INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
MAKERS' COLLECTIVE THRIVES IN FORMER LIGHTING FACTORY

On tour with Richard Ainsworth, Rodhus founder and director.

Celebrating its second birthday this February, Rodhus Studios firmly establishes itself as Brighton's leading collaborative workspace for artists and makers.

Set in an old lighting factory on the outskirts of the city, Rodhus is run by Richard Ainsworth, the former director of Horsell Electrics, a lighting company set up by his grandfather in London in the 1950s. Changing trends in the manufacturing industry led Richard to sell the family business, leaving him with a 16,000 square foot space in which to start a new venture.

Richard recognised the lack of collaborative creative space in Brighton for rent and, unhappy with the idea of selling the old factory to be redeveloped for housing, he formulated an idea. Adamant that the factory space would continue to be used for the act of "making" in the sense of craftsmen using their hands to produce, Richard founded Rodhus in 2011 on the old Horsell Electrics' Sussex factory site.

"At its height the lighting factory employed 40 people," Richard said. "I just wanted to see the space continue to be used as a factory. We now have around 70 people working here."

"I went up to Cockpit Arts in London for two days of coaching. It's an amazing place that has an incubator programme for growing businesses. That was the model I always wanted to bring here."

Rodhus has studios for makers from many disciplines. Current artists include wood turners and ceramicists, yarn dyers, prop and furniture makers, interior accessory and lighting designers.

"My original plan was to have open plan units where people would work together, collaborate and talk to each other. I trialled four partitioned units and they were immediately snapped up, so I built more. People also want to be able to shut the door on the space."

Walking into the interior of the factory I was surprised at its economical layout. Neatly boxed off studios allow for personal focus and create a labyrinth of industriousness within a shared larger space.

"When I started this, I thought I would fill the space with furniture makers, joiners, that sort of thing, but when I went to Cockpit I met milliners, jewellery and textile designers and found a whole new world of people I could approach." The two-story building now houses around 36 organisations.

In essence, Rodhus is a community of creative businesses under one roof, a collaboration that allows for cheaper overheads and the added benefit of interdisciplinary influence and support.

Italian ceramicist Roberto Gagliano was one of the first artists to move into Rodhus and set up his pottery studio. Adjacent to the kilns, shelves of pots, vases and bowls line the walls of a workshop out of which Roberto also runs his popular pottery courses. Around 50 people a week learn how to throw, sculpt and glaze clay objects.

"On a Monday Roberto's studio is full of people who wouldn't normally come to a place like this, all making things," said Richard. Roberto also collaborates with well-established artist, Dan Baldwin, for whom he throws pots to decorate.

"There is a real sense of organic collaboration within the factory," Richard explained. "Dan Baldwin did a project using

96 tiles made by Roberto. He laid them out in the studio and needed something to hang them on, so Tom next door made him a frame. Interesting collaborations do develop which is one of the benefits of being here."

Next door, a long workshop dedicated to contemporary furniture and cabinet making, is filled with band saws and planes that whir against the hands of carpenter Tom Robinson. Tom crafts and supplies a full range of wooden furniture from his Rodhus studio, including the odd eco-coffin.

The Uncommon Thread, run by craftswoman Ce Persiano, exports hand-dyed natural yarns around the world. Skeins of yarn hang drying on the walls and at the centre of her studio buckets full of dye mark the start of the making process. Since joining Rodhus in 2011, Ce has moved from a small studio into a larger one to accommodate her growing business.

Lab Rat is a new venture from reclamation sculptor Jules. Using surplus and found objects he sculpts cyber inspired objects and lamps giving new meaning to materials often discarded as junk.

"I use anything given and found. Trouble is I hoard so much stuff that I run out of space. I come in everyday and there is always something else on the table," said Jules.

The aspiring lighting designer's latest lamp is an amalgamation of microphone stands from a recording studio, a Smart car air vent, Buzz Lightyear's feet, and his own discarded asthma inhalers. The result is a War of the Worlds-esque fully adjustable light with a mohawk. Following a commission, Jules is now collecting salvage to build a five-foot version of the creature.

Around the corner an antique pump organ stands waiting to be played. Alongside a life sized male figure dressed in morning suit and top hat, the factory is a treasure trove of macabre objects acquired for some new creative purpose.

Upstairs Build Brighton operates as a hack space for ingenuitive technologists who make robots, 3D printers and gadgets. "They organise the Maker Faire in Brighton held annually in September," explained Richard. The faire is a festival of creativity and invention.

Only two years since its conception, Rodhus is a vibrant community of local makers. Richard Ainsworth's shared workspace provides a much needed hub for makers to develop and grow their businesses from.

Following his Cockpit Art based model, Richard will offer practical workshops for makers and designers on how to establish and run their own businesses. His venture Find Magnetic North will tutor new organisations on essential skills such as finance and marketing.

"I've thought about expansion, but an idea I want to explore is the business support side of things and that's where Magnetic North comes in. We will launch with a set of workshops. My long-term aim would be to take another building and establish another thriving creative community. I have also been investigating opening a pop-up shop in central Brighton to exhibit and sell the collective products of the artists and makers at Rodhus and to gain exposure for the community."

For Richard, the creative re-use of his old lighting factory means that he can continue to run a business that produces hand-made products and also supports artists and makers.

Sarah Roberts, Features Editor