Millennials in Greece trying to enter the job market come up against countless closed doors. At the same time though, they are quite innovative and proving themselves capable of charting new paths (a good thing too, considering it is they who will have to run this crisis-weary country one day).
This kind of thinking is what resulted in the first Makerspace in Athens. It is a small, communal workspace for young professionals who do not have the funds to rent or buy their own and equips them with modern and traditional tools. It was created by Ilias Saltiel and Constantinos Zervos, two former students at the University of Edinburgh who returned to Athens with an achievable idea.
“Makerspaces are quite common abroad as more people want to stop simply being consumers and are seeking to become creators, or makers,” says Ilias in reference to the maker movement, which for many signals a third industrial revolution. “In Greece, this shift is linked to the crisis because many workers found themselves out of the labor market and on their own, having to use their other skills to make a living,” says the 27-year-old mechanical engineer who first visited a similar kind of workspace in London in 2013.
Then, along with Constantinos, he began to develop ideas for the development of a workspace around which a community of modern craftsmen and women could be fostered.
Today, items made by professionals at Athens Makerspace adorn the windows of the workshop in the eastern Athens neighborhood of Kaisariani. There are colorful plastic figures made using a 3D printer and a wooden disc with the workshop’s imprint, carved with a CNC router and inspired by the Phaistos Disc. Walking through the door of the Athens Makerspace it becomes immediately clear you’ve entered a lively, cooperative place equipped with specialized tools for each craft. On the ground floor there is a state-of-the-art CNC router that can cut materials both two- and three-dimensionally.
There’s also a needlework corner, complete with machines that can sew, make and cut various fabrics. Upstairs are workshops for jewelry, T-shirts and electricals, machines including a vinyl cutter, 3D printer, laser cutter and a thermopress, and even a robot lab. Those who want to use the workspaces pay a monthly fee, in order to make unlimited use of the space possible. “We promote the idea of doing it together,” says Ilias. “We interact,” he adds.
Down in the basement is the smelter. Wearing special gloves, headphones and a mask, 14-year-old Yiannis cuts and polishes an iron knife he is making. “I come here every day by public transport from Alimos,” he tells us, surrounded by keys, wires, pliers and a trowel. He will continue doing this until 11 o’clock at night, when the Makerspace closes.
While Yiannis works in the soundproofed space that absorbs the tremendous amount of noise produced by the tools he’s using, Ilias and David, along with designer Vangelis Tsitsibikos, are planning future workshops. “Since the day we started, we’ve organized about 40 different workshops, as our goal is for all who are interested to come along and stand a better chance in the labor market,” says 21-year-old David, who studied in the UK. “The workshops were extremely popular. People came to make things like T-shirts and tennis rackets,” he says.
Working with schools
As a nonprofit organization, the Athenian Makers team has created workshops for elementary school students in the Greek capital as part of the Open Schools program run by the City of Athens with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. “We brought equipment and tools into the classroom,” says Ilias. “The kids were excited as they rarely get the chance to make something with their own hands.”
The team hopes to move to a new and more central location in the future, where they will have a better chance of increasing the number of workshops. “We would like to add workshops for gardening, metalwork, cooking, a computer lab and a space with creative activities for children so that their parents can leave them there while they attend workshops,” says Ilias. “We will also set up an e-shop where our members can trade what they’ve made in these spaces with each other.”