Take an old forge built in 1863, combine a love for science and creativity and you get the Gasworks: an education and technology hub in a heavy metal setting. Ann Cronin learnt blacksmithing at home in Ireland’s County Clare. Arriving in Dunedin in 2013, it wasn’t long before this iron maiden discovered the all-but forgotten Gasworks forge and saw potential in a neighbourhood with a lot of heart. In its industrial machinery heyday a place where lives, not just things, were made, a place of story-telling and community, “I didn’t want to let it languish,” says Ann. So, she set about fanning the funding embers, ensuring the building had a chance at a second life. Beating things into shape, like Thor in a frock.
Blagging some used computers, the Gasworks team installed gigabit wifi and in six months things really started to take off. Science, technology and maths have never looked so much fun: Minecraft Club teaches 5-12 year olds online safety and positive digital citizenship; there’s coding, animation and robotics, quiz nights, live music and Irish weaving classes. Everything has a make-y theme. “When you make something, it might not be perfect, but you made it,” says Anne, by day a psychology PhD student who appreciates the mental health benefits of hands-on doing.
Blacksmith trainees go home tired and happy, arms aching, having experienced the thrill of taming red hot steel and that “bar to art feeling” − taking a plain piece of metal and transforming it. There’s also some really, really bad dancing. Sparking imagination and invention, not instead of, but alongside its historical first purpose; fire in its belly, filled with people and slightly hammered, the old building can hardly keep the smile off its face.
22 Braemar Street | Behind Countdown on Andy Bay Road, Dunedin 9012, New Zealand