Over the last 18 months we have built up a community of like-minded people through face-to-face meetups, project shares, workshops and an online group where we communicate and discuss ideas and projects. We have been trying to grow slow and steady and now have about 40 members.
In August 2016 we got the keys to our very own premises - at Lion House, St George’s Works, Muspole Street in Norwich. We started with minimal equipment but we had two essentials – a Just Add Sharks A2 Greyfin laser cutter and an Ultimaker 2 3D printer. Since then, we have been working hard to build up our armoury of tools. We now have a good selection, from the laser cutter and 3D printer, to a mortiser, metal mill and lathes plus lots of handtools, a welder, a vinyl cutter and an electronics area. See our equipment list here, which is growing all the time
The space is spread over several rooms, including a wood and metal workshop, a ‘clean’ workshop for less messy activities, a main room where non-dusty activity such as 3D printing and laser cutting happens, and a ‘quiet room’, including computers and interactive whiteboard for teaching and workshops. We also have a storage area, where members have boxes to store materials, components and projects for use at the hackspace. All of this has been put together by members on a voluntary basis - and by combining our knowledge we’ve achieved quite a lot.
Members work on their own projects, in small groups or on group projects or challenges. We share knowledge, equipment and skills.
At the space we have a small stock of laser-safe plywood and acrylic, 3D printing filament and electronic components available to buy in the Hackspace shop, as well as a selection of drinks and snacks. A current project is the restoration of two vending machines - we hope to furnish these with a variety of electronic and mechanical components for members to purchase.
To make a hackspace work well so that it is safe and pleasant to use as well as being able to accommodate a wide range of interests, it needs some management. From the experience of other hackspaces, it works best if the responsibility for management and maintenance is spread over its members.
We aim to create a community where individuals take responsibility for the hackspace as a whole and everyone is involved in improving the space. To make decision-making viable, there is a small team of core members who are entrusted to listen to the members and makes decisions accordingly. We also have 'Tsars' who have agreed to take responsibility for a particular area or activity because they have some expertise*. We use the app Slack to communicate with each other when we are not physically in the space and that enables us to discuss decisions, ideas and plans.
There are house rules which new members agree to when they join. We aim to keep rules to a minimum, ensuring the safe running of the hackspace whilst allowing maximum freedom. New members are introduced gradually to the space so they learn what is acceptable practice and how we do things. People are ultimately responsible for their own safety and that of other members too.
*there are not legally responsible however
The hackspace of course has costs - rent, bills, insurance, purchasing equipment and materials etc. We fund the hackspace core costs though monthly member subs as we think this gives us a more sustainable future than depending on public funding. We occasionally apply for funding for specific equipment or projects but our basic costs come from membership. We have been lucky enough to have been offered a favourable lease by developers and entrepreneurs Architekton who are developing the areas either side of Duke Street. This has enabled us to get started. We expect to be able to use our premises for at least 3 years taking us to 2020 which should give us time to build up a strong membership and some reserves for when we need to move.
Our current membership subscription is a minimum of £15 a month and some members pay more if they can afford to or if they use the space a lot. We have a bank account and the money is used to pay the basic costs and to enable us to invest in materials and equipment whilst we save as much as we can for the future when we may need to pay a more commercial rate of rent..
As well as equipment bought by the Hackspace, we also sometimes buy through pledges. Pledges are basically the same as a crowdfunder such as Kickstarter. The monthly subs pay for the regular running costs of the hackspace but pledges pay for one off equipment purchases. If enough members want something, a member creates a pledge for a new bit of kit, say 3D printer costing £500 and once that target is reached (say 10 members might pledge £50) the printer would be bought and become owned by the hackspace for use by all members. We have recently bought a milling machine that way. The whole membership needs a consensus to buy larger pieces of equipment as we have limited space, even if only a proportion of members contribute. We also often get donations of equipment or agree to buy from hackspace funds if we feel we can.
As well the website we have a Meetup group of over 420 people who are interested in the hackspace but are not necessarily fully-fledged, paid-up members who attend the space. It is a good way to keep in touch with the Hackspace if you are not ready to become a full member. We also have a Facebook page