Creating a network of hackspaces in the Thames Valley region

Hello everyone! I’ve been considering the density of hackspaces not far from Oxford for a while and how we can best support each other to grow and exchange skills. I initially started thinking about this when the EMPs were announced two years ago at EMFCamp. Organising a Thames Valley EMP has been a slow process due to many reasons but with EMF cancelled this year I’m really keen to push for one next spring. But that’s not the point of the post.

What I would like to focus on is the support EOF Hackspace has been getting from nearby hackspaces and how during this lockdown a lot of the activities have moved online. Throughout the last year many hackspaces have reached out to donate unwanted equipment that has helped us grow our offering. We have a few skill shares every week on our discord server and that’s amazing! But I’m sure there’s lots of small pockets of exchanges happening on all the online platforms. As we slowly return to the real world, I don’t think it’s a stretch to start organising some of these exchanges face to face.

So how to determine what would be a good exchange? I’m thinking something like a quarterly meetup at a designated hackspace where a few workshops are taught (one day of workshops). I’m also considering a shared regional communication platform. And obviously a regular EMP somewhere in a field over a weekend. I’m very flexible with suggestions.

Now what determines the region? I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this. Again I’m very flexible but I’m also Oxford centric as I’m not wanting this idea to be diluted until it’s unimplementable. The first thing that came to mind was the Thames Valley Police encatchment area, but that excludes some really cool hackspaces in the region such as Swindon and Basingstoke. So I was looking for other arbitrary points of reference and the idea is that I’d like to focus on the area of South East Engand near Oxford. With the impending climate apocalipse, I looked at what rail lines are around and Didcot Parkway station links a lot of the major regional hackspaces. So it’s arbitrary, but it’s as good as it could get. It would encompas the tight cluster of spaces around Reading, but also include other hackspaces within about an hour driving distance. And as we find our footing I’m sure we can find where the centre of the cluster moves.

Proposed benefits of the network:

  • regular inter hackspace meetups (quarterly?)
  • skills exchanges and networking opportunities
  • travelling tools, especially for smaller spaces
  • start online collaborations and have a decent chance of bringing them into real world meetups
  • common communication platform for online interests
  • accessing UKHSF funding to support regional events
  • have a geographical focus for any potential EMPs
  • tools donation distribution from external sources

I’m proposing some ideas but I would expect interested parties to come together and see where we can find common ground.

I would love to hear your thoughts, and if you are part of the described region please mention the hackspace you are part of to get an idea of interest.

I think this is an interesting idea, London has had a similar network for the last few years as Liz Corbin setup the website originally in London with the intention of expanding it to other regions, the website includeds Hackspaces, Makerspaces, Fab Labs and other Maker communities in a broader coalition to share learnings, experience and cross-refer members for different resources.

This network website accompanies a London chapeter which has a meetup group called OWL (Open Workshop London). This meetup happens quarterly and invites, staff, directors, trustees or other people operating open workshops to meetup. Basingstoke often attends these.

The group cycles through spaces on a tour, followed by sharing experiences, questions and news as a way to create collaboration, while members are not invited we’ve talked about parallel events for members. So far that has materialised in an annual OWL Boat Race in Angel where spaces follow rules and categories to build a boat and race in a canal to the end point. The winner of the previous year adds a tier to the award through found materials in their workshop before handing it over to the care of the next space.

It’s been a lot of fun for those involved!

If it were met, I’d suggest trying to use existing structures like HSF and OWN to kick this off, that way we could try and formalise these to help other regions in future. For example you could create a Open Workshop Thames Valey Meetup group and use the format we already have, you could also make use of the OWN website to map these spaces in addition to already existing on HSF.

The only reason I am not suggesting HSF creating a meetup is because it’s been repeatedly made clear that HSF members only want to focus on a very narrow view of what Hackspaces should be, and while obviously you don’t want corporations profitteering from volunteers, the reality is that hasn’t really happened with OWL/OWN, but there is a lot of benfit for spaces collaborating in different business models as it helps them to understand what other options might be available to them when they hit hard times or want to grow.

Obviously as I now run these sites I have a bias to thinking they’re worth while but what I would say is I don’t see the need to use HSF funding for this, the OWL meetings operate by having all the attendees bring sharing food and drink at which point usually @DermotJones shares out the bread and we break it around a table for a nice social evening.

Point being you don’t need lots of resources, money or attractions, just pick a space, invite people along, and have a short agenda, something like this that we use for OWL:

  • Tour of space
  • Introductions
    Name, space Ice breaker
  • News from the spaces
  • Themed conversation: (Insurance, Safety, Fund Raising, etc…)
  • Next meeting
  • Thanks to Host
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