Make:Shift 2013



The workshop banner at MAKE:shift 2012

The workshop banner at MAKE:shift 2012

Make:Shift 2013 followed on from the success of Make:Shift 2012, which took place in September last year. In 2012, 250 people joined together over the course of two days to get behind four plans (selected from over 60 submitted) to ‘Change Wolverhampton with an idea.’

The four ideas were:

  • Free Organic Gardens – establishing gardens where anyone volunteering could take food for free
  • Gap Fillers – making use of vacant land and buildings for short-term community activities
  • Scribble and Scribe – establishing a team of volunteers to help people fill in complicated official forms
  • Wolvopedia – make Wolverhampton a Wikipedia city

This year’s event sought to learn from last year’s evaluation where participants told us that, whilst the event was excellent, they would prefer it to be less structured. We therefore decided to run the event as an unconference, where participants controlled and drove the agenda.

The Oxford Dictionary defines an unconference as “a loosely structured conference emphasising the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured programme of events.”


Make:Shift 2013

Make:Shift 2013 took place on 9 November. Over 70 people attended the event at the Newhampton Arts Centre.

Prior to the event an intensive social media campaign (Facebook, Twitter and WordPress blog) was conducted. During the event, a team of volunteer social media experts socially reported the event. (The material recorded on Storify will give you an idea about what took place).

Attendance was free and we encouraged people to book in advance using Eventbrite (an online booking system). Approximately 70 people did so and a similar number attended the event (although not all the same people that had booked on – some people turned up on the day and some people who had booked on didn’t turn up).

At the start of the event we encouraged anyone who wanted to pitch an idea to speak to other participants about it in the Make:Shift marketplace.

The opening speech was provided by Councillor Elias Mattu. He spoke about ideas from last year’s event and how, by working together, we can make Wolverhampton more resilient.

Elliot Lord, who pitched the Free Organic Gardens idea, then spoke about how his project had developed since last Make:Shift, and the importance of Make:Shift in helping to make his idea a reality.

After this the ideas for 2013 were pitched. There were 15 ideas in all. Each ideas champion had a maximum of two minutes to pitch their idea. They then chose a time and a room in which to discuss their idea.


The ideas discussed on the day were:

  • Custom Home Build and Self Build
  • Book swapping Network
  • Wolves in Wolves
  • Finchfield Church/ Community Centre
  • Social Media in Communities
  • Off the Grid
  • Art and Craft Co-op
  • Up cycled Furniture Enterprise
  • Art on the move
  • Look Up Wolverhampton
  • Social Steam Engine
  • Creative Conversations
  • What Should be Free?
  • International Links Association

Make:Shift 2013 was a considerable success. Attendance remained constant and there was a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm throughout the day. Participants embraced the free-flowing nature of the unconference. All of the ideas champions were joined by other participants eager to support and add value to their ideas.

After Make:Shift, it was important to maintain the energy and momentum created. We have now allocated mentors to each of the fifteen ideas champions. The role of the mentor is to provide light touch support to the champion and help them overcome any bureaucratic difficulties they might encounter.

We have also organised a series of Make:Shift get togethers to enable the ideas champions to provide each other with peer support. We have even had new ideas pitched at these events.

The council will continue to support the champions to deliver their ideas and it is intended to deliver the next Make:Shift in 2014.



by Sam Axtell

Consultation and Community Involvement Officer

Wolverhampton City Council

Photo Credit: jamesdclarke via Compfight cc

What is an unconference?

So what is an unconference? Well it is an unstructured event that has been created by a handful of people who are interested in a specific area of business and inviting others to join them, often at weekends. There is no agenda before the event itself and the only planning is the date, time, venue and wifi/food. This compares to the well structured, heavily agenda driven conference which are held in work time and have a costs associated to attend.

So why should you attend? I started with my first unconference in 2010 – HyperWM, with trepidation as there was no agenda, just an idea of the topics that might be discussed, and I did not know anyone else that attended these events. It was a shock. The atmosphere was laid back, people were welcoming, your opinions were welcome – even if you were challenging a view. WOW.

Stickies, CityCamp Coventry

So I started finding out more about unconferences, they are growing in number and in variety of business areas. I attended some more of various types – each type of unconference brings its own experiences, issues and learning : Talk about Local, HyperWM, CityCamps, Barcamps; Brewcamps, hackathons, LocalGovCamps, GovCamps, CommsCamp, LibraryCamp, MuseumCamp etc etc

I find myself now going on average to one event per month, since I started in 2010. So, you may ask, what do I get out of them? Before my first event, I, like so many others would sit in my own world of work and home thinking that the issues that I faced were mine alone and that no one else was in the same boat or even had got themselves out of the issues. At work to increase your knowledge you could attend official conferences or training but these cost (a lot in many cases) and in the public sector this is not really something you can easily suggest with tight budgets.

I built my knowledge up from unconferences, at every event including the most recent, so that I am now able to provide guidance and advice on many topics. As well as the knowledge gained at the events, I also started building a network of people, most of whom like to share so if there is a topic that I am not familiar with I can but a shout out across the network and get a reply very quickly with helpful advice – this is invaluable. These events are often welcoming so that everyone feels that they can contribute equally to the conversation if they want – if they don’t and just want to observe/learn then this is also great.

I have personally found that I have been able to attend many events that normally would not be considered within my day job – but these have not only broadened by knowledge of these areas – Library and Museum Camp being just two, but also the way people within different business areas resolve similar problems can often be brought into my work sphere.

As you can see I am now rather an advocate for unconference type events, so much so that I run a number of these now – all in my spare time. The main one in the West Midlands region is CityCamp Coventry which was started last year (2012) with the support of Coventry City Council and Coventry University. While many of the unconferences out there are open for many to attend they do aim to attracked people working within that business area either from public sector or public and private sector. CityCamps are about bringing the community into the mix and allowing them the open space to suggest ideas to other community members and some of the key organisations covering that area. How else would you get an idea about sharing orchard fruit from those gardens that their owners can no long pick, and give the fruit free to those that need it or to make jams to sell and plough the money back into charities? This was taken up as one of the ideas by Coventry City Council with the promise that if open city space was identified they would look at planting community fruit trees there.

So should there be more? As with everything there will be a saturation point, but I think we are far from that. What I am finding is that there are many more events now being created – these generally spawn from someone attending a few and then thinking there is a niche within their business area/location to run one – this is GREAT. I am still expanding the number that I want to run with colleagues in different fields because this is the essence of unconferences, helping other people to realise their potential.

Are these events for everyone? From the point of view of organising them, that depends on the topic for the event but in general yes as the wider the audience the more diverse the point of view and the richer the conversation. However, those attending must give something back to the event. It is not a problem for someone to attend and prefer to sit back and listen, take stock and contemplate what they hear – this may be all that they are comfortable doing. Then there are those that actively take part and help run sessions or prompt questions. However, if you do not listen or take part within sessions then you will not get much out of it and these are the people who IMO should not attend, as they will be negative about the event.

So the goal? Well this is to get organisations to understand that even without an agenda or that you have paid lots of money to send someone to attend, your people will build networks, share good practice and above all have fun doing it. So please, if one of your staff approaches you about an unconference, listen to them, let them attend and then bring that enthusiasm and knowledge back into your team/organisation – you will be surprised.

by Sasha Taylor,

Founder of CityCamp Coventry and BlueLightCamp

Picture credit