we caught up with maker Paul Myers, co-founder of Farm Urban, a Liverpool-based social enterprise which researches sustainable and efficient methods of growing food, and develops tools to make these methods available to everybody. At Makerstown, Farm Urban exhibited the Produce Pod, an open source aquaponic system for home and educational use.

The Produce Pod works by housing fish which produce waste – this waste is digested by friendly bacteria and transformed into an organic fertiliser, which is used to grow vegetables.

This mini ecosystem allows the user to grow food anywhere, in the most efficient way possible. The Produce Pod also has the added benefit of providing an educational tool. Paul says it is a “really great way to introduce kids to healthy food by having a living breathing system in the classroom” and that the Produce Pod also “provides STEM education that is very effective”.

The educational aspect of the Produce Pod attracted attention from the many teachers present at Makerstown. Paul suggest that while initially – many people are drawn to the Produce Pod, because it is a living thing, and it stands out against more “techy” innovations – their interest redoubles when they hear about the educational prospects. It is clear that for educators, the Produce Pod is a smart choice, it can facilitate the growth of a whole ecosystem – from fish to bacteria to vegetables, but it can also nurture a range of skills, from STEM and entrepreneurship to teamwork and communication.

Speaking to Paul has revealed the numerous benefits of attending an expo like Makerstown.

Aside from being a venue for makers to showcase their innovations, gain potential customers, and influence policy makers, Makerstown also offers a chance for makers to meet each other, and to hear from specialists in their fields. Paul said that “there has been loads of really interesting makers, and quite a broad spread, there’s robotics, environment, health, internet of things, so a real mix of innovators and start ups, so it’s been really great to connect with all of them”,  and that the various talks taking place throughout the event “have been interesting to listen to, as a lot of the topics focus on the future of education, and how you bring new technology into the classroom”.

Visiting Makerstown was like stepping into a future that is not only incredibly exciting, but entirely realisable. The success of enterprises such as Farm Urban is a testament to innovative design and the power of innovation to act as a force for good, but also the ability of small to medium, and social enterprises not only find their place, but to thrive in a modern economy.

~ Lara Higham

‘It’s important not to get left behind in the thinking, but we need to be mindful of challenging too,’ says Make’s Alex Christey-Kelly


Alex Christey-Kelly has a national diploma in fashion design and degree in fashion communication, concentrating on sustainable making projects throughout her courses. Working in fashion retail, she became increasingly uncomfortable and disillusioned with the ethics of the market-driven fashion world.

As a director of north Liverpool’s Make makerspace, Christey-Kelly’s OpenMaker project involves the fashion industry, steering a political agenda towards ever-increasing change. Often considered an unethical industry, with dated operational practices, her idea focuses on bringing together designers, makers and a creative community.

Christey-Kelly’s fashion communications degree enables her to understand how to get people making things, she says, and how to market them. ‘Part of the idea behind Make has been to provide access to tools that I found lacking after leaving college. We’ve developed a community of makers that we work with on a regular basis, bringing in makers in different fields and enabling them to gain peer advice, contacts and share skill sets.’

In spite of her background and training in fashion, it is an industry that moves quickly, says Christey-Kelly. ‘I want to continue to work with people and build communities in the way we have at Make. Fashion has moved on in areas like social media marketing since my training, but I think there are openings and opportunities for it to embrace further developments that have taken place in other fields.

‘The way we’ve succeeded in making a space for our resident makers to share facilities, make products more cost-effectively and test out prototypes,’ points to similar opportunities, she says.

Working alongside the Beautiful Ideas Company’s Launchpad programme has helped the Make team access the support and advice to put their ideas into action. ‘We already had the idea for Make Liverpool but didn’t know how to put it into action, so found the acceleration process very useful. Money has also played a key role; it’s been great to get some money to get an idea off the ground, and meet lots of people through a network.’

Future challenges are focused around the desire to create ethical work, supporting the environment, and helping people through enabling them to make things. Christey-Kelly is relishing the links OpenMaker will create with manufacturers, leading to further collaboration with the scope to expand these on a national or even European level. ‘This, in turn, leads to the transfer and sharing of skills between makers and manufacturers,’ she says, ‘and to further access for our existing, and expanding, network of makers.

‘Creating a community that enables more interested people to be involved in making things,’ is a great benefit of an open manufacturing system, she says. ‘The openness makes everything more transparent and accessible.’ The aim is to create a hub and network, with the potential to have similar spaces in a number of cities that makers can trade across.

‘Expanding an open source platform into a fashion arena could create new areas for development both Make’s offer and the industry,’ she says. ‘Offering patterns that are downloadable for individuals, to send to a maker or manufacturer for production, creates the opportunity for individualised fashion that can be altered to suit each wearer.’

