Give creatives control over their means of production, says John Lancaster

Give creatives control over their means of production, says John Lancaster


Sound engineer John Lancaster co-runs Birdshit Records. As a maker and a manufacturer, he makes his own equipment, from amplifiers to studio equipment, and is currently working on a project to cut vinyl records.

John’s project idea revolves around the manufacture of vinyl records. Normally, vinyl involves a minimum pressing quantity, with an order of at least a few hundred discs for recording artists and creatives to distribute vinyl records of their work. His plan is to use his own lathe to cut individual copies and to accept a minimum order of one copy.

Typical, his clients are hip-hop artists who need single copies of 12 inch records to use in scratching; creatives who need them to use as promotional tools; and musicians and artists who aren’t able to – or simply don’t want to – record in such large batches.

John feels that ‘there’s a certain mystique’ to the world of vinyl, and insists he’s not a ‘vinyl fetishist’. He enjoys being part of a process that he has created and developed himself, that allows an artist to be part of the journey from composition through to the production of the sound object. He likes the ‘hands on’ process of cutting individual discs and working the lathe. He says: ‘people are more likely to listen to something you’ve made if you put a record – putting a tangible object into their hands is more powerful than, say, sending a link to Sound Cloud.’

John aims to offer artists and creatives a bespoke service that gives them access to vinyl production, which they can scale up if they want to. He wants to de-mystify a production process which, although complicated, has several elements that anyone could try.

John’s current lathe has been designed and built by a German jukebox engineer. For a range of reasons, this has led to the production of these lathes being something of a ‘closed shop’.

In the US particularly, there is growing interest in restoring old disc cutting lathes, some of which date back to the 1930s. They remain popular on ebay and are in short supply, which John suggests could be linked to the rise of World Record Store Day. John’s dream is to have a roomful of these very specialist lathes and train up artists and creatives, giving them complete control over the means of production of their creativity.

John’s links with musicians across Salford and Manchester – and work with Band on the Wall and Islington Mill – led him to the OpenMaker project. Longer term, he would like to collaborate with fellow creative producers and look at coming up with a portable prototype that could fit in a flight case and be used anywhere. His ideal prototype would also include a digital element to combine old and new technology, and he’s in the process of identifying creatives who would be interested in working with him on this long term project.

Johns plans include:

• developing and building an open-source, digitally-controlled lathe (or at least one of the key lathe components)

• create a training and development programme so creatives can make their own records

• producing individual records

• developing a touring ‘pop-up’ record shop, where records are recorded and manufactured in situ…

• developing sustainable, alternative materials for the discs themselves.

Paul Myers: streamlining and efficiency are critical to development when you’re collaborating

Paul Myers: streamlining and efficiency are critical to development when you’re collaborating


Dr. Paul Myers is a director of Farm Urban, which links scientific research with local food production. Its founder members are bio-scientists based at the University of Liverpool, focusing on developing the knowledge and systems to introduce innovative urban farms into communities nationwide.

How did your idea develop, and what technologies and tools do you use?
Rising food and energy prices, increasing unemployment and unhealthy, unsustainable lifestyles are major concerns for today’s society. We believe that the development and implementation of efficient, technologically-advanced urban farms are a key part of the solution.

By taking science fresh from the lab and implementing it at the farm in the heart of urban communities, we aim to change both how we do science and how we farm our food. We develop and test the most efficient ways to grow food in urban environments, focusing primarily on aquaponics.

Aquaponics provides a focal point around which communities can come together. We work alongside groups as diverse as schools, allotment owners, residents’ associations, hospitals and universities to develop programs and education around sustainable urban living.

We install and manage innovative, high-tech urban farms that produce low cost food in a sustainable and cost-effective way. These farms can regenerate communities, provide jobs, promote health and lower carbon emissions.

How did you learn about OpenMaker? Why did you find it interesting?
I learned about OpenMaker through the Beautiful Ideas Company, and I am interested in how it can assist in bringing together makers and manufacturers, and supporting them to find innovative solutions.

What are the top three challenges for the future of your company?
1. To find a balance between development and delivery
2. Ensuring that we focus on bringing relevant projects to fruition and not having too many projects unfinished or not drawn to a conclusion
3. Ensuring that projects and products are optimised commercially – we are working on this!

Does you have any previous experience with innovation communities, acceleration programmes or intermediary bodies?
Yes, we were involved in the Beautiful Ideas Company’s LaunchPad accelerator programme. Having an evolving, concentrated group of makers as part of that scheme was invaluable in helping develop our products.

We’re also part of University of Liverpool  Low Carbon Eco Innovation programme. Although, at times, the universities can be an ‘impenetrable behemoth’, we found the experience of having a team to help facilitate, alongside access to experts and equipment was amazing.

Do you have any previous experience with open manufacturing? Have you ever developed a product/solution in collaboration with someone applying an open manufacturing approach?
Yes, we have done this. What we found difficult was that everyone had different budgets, timelines, priorities, procedures and capacities. There’s a whole other level of processes that needs to be developed in order to make things as streamlined and efficient as possible for the development of the project.
Open Maker is a work in progress! How can the OM programme help you facing the challenges, and what topics and kind of expertise are most you interested in?
Definitely in bringing as many relevant people together to share ideas and projects.

In nine to twelve months from now, what criteria will you use to assess how useful the OM programme was for you?
We’ll use the time to work to develop our submission – the criteria will be that the successful submission has a real impact on our collaborations and can be shared with others facing the same issues.

There is a relationship between the OpenMaker topics and the Industry 4.0 topic. What do you know and think about it?
We already totally support the idea of open source, sharing resources and working together. It’s fundamental to the way we work.

