Back to Digbeth, Birmingham, UK, for the latest in our potentially unending series of thinly-veiled careers advice columns. This time we meet Clayton Shaw, manager of the STEAMhouse, the new research and innovation centre, enabling artists, creatives, inventors, academics and businesses to innovate, test new ideas, and to develop new prototypes, products, and services.
The STEAMhouse is a place where dreams can begin to die. Or come true, depending up whether you are glass half full type of person…
But first, some housekeeping. We’re always concerned with toilets and parking, we’re concerned with how people can find out more about this type of business...
The STEAMhouse is located opposite the Birmingham coach station, handy for out of towners... Clayton says parking in the neghbourhood can be found for an affordable £3 per day. Although he suggests, it’s preferable to commit to reducing air pollution and congestions by using public transport. STEAMhouse provides secure storage for bikes too. Eminently useful most likely unless arriving with your Angel of the North.
OUTSIDELEFT: How did you get into this line of business?
Clayton: Well, to start out, I don’t do any of the actual making, unfortunately. I merely manage the sandbox to enable creatives, inventors, businesses to experiment, test, produce, and prototype.
I’ve had a long term fascination with the way that collaborations between people from different skills backgrounds can produce unexpected and sometimes inspiring results. At STEAMhouse we have a range of facilities such as 3D printers, a 3D scanner, a laser cutter, a CNC machine, high end printers, and a range of heavy duty machinery to produce products in wood and metal. We also run hack events where we bring people together from different backgrounds to help tackle some of society's challenging problems and come up with new, creative solutions through the STEAMlabs in an environment that plays to people’s sense of curiosity and enables serendipity to play its part.
OUTSIDELEFT How long is your typical working day?
Clayton: It varies. We work until 5.30pm each day except Wednesday when we close at 8.30pm. When the building is closed there’s often something of interest to head to – exhibition opening, performance, meeting or networking event so the days can sometimes be quite long, but never dull!
OUTSIDELEFT: Do you have a favourite aspect of your work?
Clayton: I love meeting with the clients, finding out about their project ideas and seeing how we can support them; the clients really make this place buzz and come alive. We never know what type of project may land on our desks and we get excited by those that dare to work against the grain, or can find novel ways or niche markets to focus their attention on. Let’s face it, no one needs any more ‘bland’ in their lives, so we seek out the interesting, inspiring, creative; things that may change people’s lives for the better, or reach untapped markets. Birmingham and the region has a long manufacturing history, we want to reinvigorate that story by supporting the next generation of artists and entrepreneurs. This excites me.
OUTSIDELEFT: Does your job involve any international travel?
Clayton: Some. There’s a great deal of learning to be shared and gained with peers around the world. We have incredibly strong European links from the University’s previous partnership work and are seeking strategic connections in China and the States. As this project is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) we are always keen to share best practice with our European counterparts.
OUTSIDELEFT: What's the best/go to piece of equipment you enjoy using?
Clayton: Boring answer – my mobile phone. They do so much these days.
OUTSIDELEFT: Anything you regret selling that you haven’t been able to replace?
Clayton: No. Not that I can think of.
OUTSIDELEFT: Who are your favorite type of clients?
Clayton: Those that think outside of the box; that have a unique idea and a strong vision and are motivated and determined to achieve something great.
OUTSIDELEFT Can you anonymously relate any horror stories without going out of business or upsetting your paranoid client list?
Clayton: As you can imagine, working to refit and use an old building has been very challenging, and it couldn’t have been achieved without the superb team of people at STEAMhouse and across the University. The Beast from the East in the winter of 2018 wrecked the roof which caused damage to our newly fitted workshop spaces, and killed the heating systems at a point when we were due to launch. This caused a huge delay and still to this day we continue to make reparations. However, when we finally opened the doors to STEAMhouse it was easily one of the team’s proudest moments.
OUTSIDELEFT: What are you best known for professionally?
Clayton: If I have to think about this from an industry perspective I think I’m best known for supporting developments in the arts sector and making connections with other sectors, particularly digital. In my previous role as Associate Director at Sampad I led on digital strategy for the organisation and creating unique and digitally connected experiences for audiences and participants. The programme successes at Sampad further fuelled my interests in the area which led to deeper understanding of how to best support practitioners and the creative sector.
OUTSIDELEFT: Working from home, it's such a trend. If you had to set up in my house, could you do it? What would the neighbours think?
Clayton: I’m not sure I could do it but I’d give it a good go. The neighbours wouldn’t know anything about the changes. From the outside – normal, standard looking house. On the inside – digitally enabled house with smart glass, voice activated and gesture controlled gadgets, motion tracking, AI and IoT appliances. You hate this, right?
OUTSIDELEFT: Why would you say "Everybody needs their own STEAMhouse Manager?" like they do on the best Home Shopping Channel shows.
Clayton: STEAMhouse can help people to plan, make, and launch new products and services through a range of support and specialist equipment. Additionally, STEAMhouse support is absolutely free, with no catches! We also throw in free technical expertise, free business support and advice, and save you lots of time and money!
The current programme is only funded until the end of March 2020 and spaces are filling up fast, so if you want to get involved the best time to do so is right now!
OUTSIDELEFT: Knowing us and the outsideleft office as you do, can you even give me any idea of the annual/monthly/daily/hourly cost of having our own on site STEAMhouse manager? We really think we could do with a few more crafty protoypes over here…?
Clayton: The cost of a STEAMhouse Manager goes beyond just me. The real value is in the technical expertise and SME support roles that we’ve recruited. Five technicians that can help people prototype across a range of forms – wood, metal, print, and digital, and our Engagement managers can support your business ideas as well as find solutions to problems.
Find out even more about the STEAMhouse at their website
Meave Haughey is a short story writer based in Birmingham. Recent stories have been published in Comma Press’s The New Abject, and Forecast: New Writing from Birmingham, Doestoevsky Wannabe’s Love Bites: Fiction Inspired by Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks and in Birmingham, from the Doestoevsky Wannabe Cities series. Meave's story The Reservoir featured in The Best of British Short Stories 2021 compiled by Salt Press.
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