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A "maker movement" space could provide a place for new businesses to grow, and attract tourists


April 09, 2014
BERLIN – Since January, and running through June, the Berlin WREN (Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network) has been holding a series of classes that are teaching those attending new skills in such areas as art classes, cooking, soap making, music, writing, natural living, marketing, a holistic fair, and computer programming.

While most attendees just see it as a way to learn something new, Laura Jamison, in charge of the Berlin WREN office, sees a bigger picture, a way to connect to a growing movement called the "maker movement." She entitled this series the "maker series."

"We tried the regular business curriculum program WREN offers elsewhere, but discovered people in this area weren't really interested in that. Many were already running a business, but didn't realize it. They thought they were just doing something on the side," Jamison said. "What they wanted was to learn to make things. People here are very hands on. I think that comes from the mill history."

There is an old saying, "everything old is new again," and that just might be the best way to describe this movement, a new way of looking at how the "can do" spirit of making what you need is growing again.

Bill Church, the owner of White Mountain Science, based in a small incubator space owned by WREN (Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network) in Bethlehem, held a workshop recently at Berlin WREN to explain just what this movement is all about. It was well attended, by people who are crafters, to people interested in making their own technology equipment, to teachers wondering about fitting this into their curriculum.

Church was focused more on science and technology for this program, but was quick to point out that was just one area in the all-encompassing movement. It includes anything that people are making from computers to crafts, and everything in between.

There's a long tradition around making what you need, whether it's tools or clothing, but in recent years many things have been closed up, he said. For example, past generations liked to tinker with their cars, how many still, or even can, do that today.

The maker movement is bringing back that tinkering and in some places in the country, as well as in other countries, it's happening in a big way. In New York City a "Hall of Science" has taken over an old World's Fair building, and it's visited by thousands.

In New Hampshire, Church said he knows of two maker spaces, "Make It" in Nashua and "Port City Maker's Space" in Portsmouth.

In Bethlehem, WREN bought a small house behind the retail storefront on that town's Main St. That building now houses WREN offices and three small incubator spaces. At present there is an accountant, a musician and Church's business White Mountain Science.

WREN Executive Director Marilinne Cooper said they never thought about the space as maker space until Church moved in.

"Having Bill come in brought up this whole new ideas of 'maker space'," Cooper said. "We can see that this dovetails with the WREN mission."

Could this movement provide a way for small businesses to get started, as well as provide a draw for tourists to Berlin?

Jamison thinks it might. Berlin WREN has been renting the former Congregational Church from Tri-County CAP, but they don't think the church building would be conducive to that use and are looking around. There are considering a couple of spaces on Main Street. They are looking for a building that would have space for different uses, like, perhaps, a commercial kitchen, some industrial/mechanical space and space for artists.

Jamison said she has met with Clint Crosby of "Port City Maker's Space" and toured that facility. It started as a group of high school students who had things like bikes, kayaks, and other equipment they wanted to share. The original concept was to rent a garage so they could do that.

"I would love to have something like that space here in Berlin," Jamison said.

The whole concept of what the business model will ultimately be for "maker" facilities is still being explored. Maker spaces are still relatively new. To explore different models, Jamison has met with Clint Crosby of "Port City Makers Space," which she said is changing from profit to non-profit.

Jamison and Church also recently met with a representative from Artisans Asylum in Somerville MA. to talk about their business model.

While the possibility of a maker space is being explored, Berlin WREN will continue to offer classes and workshops based on passing on skills from the wide variety of "makers" in the area to those who want to be able to do more themselves.

This summer, Berlin WREN will be running classes called "Experiential." They will be held outside and will be adventure-based. Watch for more information on these.

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