Farm Urban

OpenMaker launches at Sensor City

OpenMaker launches at Sensor City


A group of more than 50 makers and manufacturers gathered at Liverpool’s state-of-the-art Sensor City for the OpenMaker launch evening. A collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, the centre bills itself as a global hub for sensor technologies; a collaboration space for people who want to come together to tap into the Internet of Things, using the development of sensors to spark innovation.

‘Sensors and the Internet of Things are driving the next wave of technological innovation,’ says its executive director, Alison Mitchell. ‘By connecting digital devices to the physical world around them, the impact of these emerging technologies on our data-driven society is limitless.

‘We understand how hard it is for businesses to collaborate. Big businesses need a spark that is sometimes only possible through collaboration,’ she said.

Using examples including sensors to determine if vulnerable people are dehydrated and at risk of falling, Sensor City tenant Terry Nelson, managing director of Liverpool-based Aqua Running International, took up the mantle. Having created a buoyancy bodysuit that allows anyone with injury to train in water with no impact, Aqua Running now works with Real Madrid, alongside a host of Premier League football teams. ‘Players can run and sprint in the pool weeks before they can train on land,’ he says. He also works with children with cerebral palsy, using the suit to promote correct biomechanics to give them confidence and security in the water, and allowing physiotherapists to work with them in a way not possible on dry land.

Nelson himself is a former LFC footballer, paratrooper and World Transport Games champion. With his own health problems, he showed a film of himself running in a swimming pool, just ten days after having his right leg amputated.

Finsa UK managing director Rafael Willisch followed, talking about collaboration between large and small businesses, using Ken Robinson’s ‘divergent thinking’ as an example of what small businesses can offer larger organisations. He used examples included Ikea and TaskRabbit to show how the organisation is moving away from the DIY model, and is using augmented reality to develop its services for customers.

Beautiful Ideas Company’s Erika Rushton rounded-up the evening by talking through the OpenMaker process, and highlighting examples of support, collaboration and developing an ‘entrepreneurial economy’. ‘It’s an exciting project – a fusing of scalable or replicable industrial processes with state-of-the-art technology, and the ingenuity and creativity of individuals or groups of makers. It will be through these new processes, ideas and institutions that a revolution in how things are made and manufactured comes about,’ she said.

The application deadline for OpenMaker is October 18, and you have to sign up to get involved! Find out more by completing this quick, easy sign-up form…

Kirsten Little: you need people to turn ideas into reality

Kirsten Little: you need people to turn ideas into reality


Kirsten Little is a Liverpool-based artist and maker, who is involved with OpenMaker. With a Masters in Fine Art from Wimbledon College of Art, she makes collage-based art. Struggling to access the resources that were so abundant during her degree, Kirsten co-founded the maker space Make Liverpool on her return to her home city. She has worked with the Beautiful Ideas Company since its 2015 LaunchPad programme, which supported the development and expansion of Make Liverpool.

What do you make, and what technologies/tools do you use?
I work with ‘found’ materials, using traditional skills including metalwork, woodwork and casting. I use a lot of old photographs, and ‘lost’ objects, repurposing them into new items or artworks with new uses. Alongside skills like mig welding, casting and woodwork, I use photocopies and screen prints, inlaying print onto ceramics in a kiln. I’m a multi-disciplinary maker, and also a facilitator of makers.

I struggled to access resources like welding facilities, woodworking facilities and casting facilities once I left university, and began to find likeminded people to share resources. We set up Make Baltic for ‘clean’ making in 2013, but more and more demand for ‘dirty’ making led to the founding of Make Liverpool in March 2016, providing equipment based on makers’ needs.

Have you participated in associations and groups of makers, or collaborated with companies as a ‘freelance’ maker?
I completed a 12 month Artist in Residency at Liverpool Hope University in 2016, and am part of the North Docks community group, on the Ten Streets Liverpool advisory group and part of the Women’s Leadership Group Liverpool. I’m also the managing director of Make Liverpool, facilitating 65 residents and members with an eclectic skill set, including puppeteers, sculptors, furniture makers, leather upholsterers, artists and crafters.

Can you think of any specific projects, knowledge, or prototypes and products that you could share or would like to bring into this project?
I’d like to develop a maker’s app/website for each city, mapping out all of the maker spaces with the view of having multi-location membership.

I’m most interested in sharing the OpenMaker project with all the makers that I work with, to encourage them to participate and share innovation.

What is your experience of collaborating with companies – what are the key challenges and what works well?
I have five years’ experience of managing Make Liverpool, collaborating with start-up businesses, organisations and charities to encourage job creation, cultural growth and opportunities such as exhibitions and residency programmes.

Key challenges include connecting with the right networks and building good key relationships and working on a shoestring budget. To work well you need to be open to sharing ideas – not worrying about others stealing them. Open source ideas need developing alongside others. If you go to sector-led thing it brings the same type of people together, but you need additional people to make your idea a reality.

How can the OM programme help you facing the challenges, and what topics and kind of expertise are most you interested in?
Having connections with more people can positively push your idea to the forefront – you can’t hide your idea any more if there are people involved! Mentoring for users – to help businesses optimise their productivity, would also be interesting.

In nine to twelve months from now, what criteria will you use to assess how useful the OM programme was for you?
I’d like to see more engagement with makers and an increasing membership – we can do more monitoring and data collection through social media. It would also be good to monitor our impact on employment.

How do you feel about OpenMaker’s values and constraints, around openness and collaboration? What constraints can you see?
There is definitely a degree of separation – it seems like a different world. But just approaching them has opened my eyes and started the conversation!

Do you also have an idea for a prototype, or innovation? Are you looking to work with a maker or manufacturer? Fill out our form for more info, and to get involved in OpenMaker.