On Industry 4.0, Christey-Kelly says that she’s not sure that makers are consciously aware of it as a strategy – but that in doing what they are doing, are certainly contributing. ‘It’s important not to get left behind in the thinking and the discussion, but we need to be mindful of challenging it at the same time as being a part of it,’ she says.

Image credits: Alex Christey-Kelly; Tix on Unsplash and igorovsyannykov on Pixabay.

‘You must move quickly to get products to market,’ says Sensor City executive director Alison Mitchell


Sensor City is a partner in the LCR4.0 programme, which aims to put the Liverpool City Region at the heart of an evolution which is transforming production in the modern world economy. Focusing on what’s known as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, its aims dovetail closely with that of OpenMaker, and our ambition to transform the production processes and models on which our industrial society has been built… 

Alison Mitchell moved to Liverpool in February 2017, to join the team at the city’s newest tech-innovation centre – Sensor City. Sensor City is a collaboration between Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool, fostering the creation, development and production of state of the art technologies to be used across various sectors.

With over 25 years’ experience in the Internet of Things, Alison moved to Sensor City from BT where she worked for 12 years as the CEO of BT Business. Finding a nice fit in Sensor City, Alison was drawn back to Liverpool – where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Geography – because of the city’s rich making and manufacturing heritage.

“Sensor City isn’t just a place for people to be based – it’s very much plugged into the wider community,” says Alison, “Its enthusiasm for working with students from the universities is great, it encourages with the fantastic ideas that these students have,” she says. The importance that Sensor City puts into helping entrepreneurs is one of the reasons that Alison left a good job at BT, to relocate to the city.

She describes the Sensor City setting: “It’s not just an innovation hub, it also has laboratories with anti-static flooring where people can work at benches in offices. There’s a mechanical lab with a 3D printer, drilling, welders, CMC, milling and grinding machines, to create actual physical prototypes and products.

“They also have on-site engineers to assist,” she says. “Some companies will come to Sensor City with designs they want made; others need help or assistance with their products. And there’s the possibility to print circuit boards on 3D surfaces and the ability to test products through extremes of temperature and shaking machines.”

The list goes on; “there’s an on-site laboratory with microscope facilities; equipment for users to test solder levels; and there’s even a software lab in the pipeline which will help people to make their products, some of which will be very specialist, so the onsite engineers are expected to lend a hand.”

Alison’s personal experience dictates the way that she works at Sensor City, understanding that you must move quickly to get products to market in this field. “It’s really important to stress that the Internet of Things now exists in nearly every area of life,” she says. “For example, it’s through technology that your food doesn’t go off.”

She mentions Sensor City’s current projects; one of which is developing sensors to put into packaging which will stop crushing – for example the packaging around flowers to keep track of and check on their environment during transit and sale.


The launch of the Liverpool arm of the pan-European OpenMaker initiative was held at Sensor City earlier this year, uniting Liverpool’s maker community with the centre’s manufacturing capabilities. “The OpenMaker programme can further enable the sharing of skills and invites the maker community to use the facilities here at Sensor City,” says Alison. “We’re an Internet of Things community, so it’s really important to also create a maker community alongside that, to foster collaboration.”

Going forward, Alison wants Sensor City to attract companies which might not normally consider Liverpool as a base and wants to showcase the fantastic assets that they have in the centre: “the most exciting thing is to have successful companies stay here, and to be able to reference Sensor City as part of their success.

“I’m really excited to be back in Liverpool, and I’m proud of our brilliant maker community and the knowledge community that I am a part of at Sensor City,” she says.

“We want to provide a space where makers and innovators are allowed to fail,” says Objocopier’s Rob Black


Objocopiers scan 3D objects, enabling artists and designers to send a blueprint of an object through media from one place to another. Their creation of an opensource platform  enables collaboration between creatives. Makers Rob Black, from Real Space, and Dave Weaver, from Maiku are OpenMaker finalists, working in collaboration with LJMU Art and Design School to bring the Objocopier into the creative community.

When Rob Black’s university was bulldozed, his access to workshop equipment was suddenly cut. A frustrating battle to source elements or equipment that he needed to make things ensued. Rob’s attention quickly turned to makerspaces. Having met Dave whilst studying a psychology PhD at university, the two united to create what would eventually become the Objocopier – a professional self-contained scanner which would connect Liverpool’s diverse creative community, encouraging it to share prototypes.

“We worked with universities on makerspaces and placed a particular importance on making sure there was a 3D printer, as well as range of other equipment available,” says Rob.

