Ashton Centre launches FabLab: making (almost) anything

23 May 2013 Stephen Gray    Last updated: 12 Dec 2014

The first FabLabs in Ireland were officially launched on 22 May at the Ashton Centre in Belfast. FabLabs are community based workshops that give people access to the latest digital fabrication technologies.

The FabLab will give people in North Belfast and Derry/Londonderry the opportunity to learn and work together on designing and prototyping products. They’ll be joining a worldwide network of people making things - experts and beginners sharing their knowledge, skills and experiences.

Already there have been over 1,300 people through the doors of the fablab aging from 7 to 70.

Local people are seeing the huge potential for nurturing imagination, creativity and entrepreneurship in the area.  In one case a participant is using the FabLab to build parts to use in his own 3D printer. The ultimate goal is that the kit needed for a FabLab can be made in a FabLab – self-perpetuating – think Star Trek replicators.

The opportunity to be part of a worldwide network of designers, entrepreneurs, engineers and other budding FabLab participants is invaluable.

Aside from the opportunities that the FabLab opens up to local people, the thing that struck me most was the collaboration and passion of all of the partners to get the FabLabs established. The Ashton Centre team heard about the FabLab concept and instinctively thought “we could do that”. From then they made it happen – reaching out to all the partners they would need to get the project going then having the tenacity to get the FabLabs opened in Belfast and with the Nerve Centre in Derry/Londonderry.

A perfect example of grass roots social entrepreneurs doing innovative things that can have long term impact for local communities. In the words of Paul Roberts, Chief Executive of the Ashton Community Trust  – “there are no boundaries”.

The FabLab concept was developed by MIT in Boston and has grown into a network of nearly 200 FabLabs being established in communities across the world.

The global FabLab network director (two days in post), Chris Wilkinson, attended the launch and gave some sense of his ideas for the future of FabLabs and his views on where disruptive digital technologies can lead  - where everyone can be a prosumer ie able to design, produce and distribute anything.

A network of FabLabs across the world opens up huge opportunities and potential for people with ideas to build and test prototypes of any products imaginable. Backed up with other innovations such as crowdfunding people can bring their products to a worldwide market.

In recent years we’ve seen how people can produce their own music, books, or films and bring them to a world market. Soon we should all be able to make our own products in FabLabs and do the same.

Congratulations to the Ashton Centre Community Trust the Nerve Centre and everyone involved in bringing FabLabs to Northern Ireland.'s picture
by Stephen Gray

Head of Information Management

[email protected]

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