Hackspace: Nottingham

6 March 13 words: Zoe Ashton
Oi! London, ours is bigger than yours
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Nottingham Hackers

How did Nottingham Hackspace start and what exactly is the ‘HackSpace’?
Dominic: We started in February 2010 and it was just a website inviting people who were interested in doing ‘this’,. It’s quite hard to describe what exactly ‘this’ is, but we wanted to gather people who were interested in making things, so we used the word ‘hack’ as an umbrella term. Hack really means to take something and adapt it for your own use, and that’s where the word hacker comes from.

Where do you guys meet?
Dominic: At first we met up in pubs, and then we moved into a space on Station Street in August 2010. The hundred pounds a week rent was quite a big deal at the time, because we didn’t have any money, and that seemed really scary! Then we moved to our current premises in May 2011, with only 22 members but in almost two years, our membership has increased to 144. Our income at the time was considerably less than the cost of rent, but by being brave, I think it’s driven us forwards. Looking back, it’s almost impossible to believe we got here, because it’s just such a great space – almost 4500 square feet, giving us the largest hackspace area in the UK.

James: Just by moving to our current premises, our membership was going up by one or two a month, and then it skyrocketed and we got about 25 new members in the first month. It was up from there.

The word hack can have quite a negative connotation of some dude in a dark, stuffy room causing chaos to computer systems, which is just the opposite of the Hackspace – what made you choose the word hack?
We chose the word hack for several reasons, primarily because other places existed that were called hacker spaces and we wanted to align ourselves with those places around the world. There was already a big hackspace in London who coined the word originally; it was an idea that was developing at that time. We thought calling it makerspace or hacklab, but by calling it hackspace, a lot of the work had already been done.

How does membership work?
Dominic: Members pay what they like, as long as they pay for what they’re using.

James: They pay for what they think the space is worth. They don’t have to do it for any period of time, or pay the same amount each month. They can go up if they’re particularly active one month and down if they’re not.  

Dominic: Yes, members always ask, ‘ how much is it’? But they have to think about that, because it’s really important. It’s about people paying what they can actually afford, that they’ve thought about what the facilities are worth to them. They’re more likely to stay and invest  in the Hackspace, as almost like a cooperative or a shareholder would, and grow with us.

Wednesdays from 6.30 are the free open nights, what happens then?
Dominic: Anyone can turn up and use the space for “free” - within reason, of course. The normal rules about membership apply, but essentially anyone can come and try the space out for free.

James: Members can give tours if people want to look around or talk about membership. It’s a time when everyone is willing and it has become a bit of a social thing. Wednesday nights grew out of the pub night, and it’s almost expected now that Wednesday night is hack night.

What’s unusual about the Hackspace?
Dominic: A lot of people who come to the Hackspace for the first time struggle with the idea of opening times. There could be fifty people here, but that doesn’t mean we’re ‘open’, because it’s nobody’s responsibility to look after people who aren’t members. Members can bring any number of guests they want to, as long as they conform to the rule that they are paying for what they get. We’ve got the balance between being a good cheap resource for the community and also being a members’ club, where people can access a great workshop twenty four hours a day. Having said that, there is no authority figure here and we try to keep a hierarchy out of it; every member has a say on what goes on.

Also, any member can run a creativeworkshop. We have a google group where a lot of discussion happens and generally speaking people will say ‘I know how to make so and so and I’ll come and show people how to do it’. What we always try to do is if we’re charging for that workshop, is assign a certain area for them, a bit for the Hackspace and give good value for the attendees. We call it the win/win/win. We have little rules for everything!

What can people do at the space?
Dominic: As for activities, we want to make it clear that we don’t provide activities as such, you come and provide the activity. We recommend anyone that is coming to bring a project. If you had a room in your house that you could just open up and would have all the tools you want to use, and you could use it the way you want to use it, as long as you’re being considerate to your housemates and the world and everything else, then it would be here. We have a rule that says talk is cheap, and what that really means is, instead of saying ‘I think you should paint the kitchen blue’, just go and paint the kitchen blue. We developed this philosophy quite early on: if you want something, then go and do it.

What’s the weirdest thing to be made or done at the Hack Space?
James: Someone extracted DNA from a banana. People make weird props, some of those are quite strange.

Dominic: We had chocolate covered bacon; people make quite a lot of in-jokes things. Michael is currently working on a robot which can mimic knowing the difference between cheese and petrol, which comes from a Mitchell and Webb sketch. And we did laser-cut some seaweed – that was disgusting.

James: Dominic makes things into lamps. Pretty much anything he can get his hands on he’ll turn into a lamp.

On Dominic’s advice I hunted down a couple of members and grabbed a quick word with David Clarke, trustee and newer member Adam Froggatt.

David, how did you become involved in the space?
I joined up about eighteen months ago, because I wanted something to do, and I got really involved in the place. My name was put forward for trustee. I do a lot of organising, and there’s so much here to do. My background is electronic engineering which I studied at university in the dark ages! I’ve been working with computers since. I do things with little computers, as well as other little projects and here I’m maintaining and fixing tools, sorting components, and just generally “hacking the space”.

Adam, you’re in Nottingham on work placement from university, how did you become involved?
I’ve only lived in Nottingham since mid-July and I became a member a month or so after, when I found it on Reddit and came down and had a look. I thought, yeah I could do some cool things here. At the minute (and this is incredibly nerdy) but in April there is a video game convention in Nottingham where people dress up, and I’m making my costume. I’ve also made a full size prop flame thrower, for free, scavenged from bits. I would never have been able to do this anywhere else. This is where I come to escape.

Nottingham Hackspace is in the creative quarter of Nottingham, Unit F6 Roden House Business Centre, Roden St, Nottingham, NG3 1JH. Open Hack nights are Wednesdays from 6.30pm.

Nottingham Hackspace website


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