“We got to the stage where we had good group interest in virtual augmented reality, and we wanted to look at where things are harder to achieve, make and develop than perhaps they should be. We wanted to explore other possibilities that a makerspace could offer.”

By securing specialist equipment, the space became more technically-specific and open access than other makerspaces the pair had visited. It was once Fab Lab’s James Nixon got involved that the creative juices began to bear fruit, as they all shared vision and belief that Liverpool is a region of industry, making and innovation.

“There’s a fantastic quality of life in Liverpool,” says Rob. “I moved here 15 years ago, and the city’s maker spaces are very technically adept. We were really impressed by Make Liverpool [the LES] – it’s a brilliant example of why we should have public access to tools.

“Liverpool has got a very creative but fragmented maker eco-system, and the Objocopier project further enables people to collaborate otherwise – so, maybe a techie designer might work with a fabric maker or a taxidermist for instance,” he says.

Objocopiers are 3D scanners which operate by putting a person or an object on a rotating plinth, which takes hundreds of photographs via six high tech cameras on a rotary arm. The data is then automatically processed by a photogrammetry app on the scanner itself and shared to a local cloud, which can be accessed by all collaborators. With a broad appeal across the maker industries, the Objocopier aims to unite the creative community across the city – some of which aren’t the most natural of fits – to create a platform of open source ideas and innovations that can be accessed to further the development of Liverpool’s creative and tech scene.

“The aim is to remove the ‘don’t know’ about the 3D scanning phenomena,” says Rob.

“So that people – including technophobes – making beautiful handcrafted objects, can input it digitally into one site, and a ‘hologram’ type 3D image can appear in a different site, through a technique involving an ingenious combination of an iPad and a number of screens, so giving the object a 3D form.

“This then enables the projected item to be worked on and reproduced by a manufacturer or collaborator in a different location. We want it to be a very social process, and we can scan anything from the microscopic to the gigantic,” says Black.

Attracted by OpenMaker’s promise to scale up a project and process, the team behind Objocopier attended the event at Sensor City to learn more. “We thought it was really interesting as there was a decent sized grant attached to the programme, which would actually allow us to do something,” says Rob.

“If this takes off, then we will be able to make a bunch of Objocopiers in different places, which could potentially be a large-scale, financially viable business bringing in jobs and income to the city.”

The team behind the Objocopiers have three desired outcomes from the OpenMaker process: the integration of all technologies in one place to make their plan a reality; to ignite passions whilst allowing people to make ends meet; and to prove that failure isn’t necessarily the worst outcome… “We want to provide a space where makers and innovators are allowed to fail,” says Rob. “For instance, people with Asperger’s are doing much better in Silicon Valley than anywhere else – it’s difficult to achieve these things within the constraints of academia, where there traditionally hasn’t been much support.”

Commenting on how OpenMaker can help the business in its early stages, Rob adds: “The programme provides legitimacy to our project as we’re believed in, with financial support. It’s been lovely working through out application, as there has been so much support and feedback involved.

“The tie in with Industry 4.0 is great, and there’s been tons of events with the execution of big things for the region – it’s deliverable in a way that people can use. As a group we want to join this circle by essentially bringing the iPhone of 3D scanners, where it’s easy enough for someone to press scan and have something made, in a way that’s accessible for everyone.”

‘My job feels like an extension of who I am, and I’m passionate about it,’ says Microhomes’ Sally Gilford


Sally Gilford is an artist and print-maker, working on a number of socially-inclusive projects across the north. She is one of the Openmaker finalists, partnering with Salix Homes Developments and Islington Mill Arts Club to fit out three experimental microhomes.

Co-founding print specialist One69A at Salford’s Islington Mill, with Mark Jermyn, Sally’s responsible for looking after the education side of the business. She works with groups from primary schools to secondary and university, alongside a variety of other institutions and groups including 42nd Street, an organisation working with teens with mental health issues, and on Kew Gardens’ ‘Go Wild’ project in Liverpool. One69A also works on a commission basis with galleries and museums including the Whitworth, Leeds City Art Gallery, Museum of Liverpool and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Sally Gilford and One69A collaborator Mark Jermyn…

Sally also develops her own textile and printing practice, producing original textiles and patterns. She is currently working with the Welcome Trust with the University of Manchester and often collaborates with other artists.

Studying interactive art at university has made her a ‘doer’, she says. ‘My degree was an “ideas-based” course, giving me practical skills to problem solve, which was an important aspect of my learning.

‘You have to trust your gut and go for it when you run a business,’ she says. ‘When we started One69A neither of us had ever run a business before, but we both had a passion for what we were doing, and energy. We worked really hard, but it’s worth it. My job feels like an extension of who I am, and I’m passionate about it. I’m lucky – I never experience that Sunday night dread.’

