This CTP relates to the choice by the Institute’s founders to hire their own, new, dedicated technician team as a way of embedding culture, behavior, and identity into the organisation’s host institute. As described in CTP2, the Institute moved into the host institute of UCL in early 2012 in part to strategically align with UCL engineering department’s aim to rethink how workshop culture and pedagogy manifested at the university. With considerable support from the university behind them, the co-founders were afforded the opportunity and freedom to build the Institute as they saw fit:
“I oversaw the whole thing, designed the space we’re in – it was like ‘What would I want my dream garden shed to be?’ And I didn’t need to ask permission for any of it – I had the freedom to do what I wanted, but also the responsibility for the day-to-day running, creating a space where people could get up to things and be inspired”.
The initial founder team comprised M and S, who had co-founded the materials library in 2005; and the additional presence of C, a co-director who held a satellite role (joining the team for workshops and so forth). In the hiring phase, the Institute brought in a research manager, an events co-ordinator, and 3 technicians. The technicians were not full time, but worked in 2-person shifts to offer a ‘suite of skills’ to members. As the space developed, Institute members were employed to deliver certain elements of induction and other activities; and a volunteer program was developed to support the Institute’s unexpected popularity. The purpose of hiring a distinct team for the Institute was determined by a desire to be able to instantiate a very specific culture and set of practices, through staff practices and the induction process.
This CTP was sparked by the co-directors’ previous experience in running a workshop space, and the capacity to hire staff afforded by their move to UCL and the backing of their enterprise by senior management. The move to UCL permitted the co-founders to transform their materials library into an Institute; but the co-founders were also clear that the Institute have its own distinct identity and not be absorbed into, and flattened by, the larger university and the other workshop spaces there:
“It was really important to hire our own team. You say you’re opening a workshop and people say, ‘Oh, we’ve got our own technicians down here so you can have one of them for 2 days a week’. We wanted our own technicians because this is a different thing – here, we host a space. Our team of technicians and people who work here – we get on well, we have a shared approach and openness and attitude. There’s no ‘That’s not my job, why would I do that?’ or ‘How could I possibly teach that person that thing?’ We make it clear this isn’t like other workshops.”
The decision to hire their own team, and treat the Institute as a hosted space, was developed out of the co-founders previous experience with their materials library, when “…we did lots of events without having our own space, and we always had a certain approach and attitude. We wanted to do something that people can come and be a part of”. This ethos was intentionally carried forward, scaffolded by the additional financial, material, and spatial resources afforded by UCL. The team also reached out to the technicians and directors in other workshop spaces across the university, to say “We’re not a threat to you, we want to celebrate what you do”. To create this wider sense of community, the Institute offered all UCL technicians membership at the beginning of the process.
This CTP was co-produced by the following events: move of the Institution to UCL; and the experience of running a workshop space by the directors.
These activities were not contested by the team, but were instead brought in to avoid contestation and tension between the Institute and other departments and workshops at UCL. Similarly, the design and delivery of the induction material was also intended to reduce future tensions and conflicts between members of the space. The standards enacted by the Institute’s team sometimes required ongoing monitoring of certain members, as one of the co-founders describes:
“We have a few people who need more personal management and reminding [about standards]. In team meetings, we’ll say, ‘There’s this person, they’ve been in 3 times now, just look out for them’. We’ve only had 2 or 3 so far, and they tend to be young men with low spatial awareness ability who just don’t see the trail of destruction they leave behind themselves – they’ll come in and leave a terrible mess, no matter how many times you say ‘You haven’t finished because you haven’t put that thing back’. They don’t have any self-awareness”.
However, these interactions were not seen as particularly painful; and staff persevered in monitoring certain members as a means of maintaining harmony for the Institute as a whole.
This CTP was instrumental and central in realizing the transformative aims of the Institute – in particular, the ethos of creating a hosted space. Hiring and training their own staff permitted the co-founders to create the “extra touches that make you feel hosted and welcome and delighted, it should be a treat”. This ethos primarily manifested through the induction training delivered by staff, a 1.5 hour process where new members were introduced to the workshop and its machines, but also “etiquette and approach and enthusiasm, giving them a sense of possibility but setting a tone”. The aim was to avoid a prescriptive, limiting introduction to the space - “Not ‘you must do this, you can’t wear that’” – instead, using humour and communicating clearly.
One of the transformative aims of the Institute was to instill creative ‘making’ practice across as diverse a membership base as possible. The induction emphasized these elements through two core messages: “Don’t be an arsehole, and do as you would be done by – treat people respectfully”. Part of this message was aimed at people who had an existing degree of technical expertise, and may have been unused or unwilling to share a space with those less capable:
“[We say] there’ll be people who have made things their entire life, and people who have never held a hammer. Don’t go around saying ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you can’t do that’. [Being a member] is about meeting a broad spectrum of people in here, and that’s its richness. We don’t mind if you do multi-million dollar work or a research project or your own hobby or just make a mess”.
The induction, and staff culture, also emphasized self-responsibility for members, treating the technicians as hosts of equal standing rather than dogsbody staff who would clean up all the mess. This message was shared through “clear communication”, encouraging members to clearly communicate their intentions and failures in their projects:
“[We say] don’t wander in and assume you can just turn up and have some lorry turn up and you can just dump stuff in here. If you want to have something delivered you have to have it like this. So if you’ve got a plan and you share it with us, then that’s fine…Stuff will get broken, and the worst you can do is hide it away in a little cupboard and not tell anyone…As long as you tell us and we can help you, it’s not actually a problem”.
This CTP also changed wider practices within UCL, around interdisciplinary research and activities, creating egalitarian and collaborative relationships between staff, faculty, and students, and between department:
“A [student] came up to me and said ‘I spoke to my lecturer in here for the first time in a year, and he was asking me how to do something, even though he was my lecturer’. It turns the tables, it’s very levelling.”
At the time of interview, 22% of members were academic and professional services staff, all treated equally – as one of the co-founders stated, “We’re a community – you don’t get any more access to a machine because you’re a professor, don’t come in here thinking you’re going to be treated differently from anyone else”. The emphasis of this message through the induction training, delivered by Institute-specific staff, helped to realize these transformative aims.
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