Featured in Capital #86. Subscribe to get the real thing here.
Through his MakeRoom workshops Nigel Scott encourages both kids and adults to design, tinker, and develop their practical skills. DIY-phobe Craig Beardsworth tries his hand.
Bouncing eight-year-olds have taken over the driveway of a house in suburban Miramar. Large plywood boards laid on the ground to protect the concrete and act as work benches, spray paint colours have been chosen, and wooden templates for a game controller are ready to be decorated. They are being taught how to shake the cans. For an eight-year-old, shaking a spray can is a full body experience and must be accompanied by giggling. The tutor explains how to avoid spraying your face – it sounds important. I leave them to it and walk down the driveway to a garage.
I am visiting MakeRoom. It once was a garage, but is now an extensive complex of workshops and classrooms devoted to teaching hands-on skills. Proprietor (and evil overlord, according to the website) Nigel Scott oversees three programmes in the ever growing space: STEM Club (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths), a holiday programme series, and adult classes.
Hanging from the rafters near the front of the main workshop, a sign encapsulates the essence of the space. Each letter is in a box and has been individually treated – some spray painted, others silhouetted with astroturf or screws and washers behind, others with cogs and wheels nestled behind perspex. All are handmade and whimsical.
In 2017 Nigel and his partner Lucy set up a workshop downstairs in their recently purchased house. He wanted his boys, then nine and 10 years old, to have a space in which to tinker and create things. News of the workshop spread among the boy’s friends and Nigel began creating projects to amuse a few kids in his spare time. By mid-2018 the few grew to 28 students, and MakeRoom turned commercial. By the end of the year 50 students were descending on the house every weekend, and a waiting list formed. “I was no longer getting any weekends to myself. I knew I needed help, and it was time to leave work.”
Work was at Park Road Post Production, where Nigel had been a sound editor for 12 years, and garnered four nominations in the Hollywood Motion Picture Sound Editor’s awards. He’d worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit trilogy, and many others, often acting as emissary between director Peter Jackson and composer Howard Shore. Earlier there had been a Chapman Tripp Award for theatre design, lecturing at Toi Whakaari, and stints at the Edinburgh Festival, the Sydney Olympics, and sound engineering for royal events across the United Kingdom. Why abandon such a storied career for MakeRoom? “I’m incredibly grateful for my time in the film industry,” Nigel says. “I needed a fresh challenge. I spent a long time realising the vision of other people, and now I get to realise my own vision.”
Part of Nigel’s vision is parked in the driveway – a large white van. “We had parents from Ōtaki to Wainuiomata willing to travel to us. Now we can go to them.” Next term MakeRoom is hiring Scout and community halls across the region and taking their mix of electronics, robotics, and woodwork on the road. The 28 students from 2018 will now grow to 260, with a staff of four part-timers. The long-term plan is to have a space in the city for projects involving larger equipment while the van covers the outer suburbs. “My boys are now old enough to be eyeing up this space for a teenage pad”.
Nigel admits to missing the freshness that a new film project brings, but this is countered by the buzz that teaching gives him. Parents are encouraged to attend along with their children, and many end up being involved in classes. “There is something wonderful about watching children watching their parents learn alongside them. Seeing that everyone struggles and has to problem solve. It’s the best type of learning.”