These new one-man makers

March 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

Manufacturing in the UK is a touchy subject. The very word can conjure up bleak images of factory closures, dole queues, strikes and desolated towns outside of the South East. I know this only too well having grown up in Corby, which was once home to one of the biggest steel producers in the UK. But those days are long gone. In the late 1970s, manufacturing made up close to a third of British GDP, yet now it is barely a tenth. Over the same period, employment in this sector fell from around 6.8 million to 2.5 million today.

So what does the future hold for this industry? There are some, like the RSA, who are cautiously optimistic. Last year we published a report that predicted many mid-sized manufacturers would soon move production back to home turf, in part due to rising resource costs, new production technologies and changing consumer demand. Indeed, findings released this month from the manufacturing group EEF indicate that 1 in 6 firms have reshored in the past 3 years.

Yet it’s not all about the big firms. In fact, new data from the Business Population Estimates highlights a remarkable amount of growth in the number of one-man makers. The graph below shows that the population of manufacturing firms with zero employees (i.e. just the owners) has increased by nearly 40 percent over the past 3 years alone, mostly in the last 12 months. By 2013 there were 50,000 more one-man makers than there were in 2010. This stands in stark contrast with the other manufacturing firm sizes, which have all shrunk in number.


But what’s causing the boom? One explanation is that the proliferation of 3D printers is finally taking hold. The research firm Gartner estimates that global shipments of 3D printers shot up by nearly 50 per cent last year, and predicts a further rise of 75 per cent this year. Not only are these technologies becoming cheaper, they are also improving in technical proficiency. A few years ago 3D printers were limited to making prototypes, yet today around 20 per cent of printer output comes in the form of a final product (and this figure is expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2020).

Of course, such additive technologies are still in the early stages of development. And many have understandably criticised the hype, saying that the products they generate are rarely of good quality and that the raw materials they use are prohibitively expensive. But clearly this hasn’t deterred people from recognising the potential of these new machines. The notion that you could physically print off objects in your own home would have amazed most people 20 or 30 years ago. Indeed, some of the stories that emerge from the maker community are startling. Only a few months ago I interviewed someone living in Orkney who uses 3D printers to design and make model railway parts, which are then shipped around the world.

Yet the technology to make goods is only one part of the story. Also important are the new platforms that allow these one-man makers to sell their goods. The best-known example is Etsy, which last year hit a billion dollars in annual revenues (and i’m not just saying this because they are supporting our work). Etsy has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to set up a shop from their living room and earn money from the crafts they make, from ceramics, to jewellery, to furniture. And in many cases they will have a job on the side. According to a survey of their US sellers, close to 60 per cent are working elsewhere (half of whom are in full-time roles).

So while it’s right to lament the decline of our old manufacturing industries in the UK, and to revive them where possible, we should also recognise (and support) the tinkerers, inventors and makers who are bringing manufacturing back to life from the grassroots.

The RSA and Etsy are exploring similar themes in a new project, The Power of Small. Click here to find out more.

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Makerhood: revitalising neighbourhoods through the art of making

November 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Design and Society, Enterprise 

In this guest post, the team at Makerhood describe their efforts to create a community of makers in Lambeth. Find out more by visiting their website.


When we started Makerhood three years ago our premise was simple: we believed that buying things made in our neighbourhoods was great for us as individuals and good for our local communities and economies.

In Brixton, south London – where our team is based – it was hard at that time to find locally-made goods in its wonderful market or shops. So we thought we could make it easy to find local makers and their work – whether that was jams or jewellery, art or armchairs – by setting up a website.

We worked with the local community, makers, and volunteers to make this happen. The website launched in summer 2010 – and set us off on a journey of great discoveries and new friendships.

In addition to the website, we started experimenting with real-life activities, from exhibitions to market stalls, and from business development workshops to community gatherings. These activities took off beyond our expectations, and have become central to our work.

In April this year we held our biggest event yet, called Making Uncovered – where 16 making disciplines were represented with local makers showing the work that goes into creating something by hand. It was organised by volunteers and attracted around 700 visitors.

Three years on: the Makers’ Club and Lambeth roll-out

Three years on, there is a strong makers’ community in Brixton, locally-made goods are available at local shops and markets, and Makerhood has many wonderful volunteers working together to run the project and put on events.

In 2012 we launched a new project in the adjoining area of West Norwood with the support of the Outer London Fund. It’s been fantastic to see another new makers’ community come together and make new local connections.

“Makerhood has been a very positive experience for me. I have learnt lots by talking to other people and attending meetings. I love the feeling of belonging to a community of artists and creatives trying to change the way goods are made and sold.”

Elena Blanco, Dreamy Me

The Makers’ Club also offers exclusive and collaborative local selling opportunities, discounts from local suppliers, business development events, and local promotion. We remain largely volunteer-led, and we ask for £25/year from makers to contribute towards the project’s costs.

The Makers’ Club has proven popular, and thanks to support from Lambeth Council we are in the process of expanding it across the whole borough – exciting times! From 6 November all makers in Lambeth will be able to join us.

Commerce with a human face

While Makerhood involves many different activities and brings together many people from different walks of life, there is one thing that unites them all: a belief in business with a human face. Makerhood is about exchanging skills, objects, knowledge and resources in our communities.

Business transactions embedded in real human relationships just seem to make so much sense. Knowing the story behind an item you have bought from a local maker is lovely. Organising events with people who share your desire to improve your area is fantastic. Sharing your experience with other local creative businesses makes you feel part of a community, rather than isolated in the tough world of commerce.

It is the inspiration of so many wonderful, talented local people who have become part of the Makerhood community that  makes the project what it is. We’re immensely grateful to everyone who’s helped the project come so far.

Do you want to help us grow?

If you’d like to support the project you can do the following:

  1. If you are outside Lambeth and interested in a Makerhood in your local area, please drop us a line at The more interest we get, the easier it will be to start Makerhood projects in new areas.
  2. We will be looking for support to roll out beyond Lambeth. So if you’re an investor, a local authority or funder interested in locally-focused social enterprise ventures, please get in touch at – we’re more than happy to meet and talk.
  3. If you’d like to keep up with what we’re doing, sign up to our newsletter on the right hand side of our blog, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

We look forward to hearing from you.

We leave you with this video from our Making Uncovered event to give you an idea of what it’s all about.

The RSA and Etsy are exploring similar themes in a new project, The Power of Small. Click here to find out more.