How Barclays is supporting the inventors of tomorrow
Since its launch in 2014, MakerClub has established eight after-school clubs that introduce young people to coding, creative thinking and emerging technologies. Here, director Declan Cassidy reveals his aim to grow that number to 50 across the UK in 2017 – and tells how Barclays is supporting his team’s ambitious plans to develop the ‘inventors of tomorrow’.
“We’re giving young people the tools to reshape the world around them,” says Declan Cassidy. “We want to create the next generation of creative thinkers.”
Cassidy is the director of MakerClub, a pioneering after-school club for young inventors to learn, create and innovate, providing cutting-edge technology, first-class facilities and tailored teaching for 8-to-13-year-olds. From coding and electronics to physical making and design thinking, MakerClub teaches the full creative process to inquisitive young minds. In Cassidy’s own words, “we teach young people how to be inventors”.
Based in Brighton, the inspiration for MakerClub was a six-month pilot project in 2015, which saw 500 children take part in ‘invention skills’ programmes. Due to its success, Cassidy and his team decided to develop the idea further, believing that these ‘makerspaces’ should be accessible to all age groups.
That’s where Barclays came in. The first weekly MakerClub session followed soon after, hosted in Barclays’ Brighton Eagle Lab, and one has opened in every new Eagle Labs space since. Fully kitted out with 3D printers, laser cutters and access to tools, the Eagle Labs provide not only the ideal workshop space for the after-school clubs, but also an established network for MakerClub to expand into.
We’re about giving real world examples for the things the kids are learning, and then giving them a challenge, which they’re free to approach in whatever way they want to. When they come to MakerClub they leave with something they’ve created, an idea that is their own.
Director at MakerClub
“Working with Barclays enabled us to scale the idea up very quickly through the use of the Eagle Lab spaces,” explains Cassidy. “Now we have eight clubs set up across the UK. We want to have 50 by the end of the year. There are 38 University Technical Colleges (UTC) in the UK and we are planning to get set up with all of them. UTCs are specialised colleges that offer students more than the traditional GCSE and A Level curriculum. In addition, we’ve lined up MakerClubs in a few different academy chains, so we’ll look to go into those spaces after school or on weekends this year as well.”
To drive this ambitious operation, MakerClub has raised £350,000 of investment from a number of funders, including Creative England, and according to Cassidy, Barclays has played “a massive role” in securing this backing.
“You could say Barclays is pretty much the reason we got the investment and the reason we are able to expand so rapidly. The Barclays Eagle Lab in Brighton was the first space we opened in, free of hire charge initially, and it gave us a ready-made network to expand into. They believed in us – and the potential of our idea – from an early stage, and gave us the investment needed to equip the spaces with the facilities we needed to run the clubs. We massively believe our partnership has made us what we are now.”
Despite MakerClub being a small and young company, Cassidy says that Barclays has always taken it seriously, giving the founders “the confidence to spread our wings” and helping them connect with the right people.
Making coding fun
Keeping kids engaged with something as potentially complex as coding after a long day at school can seem like an impossible task, but experimentation and interactive participation is key to creating a fun experience at MakerClub.
“I think it’s giving these things context and making it project-based. It’s important to mess around and fail, which is completely fine at MakerClub. We’re about giving real world examples for the things the kids are learning, and then giving them a challenge, which they’re free to approach in whatever way they want to. When they come to MakerClub they leave with something they’ve created, an idea that is their own.”
In the case of the Bournemouth MakerClub that ‘real world’ example for coding is Star Wars – a popular choice. In a world that’s becoming ever more automated, it’s important for people to learn and understand how things like 3D printers and coding work at a young age, argues Cassidy. “We thought 3D printers were going to be in every home in about two years. We weren’t exactly right about that! But we certainly still believe that – now more than ever – they are an amazing learning tool for young people. These kinds of skills influence the way young people think about the world around them.”
While the kids of MakerClub regularly return home excited by the possibilities of coding their own Star Wars galaxy, there’s one definitive mantra that underpins MakerClub. As Cassidy concludes: “If they’re not having a good time, then what’s the point?”