Return to the Nottingham Hackspace
In late 2009, I started to learn about Hackerspaces and in early 2010 I put together a meetup.com group called Nottinghack, created a twitter account and started trying to generate interest in a group to meet-up with the idea of creating a “Hackspace” in Nottingham.
Nearly 10 years later, the Nottingham Hackspace Ltd is one of the worlds largest such organisations with a big membership, a wide ranging suite of tools and lots of infrastructure to manage and a turnover of around £5k to £7k a month.
Earlier this year it was revealed that outgoing expenses, especially rent costs, outstripped income at the Nottingham Hackspace. A huge effort of educations and information was launched as a result, and many members have made one-off donations as well as increasing their membership standing order. It’s always been a point of pride at the Nottingham Hackspace that membership costs are “Pay what you can afford” with the emphasis on thinking carefully about what the hackspace is worth to you and what you can afford to contribute. The pros and cons of that model are a whole post on their own so I won’t go into it.
At this stage the space seems to have had a good response to the situation, and its unlikely that the space will go bankrupt, however it’s by no means out of the woods. The lack of money means that the space may struggle financially (currently in around running out of backup funds in March 2020 on the 10th anniversary of the space) and the space is effectively in a state of austerity, further fuelling the “lets find people who work for free, lets get stuff that cost us nothing (see my post “donated tools, the cost of free”) including more furniture finds from the skip and hand-me-downs of dubious quality. Whilst free stuff isn’t always bad, for me it goes against my main driver for the space, which is the collective mission to source workspace and tools better than one could access alone.
The space has been undergoing some very stressful situations on an emotional labour level as well, and it was whilst attending some members meetings, that I started to get the impression that the Nottingham Hackspace no longer moves forward to a unified idea. The idea of WHY we have a space was at best lost and at worst, held individually, undiscussed and unquestioned in 700 odd different forms by 700 odd different members, this felt especially true amongst the hardworking trustees, who form the essential default “leadership” of this flat non-hierarchy organisation. Remember a leader, a manager and an owner are NOT the same thing.
When one of the 7 trustees was banned as a member and stepped down as a trustee, a sort of “by-election” was called to fill his spot until the end of his term (May 2020). After some very careful consideration and seeking advise from other Hackerspace directors around the country. I decided to return to the space. I know many of the members were pleased to hear I was going to do this, because they told me. I know that a few other members may have been less than thrilled, a situation I also accept.
It’s to the members who might have, very justified, reservations about my return that I wish to speak now. It has long been a regret of mine that the Nottingham Hackspace and being a catalyst for the start of this fantastic space has been my best and most proud achievement, but also a source of great disappointment and anguish to me over the years. This year I’ve had great cause to reflect on my own attitudes to my work and my behaviour around the things I do and how they have affected me. I’ve had to learn to change and be more accepting of the things I’ve done and the things that could be held up as successes. I have a tendency to be hard on myself, which can result in me being extra hard on the things I hold as achievements. With the Hackspace it’s got to the point where I either needed to embrace it, sickness and all or move on. I’ve chosen embrace. It is my absolute desire to have a good outcome from my next, ongoing interaction with the space. This means a commitment to no drama, listening to others as well as being true to my own convictions. It will be a lesson for me in compromise, so long a dirty word to me and also a lesson in patience. I feel utterly ready for this challenge.
On Saturday 7th September I learned that I had been elected. Only 100 of our 700 members voted. Immediately the process of reinstating me into the trustee team began. I’ve already attended a very emotionally strenuous trustee meeting where matters of huge and difficult consequence were carefully debated by the 7 elected officers of the organisation.
Just before taking office, it occurred to me that my perception of the WHO of hackspace might be out of date. Observationally I’d already noticed that the membership of the space was skewing much older than it had 10 years previously. Given that all the original participants in the space are themselves 10 years older, there is (anecdotally) a much older core membership now than there was before. Where have they come from? Well that too has changed. Amongst the trustees none of them have come out through what I think of as The Maker Movement. They are not readers of Hackaday and Makezine, they don’t watch Adafruit, Becky Stern and Tom Scott videos, they don’t play with Arduino and they’d never heard of Pimoroni. During discussion, informing trustees of the London Hackspace of an action was discussed. One trustee genuinely didn’t know how we’d contact them as they’d never had any interaction with anyone from another Hackerspace. Most of the other trustees have never been to another A very different situation to that of the past.
I'm super excited and ready for this new challenge. I’d very much welcome comments and thoughts on this experience.