I met up with Ivan Pope at his new makespace, Fabrivan, tucked away behind London Road, a low-rent shopping street on the edges of Brighton city centre.
Fabrivan is Ivan’s latest experiment in future technology – a makespace designed to be accessible and welcoming, and to support experimentation. With a background in fine art, Ivan is no stranger to experimentation. He set up the UK’s first cyber-café at the ICA in London, and went on to be involved in several pioneering ventures in that other big technological shift, the internet, before it was the invisible utility we take for granted today. Just as the internet was an unproven technology in the early 90s, so digital fabrication is now. But Ivan is adamant that this is the time to dive in:
“People who sit out the next few years will never be in the industry. They’ll never have any contribution to it; they’ll just be users of it. You have to be in it early – you learn something every day, you meet people, and you network, and things start happening. And then you can make your choices from a position inside the industry. My approach is always to dive in as early as possible, swim around a bit and see what happens. Something interesting will happen, there’s so much opportunity.”
Fabrivan – once intended to be a fablab operating out of a van (hence the name) – came into being after the failed attempt to set up a regular fablab in Brighton. Inspired in part by a visit to Brighton Mini Maker Faire, Ivan decided to go ahead and just do something himself.
“My frustration tends to manifest itself in ‘just do it’. So I decided to reach into my own pocket, and build a space, to say: this is my view of what a space should be like, I’m going to see if I can make it work.
“I wanted to create a space that was attractive to a whole bunch of people who aren’t the sort of people you usually find in a hackspace or a fablab or the like.
“I wanted to make sure that I had a set of working equipment. I wanted to have a space that was under my control. Everything in here should work at all times, and I know exactly what’s in here, what it does, and how to make it function. And if that means having a small subset of the equipment, so be it.”
The Fabrivan laser out on a day trip to Brighton Mini Maker Faire, and back home in the space.
Makespace business models
Makespaces around the world are fascinating living labs of business model innovation. We don’t really know what works yet, and it seems to vary wildly depending on local conditions, cultures and economics. At Fabrivan they’re experimenting with all kinds of formats for training, machine time and support, all the while trying to stick to the core principle of accessibility.
“I’ve looked at all sorts of models,” he explains. “I never wanted to go down the road of the membership for access model, i.e. the gym membership model, where you pay a monthly amount and you have access to all the facilities. That’s a great model for covering your costs, and building a membership base. Like all gyms, it works on the assumption that most people won’t come in most of the time. But once you’ve got members who are paying for access to the facilities, you have to allow them access, which then precludes doing a lot of other things.
“Coming from a fine art background, where artists always have shared studio spaces, I understand how that model works, and I’m rather attracted to the concept of extending that model to the maker community, be that the hobbyist or the commercial startup, or the experimental prototyping community. I like the idea of members paying for access to something that isn’t the core equipment, but is working space, bench space, storage space.”