Sally was introduced to the OpenMaker project at Islington Mill. ‘I want to manufacture on a larger scale, but it’s always seemed impossible as an individual maker. It’s an interesting way to explore approaching a company.’

Sally’s work often involves groups that have a social impact, and she’s looking forward to taking part in a conscious design of people’s environment. Microhome is partnering with Salix Homes, constructing small spaces for live/work space, for the homeless, or in places where people are being pushed out by development. It considers how conscious design impacts on peoples’ lifestyle and health, and three micro-homes are planned for the National Housing Federation showcase.

Sally points to Liverpool’s Granby Workshop – the winner of the 2016’s Turner Art Prize – as an example of socially conscious manufacturing, rather than ‘a mindless churning out of goods for capital profit,’ she says. ‘I want to work more with products that last, have quality and would like to do some of the type of things Granby do, perhaps working with a larger manufacturer to enable access to equipment and distribution scale. The key is finding the right manufacturer who is willing or interested in working this way.’

The biggest challenge, says Sally, is to ‘fend off imposter syndrome! I also want to make sure I’m always being creative and encouraging others to be creative, and to see the positive impact and affect on people’s happiness and wellbeing. I need to achieve a better work/life balance, with more sleep, and would like to develop my own textiles and products, and be recognised and successful at this. I need to devote more time to it… I think OpenMaker will help me do that.

‘I’m hoping it will help develop the socially-engaged practice. My plan is to work with manufacturers, so that companies can produce my products, like a digital manufacturer for the fabrics/textiles. It will bring the different elements together, and into my ‘practice’, giving me more knowledge of the sphere of manufacturing and strengthening collaboration with other artists.

‘The proof will be in the pudding – if we have developed three successful micro-homes. I think the real assessment will be further down the line though, when they’re actually put into use.’

Kick-start your startup with tech event access

Startup Sesame, Europe’s largest alliance of tech events, has launched its Season Four call for entries. If you haven’t come across Startup Sesame yet, it runs acceleration programmes which grant promising entrepreneurs premium access to 30+ global tech events, and supports startups by offering resources and insights into tech events. You’ll find more information in this presentation about them – here.



This year, Startup Sesame is running accelerators to access tech events in four different sectors:
  • mobility programme focuses on transport and mobility startups
  • entertainment programme is dedicated to creative entrepreneurs, including music, video, gaming and publishing
  • DeepTech programme is for IP intensive companies like lifesciences, aerospace, clean energy, robotics, agtech and computing
  • Europe programme is for all startups focused on other areas


Each of this year’s selected startups will receive a personalised curriculum, which will help them identify which conferences are most relevant according to their business objectives. Teams will also benefit from pre-event coaching, including event strategy guidance and networking best-practices.
Season four startups are invited to connect and collaborate with a pool of more than 30 mentors from around the world.
In its annual report, Startup Sesame surveyed 3,500 entrepreneurs – and 91% said that they believe tech events generate benefits, so apply here before March 1st.

‘We need to find commonality’ says Liverpool AquaFarm’s Jimmy Haughey


Jimmy Haughey is a graduate of Liverpool John Moores University, originally from the North West of Ireland. He has worked in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, China and Vietnam, in varied roles including as executive director of a FTSE100 company, ground management and business acquisition.

His vision for Liverpool AquaFarm is to demonstrate a modular, off-grid, aquaculture centre, to produce food in urban locations, using disused space. The test bed will be at Clarence Graving Dock in North Liverpool, carrying out R&D and producing fresh fish, seaweed and shellfish. Its future phases will focus an SME cluster and visitor destination to promote innovation and raise awareness of the sustainability agenda.

Jimmy’s family has a long-running farm in the west of Ireland, which farms seaweed and cut turf alongside animals and land. The seaweed, he says, is mainly used to feed the ground and for animal fodder, which he began to think of as an untapped resource.

Setting up Seaweed Alchemy in partnership with the universities allows farming of seaweed from the family farm in Ireland, which can also be used for research purposes. ‘There are diverse prospects for products,’ he says. ‘Engagement with different species of seaweed allows different approaches to its use in health and wellbeing, in food and in wound management. Nature is a great healer and it can be used in the treatment of ulcers, which is a particularly expanding area with an ageing population. We’re now looking at how to improve these and create market products.’ Seaweed Alchemy is also involved with the Institute of Integrated Biology and transitional medicine.

Jimmy’s skills are honed from his experience working around the world, and as an employee of one of the largest drinks companies in the world. Living and working in Africa and Asia has ‘culturally complemented’ his skills, he says, operating in cultures that are more innovation-led, often where smaller operations leading to innovation. He also talks about his journey from Irish coast farm to engaging with technology and a move to the city, which has given him direct access to a relatively untapped resource – the raw material of seaweed.

