A Fab idea for entrepreneurs

A Fab idea for entrepreneurs

Creating the right environment helps to create business. Theresa Grant, chief executive of Trafford Council explains to Maria McGeoghan how Fab Lab achieves this

“If Manchester’s got one - I want one for Trafford!”

As chief executive of Trafford Council, Theresa Grant is always fighting for her patch. So when she was introduced to the concept of Fab Labs - digital fabrications laboratories - it was only a matter of time before the doors opened on a great new facility in Altrincham.

The Stamford New Road Fab Lab has been welcoming makers since last spring and all upgrading and renovation work is now complete. Says Theresa “I first heard about Fab Labs through Mike Shields who is the former chief executive of the Trafford Park Development Corporation.

"He told me about the Barcelona Fab Lab and we went to see the Fab Lab in Manchester.

“Then I thought If Manchester has one - I want one for Trafford!” When space became available in Trafford Library opposite the transport hub the Fab Lab proposal was put to elected members who were impressed and thought it was a great idea.

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Fab Labs were set up to inspire people to turn their ideas into new products and prototypes by giving them access to a range of advanced digital manufacturing technology. The idea was dreamed up by renowned inventor and scientist Professor Neil Gershenfeld at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

His vision is a simple one: to provide the environment, skills, advanced materials and technology to make things cheaply and quickly anywhere in the world, and to make this available on a local basis to anyone who wants to create something new or bespoke.
“There are more business start-ups in Trafford than anywhere else in Greater Manchester,” adds Theresa. We need to help people be better at what they do."

The business plan is to fund the Fab Lab for three years until it finds its feet and can survive on its own financially. Funding comprises of around £81,000 from the council over three years, £172,000 Section 106 Funding, and £90,000 from the High Street Renewal project.
The Trafford Fab Lab is a collaboration between Trafford Council, Trafford College, Trafford Housing Trust and the Manchester-based Manufacturing Institute, who will run the facility.

“They have all really helped us to get it off the ground,” says Theresa. “With Trafford College we have a ready supply of young people who can take advantage of the Fab Lab. "I’d also like to thank our economic growth team for pursuing this. They did a great job. They wanted to make it happen.

"I’d like to see young people bringing their new ideas to the Fab Lab, and the team there will helping existing entrepreneurs with their new ideas, and make it a great place for commercial users to bring their prototypes to life.

"I’d like it to be a great, accessible place for creative networking of ideas.

“We want to attract new entrepreneurs, help them make new products and hopefully help make them a lot of money. “

Cllr Sean Anstee, Leader of Trafford Council, is also a big fan. He said: said: “I am delighted to be involved in the launch of the new Trafford Fab Lab which is an excellent example of partnership working between the Council, Manufacturing Institute and Trafford College.

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“Trafford Fab Lab will be accessible to all residents young and old and local businesses to encourage entrepreneurship and the growth and development of manufacturing skills. Trafford Fab Lab has got off to a great start and I look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength."

The UK’s first Fab Lab was opened by the Manchester-based Manufacturing Institute in 2010 and there are now 15 dotted around the UK with more than 400 around the world. At the heart of a Fab Lab is digital manufacturing technology, combining 2D and 3D design with the latest fabrication technology.

Embracing a broad spectrum of methods ranging from CNC machining to 3D printing, it can produce a single unique product from a digital design in a matter of minutes – and at a very low cost compared to traditional tooling methods.

Upcoming courses at the Altrincham Fab Lab include how to laser cut Christmas cards and decorations, how to 3D print and how to operate the lab’s ShopBot. Neville Chamberlain, chairman of the Manufacturing Institute said: “Fab Labs go right to the heart of our mission - to support manufacturing.

Altrincham is the perfect spot for a Fab Lab. “We’re right in the middle of the town centre, with great public transport links. We look forward to making this Fab Lab a special success."

Karen Wroe, founder of Altrincham arts and heritage centre Art With A Heart, moved next door to the Fab Lab roughly at the same time that the Fab Lab team moved in. She said: “Part of our work is skills development for young people.

“We’ve worked with graphic arts students to create signage and we actively promote the Fab Lab in any way we can.

“I think that if you don’t use it you lose it. It’s a great collaboration between two organisations bringing experts and skills to the table so that the whole is greater than the two parts.

"It’s a fantastic addition to Altrincham. I can see it growing. This is just the start.”

And Altrincham artist John Lockwood, who is a regular Fab Lab user, added: “The guys there are brilliant. You can do your own projects and there is a great team spirit. People are always happy to talk about what they are doing and always ready to give you advice.

“You can pay for commercial time, or go in on the community days on Friday and Saturday and work on your own stuff just paying for materials.”