Homeless Whangārei Makers and Breakers

Monday Girls Lab Group.

Wanted: A playground for Whangārei geeks.

For the past six years, a group of curious young minds have gathered in Whangārei to expand and challenge their curiosity, but now they are homeless.

Questionable Research Labs (QRL) was founded by computer science and psychology professor Dr. Kevin Waugh as a coding club, evolving into a club of technohackers before settling as QRL on the ground floor floor of Manaia House.

He describes it as an incubator of ideas where children can feel comfortable.

Questionable Research Labs is described as an incubator of ideas where children can feel comfortable.
Questionable Research Labs is described as an incubator of ideas where children can feel comfortable.

“It’s a space for the geek, maker and breaker in all of us. It’s where kids can be curious and try out different ideas. We play with everything science, design and technology. engineering.”

However, the non-profit youth science and technology education hub is now desperately looking for new premises to continue offering its free daytime, after-school and evening classes before losing its current location, on the verge of to undergo a refit at the end of the month.

Waugh said they had been looking for a new location for six months. However, there had been a lack of community space in the town and a presentation to Whangārei District Council in the hope of finding a new premises had so far revealed no suitable site.

The more than 100 members and Kevin Waugh (center) of Questionable Research Labs will be homeless at the end of January.
The more than 100 members and Kevin Waugh (center) of Questionable Research Labs will be homeless at the end of January.

“We hope to find a commercial landlord with vacant space that we can animate with our vibrant community until a new tenant is found,” Waugh said.

“Our dream space will be: open space for teaching and activities; large – so we can fit the size available so there is no ‘too big’; central – walkable from school and bus access and easy pick-up for parents; cheap – token rentals. Plus it would be dedicated – a space we can leave set up, rather than packing each session.”

QRL’s kaupapa is to empower young Northlanders with problem-solving skills for the future by providing a “self-managed geek playground” – almost completely free and run by volunteers.

About 100 active children and young people, aged 8 to 18, participate in five after-school groups and two evening groups. There are also adult and teen weekends and multi-day events. Last year, despite the closures, more than 4,500 participants were connected to the courses.

Questionable Research Labs is looking for a new open teaching space.
Questionable Research Labs is looking for a new open teaching space.

They included tech/art and craft classes dedicated to girls, hackathons, presentations by Kiwi tech experts, projects involving coding, robotics, art, short film competitions, GovHacks, the biology, as well as many Minecraft. In addition to after-school education for young people already enrolled in public schools, QRL provides a place where homeschooled children can mingle and learn together. Over the years, her tutors have helped learners complete quirky projects like a three-seater sofa, test and revise pulse oximeters, and build a vaccine certificate scanning kiosk. They also supported autonomous robots, designing and printing on 3D printers, playing games, and most importantly, socializing and having fun.

Waugh, who describes himself as a “science geek”, started the club when his own children were looking for an outlet for their interests in computers and, “It’s been a slowly changing format ever since.”

He believes that making experimentation fun and pushing boundaries is how young people learn best and he loves to see the light come on when they work on ideas.

“Our experiences combine art, design, science and engineering. Technology is where all of these interests intersect. We are always playing with ideas and there are many that have the potential to become a reality that could make money.”

QRL members play with all things science, design and engineering.
QRL members play with all things science, design and engineering.

Members also participate in national and international competitions with a group of teenagers competing against college students and professional developers, winning first and second place. For an event, they designed and created from scratch “Zap Chess” – a chess game with moving magnetized squares that zap players with electric shocks if they don’t move their chess pieces fast enough.

Former members went on to college and studied various subjects such as astrophysics, computer science, medical sciences, engineering, and media studies.

Creation of robotic vehicles members of QRL.
Creation of robotic vehicles members of QRL.

“It’s always interesting to see what they do with their lives,” said Waugh, whose eldest son is currently in college taking a double major in computer science/psychology while working for the developing University of software. His youngest son is one of the active members.

School holidays are a busy time for the club when young people meet in meeting rooms and collaborate on projects. People come throughout the day and meet informally and the club has just completed its program for these holidays.

Since its inception, QRL has operated on a shoestring budget, supported by patrons, and also hopes to find a major new sponsor, or multiple sponsors, to enable it to continue offering its services at an affordable price.

For more information visit: www.questionable.org.nz

Comments are closed.