Seaweed Alchemy currently collaborates with a number of organisations, including two institutes – charactering different types of seaweed, and in transitional medicine – and works alongside Liverpool City Council and Peel Holdings on Liverpool Aqua Farm, his OpenMaker finalist. OpenMaker, and the establishment of a LES (Local Enabling Space) is ‘the glue to take it forwards’, he says.

‘I was invited to an innovation workshop when I came to Liverpool. It allowed me to become part of enterprise partnerships – meeting Alex Kelly from Make Liverpool gave me an insight into what they were doing in the North Docks, and I came across OpenMaker through her. I appreciate the chance to meet like-minded people and new ways of working.

‘I’m interested in looking at personalised health as a long term approach, and at managing food sustainability and health and wellbeing in the shorter term,’ he says. ‘OpenMaker is a mechanism for taking the next step, and also enables long-term thinking with all the stakeholders in the process. It ratifies our thinking, and provides a positive badge.
‘In assessing whether we’ve been successful in the next nine to 12 months, our main criteria are the delivery of a demonstrator on the dock as a world first; creating a governance structure to align something that respects players as well as entrepreneurs, using communication and engagement as a business, and a proposed festival in June, giving us a wonderful place to shout about our project.

‘The opportunity,’ says Jimmy ‘is a real positive. The funders – whether they’re coming from government, regional or private – want something to happen. But universities have to get more involved – they need to have more conversations and impact. We need to “dirty the gown” and cut out bureaucracy. If we can keep it fluid we can keep it moving,’ he says.

‘We need to have an “aligned objective”, that is not coming from one of us. For the dock, we have to prove it’s a win/win situation. It is beneficial – it is in North Liverpool; it gets the universities out of their institutions and wearing “dirty clothes”; it places private, public and third sector together, which has a more cohesive impact. We need to find commonality and grow when you don’t know what you’re growing.’

‘Paper could be considered the first industrial revolution,’ says Angela Loveridge. ‘We wouldn’t be where we are today without it.’


Angela Loveridge has had a varied career, teaching English as a foreign language, working in radio, as a counsellor, and with people with mental health issues. It was her work with people with mental health issues that led her to set up an origami group; she now collaborates with business partners Zulay Newell and Dr Lizzie Burns.

‘My whole set of life experiences have been brought together to get me here – focusing on possibilities through numerous avenues of origami,’ says Angela. ‘It has played its part in the technological revolution – I once met with world famous origamist Robert Lang, who is working with NASA to develop a shield to block out light pollution from earth to enable better vision into space. I also worked in one of his classes – he developed a laser punch that makes small holes in paper, visible when held up to light, allowing the person to fold along the perforations, enabling invention and expanding possibilities. There is a lot of innovation involving origami, especially in terms of technology. It has played a fundamental role in the miniaturisation of technology: from the folding of DNA structures to the folding of maps.’

Origami pulse is working alongside manufacturer Re-wrapped, which has created a wrapping paper weighing in at 80gsm (a better weight for origami) rather than its standard 300gsm. Its paper is made solely from 100% recycled materials, using vegetable inks and environmentally-friendly products.

One of the key parts of Origami Pulse’s plan is to develop its own paper, printed with crystalline chemicals that represent the happiness chemicals in the body, such as dopamine, and to represent these through happiness ‘symbols’ – so people will literally be folding happiness.

Angela’s recent teaching experience at the Open Door centre has led to an interest in how people see origami and assume that they can’t do it, before finding that they can, and the benefits this sense of achievement can have. The experience can be ‘life changing’ she says.

‘I want to take a role in origami becoming recognised as a feel better tool –particularly in relation to mental health, and to publish a book on how origami changes lives, with statistics,’ says Angela. ‘We are generating statistics as we go along, so hope to collaborate and write this book, combining information about the creation of new neural pathways as a result of ‘making’ with the production and uses of origami. I also hope to travel the world teaching origami, and to to initiate a global mobile origami community through our website.

‘The main challenges are to finance publicity, finding the time to develop the enterprise and funding the development period,’ she says.

A parallel interest lies in the greetings card industry. ‘In the UK, it’s responsible for employing more than 100,000 people, so – even though paper may be considered a dated material – it’s an area that is still massive,’ she says. ‘No other country has such a long and widespread tradition of sending cards. An average of 33 cards are send by each person per year and card making is the number one hobby in Britain. There are not existing physical cards in production for people specifically with mental health issues. One in six people have experienced a common mental health problem in the past week. Between four and ten percent of people will experience serious depression in their lifetime.

