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A Magazine for Sheffield

Access Space: Do It Anyway

Access Space is a long-running arts and technology charity, opposite the Rutland Arms on Sidney Street. From 15 to 17 May it's running Do It Anyway, a mini-festival with the international Pixelache network. It's a weekend of free experimental audio, tech, music and visual arts, workshops and activism.

For some people, the word 'charity' is a turn-off. But Access Space is different. To thousands of people it's been a flagship for unique and inspirational DIY experimentation. It offers various kinds of training, meeting space, arts events, and a workshop equipped with resources like laser cutters and 3D printers for anyone to use. It champions free, open source software and new technology, like the Raspberry Pi mini computer. Access Space is about open learning based on fun, not a curriculum. It's definitely not a college. It's a new type of organisation, a resource bank of tools and skills. It's a place for people to meet, not as customers, but as participators and experimenters, just for fun. It sails its own course, uncharted by agendas like job creation or work skills. It's a rare space outside the harshness of capitalism, a pioneering part of the gift economy.

Last year, Access Space hit a funding crisis, surviving only with 'structural adjustment' and shorter opening times. Like most charities, it has found its year-on-year grants turned off since the 2008 crash. In the stormy seas of 'austerity', both government and charitable trusts have slashed support. The daily open-door media centre sadly closed in November, because the money dried up. It had been going for 14 years. A huge number of volunteers were involved, making art, renovating donated computers, helping people with technology, and generally running the place.

In Sheffield, like the rest of the country, voluntary sector organisations are going to the wall and the implications are huge. The so-called 'third sector' accounts for a significant chunk of all work done in this country, ranging from charity shops to conservation, from care work to artwork, and far more. This unmeasurable part of the economy helps the social and mental health of our society, while penny pinchers cut funding and insist that profitability is paramount.

People volunteer for any number of good reasons, including enthusiasm, making new friends, doing something new, therapy, learning skills, filling a CV, and simply 'doing good'. But paid staff are needed and there are other costs which can't be met with fresh air. Only small groups manage entirely on goodwill. David Cameron's proposal of three days’ paid voluntary work per year for 15 million people isn't going to help much. It might suit low-skilled tasks like litter-picking, but most organisations need longer term volunteers willing to commit and learn.

“Making something reminds you that you're powerful, and that you can actually make a change,” says Catherine Flood of the V&A Museum's exhibition Disobedient Objects, summing up how empowering the DIY approach can be, especially when shared.

The modern world makes it easy to become passive, isolated, and dependent on employers, shops and councils to provide. Around two thirds of people don't do any voluntary work outside the home. Some have little time or money for a social life. Existence reduced to merely work, shopping, consumption, sleep and back to work again cannot be good for the soul. As inventive, creative, free people, taking back into our own hands the material and technical realities of life is a real buzz. Places like Access Space open the doors of possibility by supporting and encouraging people who want to make things and experiment. Workshop leader John sums it up as “innovation, engagement, independence”. If this floats your boat, check it out.

Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair

16 May | 10am-6pm | Showroom Workstation

Annual political event showcasing radical booksellers, distributors, independent presses and political groups from around the country, as well as films, talks, workshops and usually a lively after party.

Broomhill Festival

5-21 June | Broomhill, S10

Broomhill is a community which knows how to run a festival in style. Two whole weeks of events at various venues, including performances, music and dance, exhibitions, talks, literature, heritage and family events. And it all raises cash for local charities. )

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