Starting a Hackerspace in the UK
If you're thinking of starting a hackspace in the UK, here's some advice which we've found useful:
The first steps we recommend for people attempting to start a new space are the following:
Check for nearby spaces, try not to reinvent the wheel or to funnel members away from other spaces. If needed give a focus to the new space that a nearby space does not have. Also they might have a non-pub space to loan.
Check other local groups that are not hackspaces or technical. Residents association, community groups, sewing clubs, ... they might not understand Hackspaces yet but they do understand community.
Set up some form of web presence stating your goals.
You need a way to discuss your space online, in a permanent, long-form way: most people use a mailing list for this. Don't agonise over the service - the easiest way is the best. Most UK spaces use Google Groups. Your mailing list shouldn't require approval to join, and the archives should be public so people can easily get involved. South London Makerspace have had success using Discourse for this, but self-hosting an instance requires a fair amount of work.
A real-time chat method is also a good idea - most groups use IRC on Freenode. The realtime aspect of IRC creates relationships between members who have not even met yet. Avoid Slack, your historical logs aren't accessible unless you pay.
Spam the hell out of every local (or semi-local) geek mailing list with a stirring "We will fight them on the beaches" style email about the need for a hackerspace. We can give you examples if need be!
If you can't think of any groups to contact, look harder, they're always there. Good places to contact are local schools (talk to the I.T. and D&T teachers, even if there are no interested students then the teachers themselves might be up for it), get in contact with societies at nearby Universities, and see if the departments at the University might let you send and email to all the students in their dept. You want to target the Computer Science, Chemistry, Maths, Physics and Engineering departments. Look for local sci-fi/gaming groups, they always tend to be a good source of Hackers.
Don't push any specific angle, eg electronics or software, just be open to people learning, making and breaking things.
Organise some meetings
Once you have a fair number of people on the mailing list you should organise some meetings:
If you can (and you think you have enough people), announce that you have meetings either once a month or fortnightly. I prefer fortnightly as it'll get the community going faster, but either will do. Try and stick to a regular day if you can, and make sure that day doesn't clash with anything obvious...
Get a pub back room - most pubs will give them to you for free on quiet evenings, and in the worst case you'll have to drink enough to make it worth their while (which generally isn't a problem). Back rooms are great as you can generally whip out the soldering gear without them minding too much, and you won't get weird looks from other people in the pub when loads of laptops appear.
When you have meetings, pitch them as "come and hack/socialise, we're a group of people who want to do this in a hackerspace one day", not "come and plan how we'll build our hackerspace" - planning meetings for hackerspaces get boring and repetitive very quickly. Build the community and the space organisation will happen naturally as long as everyone there wants it.
That last point is REALLY important, focus on the community first and foremost, the space cannot exist without it. Spend several months building up a group of people who want to hack together and it'll work brilliantly. Don't even start planning the physical space until you have a community of enough people to make it viable.
When it comes to setting up mailing lists/blogs/websites, getting it done quickly and in an easy to use manner matters much more than doing it "properly" on your own servers. A google group is fine for the first few months, as is a tumblr blog and everything else. When you have a group and you're not spending all your time evangelising the hackerspace you can migrate! (It's a bit controversial this one, but we've seen many people waste time setting things up and writing code.)
If you'd like a subdomain of .hackspace.org.uk pointing somewhere, let us know.
The recommended way to organise a hackspace is as a community-run non-profit co-operative: Nobody receives any profit, every member has a vote in the running of the organisation, and there's a democratically-elected, volunteer board of trustees which handles the administrative stuff. In UK company terms, this structure is a "Company Limited by Guarantee".
Many Hackspaces don't have any insurance in their early days, but as you expand / incorporate, you'll probably want a basic policy covering:
- Public Liability
- Employer Liability (normally just to cover volunteers working on the space itself)
Hackspaces/Makerspaces throughout the UK face a similar challenge in terms of finding the right level of insurance cover for an affordable price. Many insurers do not understand what these spaces are, and thus how to insure them correctly. This can result in a failure to quote, unaffordable pricing and/or insufficient cover.
As a first step, a large number of spaces collaborated in early 2016 to establish a "master scheme" that other groups can opt into. The selected broker, Export and General, has since created a bespoke suite of insurance products which are suitable makerspaces / hackspaces.
From Export and General...
It has taken a year of negotiation with insurers and a couple of false starts, but what we have now got is secure, stable and NOT subject to change. The pricing grid looks like this:
- Public and Products Liability (£5m) - £183.27
- Trustees Indemnity - £161.56
- Legal Expenses - £25.99
- Employers' Liability (£10m)* - £81.46
- Contents is calculated at £12 per £1,000 of value (plus 12% tax).
- Buildings cover is arranged on a case-by-case basis. (As an example, for a Hackspace we recently added cover for a 40ft x 10ft portacabin for £95.00).
(*There will some ‘scaling ‘ of the premiums (particularly for Employers’ Liability) for the larger makerspaces, but we have tried to set the base price at an ‘average’ level which will be suitable for most).
There may be some Hackspaces / Makerspaces which feel that we didn’t really deliver last year, but that was because were weren’t entirely confident of the situation with the insurers (as noted above). Now we are – and we are administering the products ourselves, so we are confident that turn-around for quotes and cover will be hours, not days (or weeks!) as we don’t need to refer everything backwards and forwards to insurers.
We are also working on a new website for policy administration, access to documentation and risk management info - we have made a start, so watch this space: http://www.exportandgeneral.co.uk/hackspace-community-group-insurance.php
See the Forum topic on Insurance for more info or to ask questions: https://forum.hackspace.org.uk/t/hackspace-insurance/278
Any Other Questions?
- Join the Forum
- Email us contact (at) hackspace (dot) org (dot) uk