‘We are planning an ‘opening up’ card,’ says Angela, ‘designed specifically for mental health issues – the idea being to allow those suffering to give something to people to say they are not feeling so good. 75% of people with mental health problems will never receive a Get Well card, and say they would feel better for having received one. As part of our product range, we plan to make Get Well cards for those suffering mental illness.’

Alongside workshops and a presence in hospitals, Origami Pulse is developing a website to build up the interactive element of their enterprise, enabling people to become part of a network, and be able to contact others through the site.

‘The international element is important for us. I’ve worked in the States, teaching and folding, and visited a convention in New York. I’ve also visited Tokyo, and there are conventions all over Europe, including one with a science and art theme, at which Dr. Lizzie Burns will be presenting a paper as a result of her work with us. There are definitely opportunities to make further links and possibilities through OpenMaker.’

‘I think OpenMakers values are great. We’ve met so many people – it’s amazing how connections create a sense of wellbeing. The open-ness of ideas is fantastic. Just this little bit of involvement has made me believe my ideas can come to fruition,’ she says.

Paper could be considered the first industrial revolution,’ says Angela. ‘We wouldn’t be where we are today without it. It may be obliterated in the near future, but origami could be its swan song, as it becomes less prolific and more as a creative tool and material of beauty.’

‘How can we use 4.0 for good to challenge issues like overproduction and waste?’ asks Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs


Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs is an author, lecturer and initiator in the fashion and footwear industry, with a particular interest in new and better ways to do business. She is also a director of Baltic Creative CIC, a social enterprise property company established in 2009 to support the creative and digital ecosystem in Liverpool.

Fiona led the Liverbird Shoe Project in July 2017, collaborating with Fab Lab Liverpool at the School of Art and Design in LJMU, and with artist and honorary visiting fellow Emma Rodgers. The project originated from an exploration of different approaches to shoes, sculpture and technology, highlighting challenges in the fashion industry around over-production, and developing innovative ways to mix traditional types of making and 3D printing technologies. 

‘I have limited practical skills and hope this project will help me develop the basics that I have, particularly in 3D printing software,’ she says, pinpointing 3D printing, wearable technology, women in tech and large scale 3D printing as areas she would like to learn more about. 

‘Throughout my career in the footwear industry I have worked closely with designers to realise commercial collections. My most recent commercial collaboration was with Joanne Stoker, a British footwear designer and Oka-B, a US-based injection moulded flip flop manufacturer, to create a limited edition pool slide that was launched at London Fashion Week in 2015.’

Fiona says that manufacturing is integral to understanding how footwear and fashion is made, and always insists on seeing facilities. ‘Unfortunately the past 20 years have seen a focus on satisfying what the consumer wants and not what is necessarily the best, most ethical or safest way to make and manufacture fashion products. This is part of the problem in a very opaque supply chain,’ she says.

Fiona’s project is designed to look at ways to solve some of these issues, and bridge the gap between the designer, maker, producer and consumer. As a director of Baltic Creative, she is well aware of people, businesses and organisation collaborating. ‘That network and support system gives everyone the confidence to keep innovating, testing and trying,’ she says.

‘The culture in commercial companies is usually driven by their own management objectives and not necessarily creative individual relationships, so it is important for the maker to keep in touch and not expect to be at the forefront of a company’s mind,’ says Fiona. ‘As a maker, you need to build good relationships with key people in the company and keep delivering something interesting/ bring something to the table.  Know how to stand up for yourself – but be gracious at the same time!’

Many of Fiona’s targets for her project are around sustainability and ethical trade, establishing a business that can profitably and fairly help all makers to commercialise their creations. ‘Creations that can satisfy a customer’s desire for something that is fashionable and beautiful, but has not been created through abuses in the supply chain and is manufactured well,’ she says.

Fiona will use four criteria to assess the success of the OpenMaker programme, including:

  1. Have we been able to create several footwear designs?
  2. Are any of them actually wearable? A fit test will be carried out…
  3. Is there a potential business model where I can provide a service to makers to transform their work into a commercial product that is well made, and that people want to buy? 
  4. How much interest have we created, press and potential sales orders? 

‘The fashion industry has little choice but to embrace 4.0,’ says Fiona. ‘The rate that people buy, consume and dispose of fashion is totally unsustainable. Finding new ways to manufacture that reduces waste and creates affordable bespoke items is essential – OpenMaker has the power and resources to get people to try to find solutions through new relationships. How can we use 4.0 for good and to challenge some of the current issues in the fashion industry such as overproduction and waste? It’s a no brainer!’

UK chooses ten semi-finalists


Ten semi finalists from the UK have been selected for the OpenMaker programme.

