If there is a stereotypical makerspace, it might look something like this: a cinder block walled building with battered metal shelves, filled with a random array of donated [read: broken] electronics. Beneath a sad, dangling light bulb in a cage, the same three bespectacled people with no dates on a Friday night are translating The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into Klingon.
We’ve seen enough makerspaces not to expect this, but when we arrived at MakeItLabs on a dark rainy night in October, we saw a LOT of things we didn’t expect. Like… comfy leather furniture arrayed about a movie screen and shelves stocked not with unloved computers from the 80s but family board games. An old fashioned photo booth with strips of pics of friends huddled together in poses of chummy zaniness. And a quiet but decided hum of activity, despite the miserable weekday night.
Nashua’s makerspace has been high on our list of road trips because it is the oldest in New Hampshire with by far the largest membership. Along with the standard wood, metal, and prototyping equipment, they have a textile area with ample cutting space, rentable storage and work spaces, lounge, and busy meeting space. Asked which craft shop has been the largest contributor to their success, our guide Bill Shonger, 3D printing resource manager as well as board member, set us straight: “Our greatest resource is our people.” he explained. “People come here just to hang out.” Among other things, the space opens its doors to a LOT of young people. They host summer camps, and the Nashua High School Robotics club, who needed mentoring that the school itself couldn’t give. The MakeIt labs volunteers help scouts with merit badges, and the Boys and Girls Club also uses the space.
Among the adults, while some members have gone on to successfully launch businesses, the majority of the members are hobbyists coming in for sheer enjoyment as well as companionship. The area’s best known employer, BAE Systems, actually pays for a large pool of employee users. Given the numerous organizations that depend on them for a space to meet, and the casual friends sharing coffee and ideas in the space’s kitchen, this is one makerspace that isn’t just building community, it is helping to anchor it.
If you go: Open houses is held Thursday nights between 6 and 9. The space holds an array of classes which are open to non-members; coming up they are offering instruction in laminated wood art, laser cutter training, and a “Lunch and Learn” session on Sandler process sales techniques.
PS This wouldn’t be a makerspace if it didn’t have some quirky/geeky touches, which you should really go discover for yourself. However we leave you with… this video of their motorized sofa.