Steve Trinidade runs the Urban Workshop, one of the largest makerspaces in North America. On March 16th, 2020, Steve got the call that the space would have to close for sixty days: no group classes, no in-person youth programs, and no members in the space.

For Trinidade, the pandemic actually brought unexpected opportunities to strengthen and grow Urban Workshop’s community. “All but two of my original staff quit during the early days of the pandemic, because everybody was just scared to death. The uncertainty level was crazy. Once we got the OK to reopen, I had to hire all new staff and train everybody. But in hindsight, it was really the best thing that could have happened to me…we trained a whole new staff and took everything to the next level. It was fantastic,” he said.

Other makerspaces took advantage of the pandemic to make improvements as well. The Dallas Makerspace, a large nonprofit maker community, remodeled their space while they were closed in order to reopen with more space and more amenities. “Prior to the pandemic, we had taken over the building next door and expanded into it, but with everybody still working in the space, the upgrades were very slow, particularly the electrical upgrades. So, to bring all the electricity over, to move our jewelry, glass, machine shop and blacksmithing shop over meant extensive work and shutting the power down. But during lockdown, the government never put restrictions on construction workers. So, we were able to let the team of electricians come in and take a full month to do all the electrical work,” said James Henningson, a member of the space’s board of directors.

According to Henningson, the makerspace’s biggest asset—and the lifeline that allowed them to survive shelter-in-place—was its engaged community. “We had a large number of people who said from the start, ‘I am going to continue to pay because I want this to be here when things open back up. They really kept us strong, and we never really lost money over the course of the pandemic,” he said.

As communities across the country begin to slowly emerge from lockdown, makerspaces have opened up again—and their members are thrilled to return.  Urban Workshop now has 360 members, more than they had before the pandemic, and is continuing to grow.  They are now offering both distanced group adult classes again and individual, 1:1 mentoring for makers. “We have come to realize community life is a big part of this.  People sign up for the equipment, but they stay for the people,” said Trinidade.

Read the full article about makerspaces by Casey O'Brien at Shareable.