The programme has been facilitated in the UK by the Beautiful Ideas Company, alongside fellow teams in Spain, Italy and Slovakia. The UK judging panel included Liverpool deputy mayor Cllr Nick Small, local entrepreneur Gemma McGowan, Paul Dickson from LJMU and Anthony Walker, project manager of the LCR4.0 project at LJMU, acting as a technical advisor.

Smart Print will create an archive of over 50,000 wallpapers and textiles dating from the early 18th century, providing a large digital database of antique motifs.

Seven of the semi-finalists are from the Liverpool City Region, including Wirral and North Liverpool, with a further three from Salford. Each of the semi-finalists is active in an area that the Beautiful Ideas Company has worked over the last two years, as it builds clusters in the grassroots creative economy.

Judge Gemma McGowan says: ‘I was really surprised by the standard of the applications and the immense knowledge and creativity we have within the maker/manufacturer sectors. When the Beautiful Ideas Co started delivering OpenMaker I didn’t think I was techy or creative. What I now realise is that technology affects almost every part of our economy and the applicants and their ideas are an exciting force for social change, driven by social values.

‘It’s good to see links created between makers and manufacturer communities, and was an honour to be involved in hearing their ideas. It was also very impressive to see a balanced 50-50 gender split of semi-finalists. While women might not traditionally have been seen as natural manufacturers, the ideas are strong, focused and exciting.’

The ten semi-finalists are:

Small Scale Manufacturing of Fashion Footwear

3D printing is used to develop a process for designers, artists and makers, creating footwear prototypes to be commercialised. The ability to create small scale production runs allows new designers and small businesses to avoid the expensive start-up costs, high levels of financial investment and failures seen by many makers and manufacturers in this sector.

Both designers and labourers are often exploited for excessive commercial profits with long supply chains, in which components are transported globally. First demonstrated at the British Style Collective (formerly The Clothes Show) 2017, the opportunity to produce short runs places the process in the hands of designers – and ultimately customers – in what is otherwise a highly exclusive and unsustainable sector.

Maker: Shoe Bird Ltd and manufacturer: LJMU Fablab

3D scanners to link creative industries

Objocopiers are professional, self-contained 3D scanners which will be used to connect Liverpool’s diverse creative community. The easy-to-use open-source scanners will allow the city’s scattered and siloed creative communities to share prototypes, and encourage companies to work together in new ways to realise existing assets through new distribution channels.

The 3D scanners will operate by putting a person or object on a rotating plinth, which will take hundreds of photographs, via six high tech cameras on a rotary arm. The data will then be processed automatically by a photogrammetry app on the scanner and shared to a specialised local place in the cloud, which all collaborators will have access to.

Maker: Maiku Ltd, Real Space Ltd and manufacturer: LJMU Art and Design School


The Aquafarm is an off-grid aquaculture centre in Liverpool’s Clarence Graving Dock. Utilising a currently disused space, the farm will produce food locally in urban locations, including fresh fish, seaweed and shellfish on a pilot scale, whilst also carrying out research and development.

Addressing the challenges of scaling up for a commercial operation, the Aquafarm will use existing off-grid services  and modularity for flexible scalability, allowing it to be replicated in any location. Future phases of the Aquafarm will see it used as a focus for an SME cluster and visitor destination, promoting innovation whilst raising awareness of the sustainability agenda.

Maker: Seaweed Alchemy Ltd  and manufacturer: WhiteCircle Ltd


Microhome is a home and workspace, which is available in a range of custom-built design prototypes. It’s a response to the UK’s housing crisis which has seen homelessness double in the past four years, and creative producers – who are essential to sustainable urban economies – being forced out. There has also been a further wave of 21 to 35 year olds becoming homeless and/ or leaving urban areas, as housing assistance is withdrawn from this age group.

Delivered fully assembled, Microhome is ‘plugged in’ to services on temporary, permanent, small and infill sites, and can be used on sites too small for commercial value, in difficult locations, and assets awaiting long term value or site assembly. The units cost between £25,000-35,000 and allow for rents of £40 to £100 per week.

Microhome will be built and tested with a live residential community, and exhibited at the National Housing Federation showcase, on land donated for five years by Salford City Council.

Maker: Salford Makers with manufacturer: Salix Homes Developments and Islington Mill Arts Club

Physical Innovation Platform

The Physical Innovation Platform brings together designers, makers and manufacturers, to form a network which will produce an open source ‘blueprint’ style archive of commissions, to be used throughout the creative community. Often, makers and designers are asked to compete to win commissions, and usually only those with access to the relevant resources can take them up. The Physical Innovation Platform creates the opportunity for the creative community through a ‘how we did it’ style blueprint, which can be shared and replicated across the community.

