Wayne Hemingway on the positive power of making

A passionate advocate for the value of making, designer and event co-founder Wayne Hemingway explains why 2018 needs The National Festival of Making.

It has long been understood that making things with your hands is one of the best ways to promote mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, tapping into our inner makers could help us all thrive during these times of austerity, global conflict and national disquiet.

The answer for those looking for inspiration could well be The National Festival of Making, set to take place in Blackburn, Lancashire on May 12-13. Now in its second year, the festival promises to be a melting pot of ‘making’ in its every form, from art installations and hands-on workshops to performance art and physical theatre.

The festival returns following the runaway success of its 2017 debut, which attracted 30,000 visitors and 57 different makers, spread across 100 diverse experiences. The response to the first edition of the festival vastly exceeded anything hoped for by Wayne Hemingway, festival co-founder and the man behind fashion brand Red or Dead.

“We knew when we came up with the concept that there had to be a National Festival of Making,” he explains.

“I knew the time was right and I knew Blackburn was right because it has the highest percentage of people who work in manufacturing of any other town in the UK. All of that went together, but I didn’t realise the public, the community, the media would get behind it so much and also that as a team we are all capable of delivering such a big event on such a small budget. And for it to have so much impact literally all around the world.”

The team sensed a burgeoning interest in making things, particularly amongst the younger generation. Couple with that the current geopolitical backdrop with Brexit looming, and suddenly making things with your own hands becomes more relevant than ever.

“I think there was this rush for digital, but still there has to be things that are physical and there’s definitely a big interest in the physical at the moment and manufacturing is part of that,” Hemingway states.

“Also sadly we’ve got the Brexit situation that’s happening right now and Britain is probably going to need to make things itself as it will be tougher to afford to bring things in. So we’re going to have to regain some of the manufacturing that we disposed of over the last few generations.”

Chromatogram, a sculptural installation created in collaboration between Manchester-based creative studio Lazerian and The Cardboard Box Company in Accrington.
Chromatogram, a sculptural installation created by Manchester-based creative studio Lazerian and The Cardboard Box Company in Accrington, commissioned for the 2017 festival.

The setting in Blackburn is a nod to the town’s manufacturing past and present. Yet Hemingway also believes it is more important to take inspiration from the future rather than just looking to the past.

As a result the Festival of Making will address the disruptive forms of new technology changing the face of manufacturing during a one-day symposium, which will explore the relationship between making, skills and emerging tech.

“There’s a DNA buried in places like Blackburn and it’s always there within people. That’s why it’s good to hold events in places like that, but we have to look forwards,” adds Hemingway.

“Manufacturing is changing rapidly with artificial intelligence and it’s a big subject because it influences us all in terms of employment. The future of how many days we’re all going to work and the economy is tied into this. Our economic wellbeing is tied to our wellbeing.”

As a whole the festival is perfectly positioned to promote the relevance of making in 2018, whether it is designing clothes, carving wood or creating music. As well as hosting the work of aspiring local makers and established artists, the festival also promises to bring an exciting form of expression to the streets of Blackburn, courtesy of Spanish circus company Vaiven Circo Danza.

Visitors will also be able to experience season two of the Art in Manufacturing project, which sees six artists paired with Lancashire manufacturers to create bespoke artworks.

Manchester-based artist Liz West is teaming up with the heritage wallpaper manufacturer Graham & Brown, harnessing its local production facilities, heritage materials and fiercely committed local workforce.

Meanwhile London-based artist David Murphy will be working with apprentices at engineering business WEC Group on a piece of art that explores the manufacturer’s commitment to sourcing fresh talent. Murphy plans to collaborate with eight WEC apprentices while living in Darwen, Lancashire over a two-week period.

Hemingway explains that the project has proved a natural fit for the artists and manufacturers alike. “It’s becoming well known that if you inject creativity into business it can become more vibrant and consumer facing.

“It worked a treat last year – all the businesses said that it gave them ideas, it excited their teams and so in that respect it was good for the businesses. It was good for the artists in that it brought an understanding of the manufacturing element. So it was a really interesting juxtaposition of art and making.”

Vaiven Circo Danza
Physical theatre by Vaiven Circo Danza.

Crucially the agenda is firmly focused on families and, in particular, inspiring children to think differently about the role making things could have in their future. This is an approach Hemingway applies in person, having encouraged his own four grown up children to be hands on throughout their lives.

“To me that is much more important than so many other things that you do at school. I would always put the concept of making ahead of some subjects. We learnt Latin at school and I never really understood the point of that,” he recalls.

“I would much rather see my kids attempting to do something physical, just doing something rather than sitting and being passive. The idea of sitting and watching some boring thing on television and vegging out is not for everybody.”

The idea that mankind is supposed to make things is a philosophy that has informed Hemingway’s own career since launching Red or Dead on Camden Market in 1982 with his wife Gerardine. She started out making clothes with fabric bought from Blackburn market and when the label’s first international order came from Macy’s in New York in 1983, Red or Dead opened up a production unit in the town.

By 2000 the Hemingways had set up award-winning creative agency HemingwayDesign, a multi-disciplinary team of designers spanning urban and housing design, interiors and workspaces, products, branding, graphics and events. The company is currently working on a socially responsible bespoke housing project in Blackburn. 

“Making is in our DNA, it’s always been that way,” says Hemingway simply. “Our business started off when we were young with my wife making clothes and it was her ability to do that which enabled us to create Red or Dead and do everything we do today. Without that making skill it would never have happened.”

The National Festival of Making takes place May 12-13 in Blackburn, Lancashire 

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