Why we are closing
Naomi Turner, 1 Jul 2023
Maintain—in its current form—is closing.
Endings are never easy… but neither is maintenance. We hope this post will explain where Maintain came from, where it got to, and the people who helped us along the way.
Where we started
When we started Maintain, we were interested in how makerspaces were changing - with so much activity in 2015, by 2017 many were closing due to funding issues and/or a lack of continuity in keeping the communities, buildings and spaces going. Many of these makerspaces had roots in the right to repair movement, but without the infrastructure to support these efforts, who was maintaining these maintainers?
A few of us got together as we were motivated by this question, and of the general feeling that what is often celebrated in tech or in the news is the new and shiny. From these conversations, we saw that maintenance is a common thread running through almost everything - and the potential topics we could explore vast.
What we did
Through running three festivals and running various events around the idea of celebrating maintenance as an activity, we’ve explored diverse topics like:
- The astronomical cost of fixing potholes (£120m spent in one year in the UK)
- How we maintain knowledge - we are not the first to think about this - but we are interested in how mature repositories of knowledge like wikipedia and flickr are maintained now and in the future (what does a 100 year strategy look like?)
- The challenge of maintaining ‘Internet of Things’ sensor networks in Northern England in the face of encroaching wind, rain and moss
- The growth market of adult nappies as a failure to maintain the social safety net
It can feel tough to be a maintainer living in the UK at the moment. Facilities like swimming pools—previously run by local authorities, now increasingly outsourced—are closing due to high maintenance and energy costs. Around 800 public libraries (17% of the UK total) have closed between 2010–2020. Our ageing Victorian sewers are regularly dumping raw sewage into rivers, lakes and seas.
However, it also feels that this is a moment of growing public recognition—and righteous anger—about what happens when these infrastructures are not maintained.
We do not structure our societies and systems for maintainability in many cases. Private assets such as housing are built to generate wealth quickly, not to create lasting homes and communities. Great progress has been made by the Right to Repair movement, but it exists because the ways we finance, build and distribute electronic items drive minimised-cost manufacturing for a ‘fast fashion’ market.
We’re proud of what we’ve achieved. It has been so exciting for us to witness Maintainers finding the commonalities of maintenance practices across disciplines – how difficult it is to demonstrate value, or of feeling overlooked by new, shiny but ultimately unsustainable products or other innovations.
We have had some wonderful feedback from our audiences / attendees:
“Festival of Maintenance is my go to for fresh ideas, deep thinking and out of the ordinary connections. Going one layer deeper into the process really helps to understand other systems and worlds deeply, which is hard to achieve these days.”
“To me and from where I am coming from at work, maintenance as a concept feels like an unmapped and really fertile territory - just fascinating ideas all the way through.”
“The way that maintenance can encompass such a wide range of things, but that with some good programming choices (which you've made in both years) coherence emerges from the talks, and after two years it feels clear that it is a way of framing the world that makes sense, especially for the moment we are in (particularly climate emergency but also the unmaintained state of our democracy)”
“This marvellous Festival is a reminder to us all that if we don't maintain what we already have we'll have no way of maintaining our futures”
“Maintenance isn’t sexy but it’s about as important to our futures as sex”
We’ve enjoyed working with our international partners – in particular the Maintainers in the US, who have long been our supporters and allies.
Whilst maintenance has been a subject of academic interest for a while, we sense that this is picking up pace. All too often we only notice the importance of maintenance when its activities have decreased, or stopped altogether. In the face of a fraying social safety net for many, there are some lively debates about how we maintain ourselves and each other.
We want to thank our supporters
Maker Assembly, the Software Sustainability Institute, Kickstarter, IT Jobs Watch, Maintain Our Heritage
Simon Elmer, Natalie D Kane, Alanna Irving, David Edgerton, Hazel Forsyth, Alex Mecklenberg, Mike Green, the Guerilla Groundsman, Lauren Hutchinson, Adrian McEwen, Oliver Holtaway, Chris Mills, Daria Cybulska, Lee Vinsel, Chris Hellawell, Jake Harries, Michele Williams, Janet Gunter, Jeni Tenison, Mujib Rahman, Tom Forth, Shannon Mattern, Chris Adams, Donna Young, Ben Ward, Juliet Davies, Tom van Deinjen, Mia Ridge, Edward Saul, Indy Johar, Stephanie Hoopes, Jamie Hale, Lydia Nicholas, Paulina Kolata, Phoebe Tickell, Liz Slade, James Higgott, Andy Dudfield, George Oates.
And everyone in our team or who has worked to make our events happen over the years
Marc Barto, John Grant, Alex Lennon, Calen Cole, Jen McArthur, Ross Dalziel, Zarino Zappa, Jackie Pease, Laura James, Naomi Turner.