Manufacturer, Finsa, will use the platform to challenge the conventional use of its products whilst testing limits and producing content to market them. An innovative display stand, which has been designed by designers and made by makers, will be at the Surface and Design Show in London during the project, and will be testing materials for the manufacturer.

The Physical Innovation Platform creates an opportunity for designers, makers and manufacturers to work together on live projects, engage in research and development, and develop a blueprint for how this approach can be applied in other places.

Maker: Make Liverpool, WMB Studio and manufacturer: Finsa

FUEd 1.0 Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

FUEd is a powerful, responsive and integrated educational tool, designed to keep pace with the fourth Industrial Revolution – industry 4.0. There are three key components to FUEd: a real world scientific problem; a physical piece of cutting-edge technology; and accompanying responsive, dynamic, digital content. FUEd 1.0 will deliver the prototype of an educational tool, incorporating a piece of fourth Industrial Revolution technology – Zipgrow, a vertical food growing system – enabling high school students to explore real world problems through up-to-date technology.

This creative approach places curiosity and self-directed problem-solving at the heart of learning, allowing students to participate in collaborative research and citizen science experiments based around industry 4.0 technology whilst equipping them with the skills they will need in the new world of work.

Maker: FarmUrbanLtd, IGOO and manufacturer: REFARMERS

Aqua Running

Aqua Running creates unique bodysuits to allow anyone of any age, ability or disability to exercise comfortably in deep water with no impact on bones, joints or muscles.

The buoyancy suit contains 19 strategically placed buoyancy pads, which keep a person’s head above water and activates core muscles to help correct running and jogging position in the water. Its lack of impact allows people to exercise safely – with no risk of injury – very early in recovery from surgery, illness or injury, and is fully CE certified to the highest European Safety Standards.

As well as also acting as an excellent learn to swim aid for children, the buoyancy suit is in its next stage of development, which will include sensors to retrieve physiological data about the patient’s recovery, monitoring exercise and fitness levels during exercise. The first suit with integrated sensors will be launched in 2018 at Real Madrid FC, and the National Children’s Clinic for Cerebral Palsy and Brain Paralysis in Spain.

Maker: Terence Nelson with manufacturer: Sensor City

Smart Print
Smart Print will pilot a digital database, designed to transform the consumer into a digital artisan, and deconstructing the mass-market fashion machine. Using a historical archive of over 50,000 wallpapers and textiles dating from the early 18th century, it will create a large digital database of antique motifs. These are in high demand as inspiration for designers in high street brands including M&S and John Lewis. This large digital mix-and-match pattern database will not only preserve and immortalise the beautiful timeless motifs, but provide a pioneering resource for the second stage of the project, creating unique mix-and-match designs, exploring possibilities and refining the digital design process.
The third stage involves our collaboration with a manufacturer to produce a range of wallpapers showcasing this unique design process, to be launched at a high-profile European interiors trade-show. This database will form a globally-accessible digital platform that can be used by the design-novice consumer to create and personalise print to express their identity and to create personal products in smart factories.
Who: Maker Cheryl O’Meara and manufacturer Digitex


Temporary Custodians Platform

Temporary Custodians Platform is an interactive website, which will host an innovative and accessible public database of artworks – an important new cultural resource for the region. It will provide a platform for private collections, including the collections of a sample of small to medium sized collectors, plus ‘Temporary Custodians of Islington Mill’, a collectively owned artwork created by Maurice Carlin and currently held by 80 individuals.

This project aims to disrupt the current art market and collecting system, which limits notions of success for artists; concentrates wealth and opportunity in large urban international centres such as London, and excludes all but the wealthiest tiers of society. This project will prototype an alternative collaborative model, by bringing together the burgeoning collector community in the North West.

Maker: Res and manufacturer Origens Medialab

Origami Pulse

Origami Pulse will produce a unique range of origami paper, printed with original art work and crystalline forms of happiness-producing chemicals. Each sheet of Origami paper contains serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins – meaning that people will literally be able to fold happiness.

It has been created to combat the current mental health challenges facing the UK, which cause over £26.1 billion of lost earnings every year in the UK. Origami Pulse paper, alongside a combination of workshops, a website, cards designed specifically for mental health and a library with quotes and inspirations, will revolutionise the communication of emotional states in modern society.

The fusion of the ancient art form of origami with modern manufacturing and communication processes, will result in bespoke workshops cards and kits, creating solutions for the mental health challenges experienced by one in four people in the UK.

Maker: Mobile Craft 4 U and manufacturer: Re-wrapped

The OpenMaker finalists are due to be announced later this month, and will collectively share a funding pot of more than €100,000.