Definition and status of Hackspaces

IMHO a continued non-acceptance of Reading shows a level of arrogance and hypocrisy. Their membership had a recent opportunity to change the structure and the consensus was to retain the existing one.

How can you justify excluding an organization for doing what their members asked because it doesn’t fit your cookie cutter outlook of the way you think it should be? Pressuring people (orgs) to conform is not really in the maker ethos, is it?

I’m sorry but we have no idea what you’re talking about. We haven’t got ANY official members yet and Reading Hackspace (rLab) is listed on the front page of the website. In what sense are we “not accepting Reading”?

The agenda for the recent meeting reaffirms that it will be treated as a 2nd class org, unless that was changed in the meeting? Minutes don’t seem to be available yet

Hey there,

Unfortunately it appears that there’s been some misinterpretation.

Please remember that what you read on the website can be intended in a different way to which you’re reading it. No-one is perfect at the english language, even what we say could accidentally come across as aggressive or offensive.

Also remember that there’s been many ways in which people could get involved and this is all done voluntarily, please mind the tone and wording used in your text, we’re all here with good intentions and assume good faith.

There’s nothing reaffirmed, and while the minutes get sorted out, I can assure you that as an attendee of the meeting, it was seen that the ‘definition of hackspace’ that is published currently is not actually, fully, intended as a ‘definition’ of what it means to be a hackspace, more so it is closer to, and will be altered to be more like a ‘requirements for membership’.

This was only one factor amongst many that would become ‘requirements for membership’ and I am only glossing over this at a ‘high level’ and by that I mean I am not putting forward all of the facts, or this as fact, because I am human and my memory is faulty.

Everything is iterative. That’s partly why it’s on github as you’ve no doubt also seen.

Now, I appreciate you’re excited and keen to find out what’s going on, many people are also excited, and so are we. Understand that it’s slow moving because we all have other responsibilities and everything will be updated in due course.

I’m not making apologies for anyone or anything, this has been in progress for a while, and was even kickstarted into action after being silent for longer.

Thank you

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Likewise. I was merely trying to draw attention that comments on changes appear to be trying to make it more exclusive rather than more inclusive. Everyone doesn’t fit into neat pigeonholes, we need to be versatile.

Can you explain in what way you think your space doesn’t fit in our current member definition? Maybe we can discuss it, and explain the thinking behind the structure we’ve come up with.

Currently the hackspace is a ‘loose rabble’ with no actual leaders and there is non-profit company that deals with admin/money/safety, etc. on a good faith basis.

Personally I am in favour of a more formalised structure and protected rights, however the consensus so far has been to keep the status quo and it has continued to work for the last 7 years.

So, first of all, that definition is purely for joining the Foundation as a full member - we’re working on allowing groups to join both as associate members (if they don’t fully comply with the definition and have no wish to - such as university 'spaces), and potentially as spaces working towards complying with the definition. We understand (and this was specifically discussed) that not all organisations can comply depending on their size, etc.

Taking a look at your Company’s House records, you have seven directors, so some of this won’t be applicable. But this is basically an explanation of why we’ve included the member lead and member run parts of the organisation, as well as the democratically controlled parts.

The community ownership requirement is, we feel, central to protecting hackspaces long-term, and this is in part due to issues in similar community spaces such as social centres where a “Benevolent Dictator For Life” or even a cabal have used either lax or totally non-existent structures to commandeer a project and take it far away from what the members envisioned. This has meant things like asset stripping an organisation, or turning it entirely against the reason the organisation started (such as politically based groups and spaces). This, sadly, tends to sour members who have put a not-insignificant amount of work into the project from ever engaging in a similar project again. And that’s before we look at how that would affect the community at large looking at the members and other similar groups.

Having a single director or a tightly knit group also means that the director/s can, for example, kick out members they don’t like at will, be almost entirely shielded against claims of impropriety towards the group, and could at least in theory (unless the company charter has something similar to an asset lock - which your group has) divest a space of all its tools.

Again, both of these have been witnessed in other communities at other points in time. While they may not feel necessary in your case, we’re very much about promoting best-practice for both the community and individual hackspaces.

Another major issue we were concerned with is university and company spaces with a private remit.

Such spaces are not primarily community focused, and are not community lead - which, I think you’ll agree, is at the heart of what your hackspace wants, and what we want. They are tightly controlled spaces, with a very specific direction and strong vertical control via a parent organisation. That means there’s no freedom for members to change the direction of the space (let’s say, add a craft area to a space in the electronics engineering ‘hackspace’ set up by a university), and even projects can be forced down particular routes, and decisions can be made that would actively harm a community of makers. For example, one university maker room requires a member of staff to be in the room if you’re using a drill press - yep, adults require supervision to use the most basic of tools.

There is also concern that groups such as the Russell Group, or companies with stakes in technology could easily form ‘hackspaces’ without these rules in place that could then hijack this organisation with a fair amount of ease, and use it to their benefit rather than that of the maker community. Some of this is, to some extent, already happening with universities setting up makerspaces and hackspaces within the confines of their departments, with, at best, a cursory interest in the wider community. Never mind if companies such as Hobbycraft decided to jump on the bandwagon and create ‘makerspaces’ which restricted customers to products bought in store etc. Both of these are frequently viewed as being quite far from what we as a community aims to promote and create with our spaces.

So, the real question is, does this actually make a difference to how your hackspace would run? Our hackspace (Manchester) has election terms for two years, with no term limits in place. So if the membership are happy with who has been in charge, they can keep the same board members indefinitely (or at least until they run far enough away that we can’t reasonably conscript them :laughing: ). So, in reality, with your members liking the seven directors you have in place, apart from a vote yearly or so, and the ability to maybe terf out a director at an Emergency General Meeting, nothing would likely change apart from words on a piece of paper.

Does this change the feeling and ethos of the space? Maybe. But we’ve found that with a stronger structure in place, it’s actually allowed members to feel like they know where the lines are for the space. It’s also allowed members to truly understand that they have both ownership and control. Even strongly activist groups such as Radical Routes and the Anarchist Federation have far more restrictive entry requirements due to some of the above concerns, with Radical Routes being somewhat similar in the level of services and benifits to members to what we might aim for (reduced rate buisness services, mutual aid, startup advice, mediation, etc). So, with one of those being an anarchist group, I’m struggling to see how these restrictions on membership to the foundation will really remove any freedoms from a hackspace that wants to be community focused and community lead.

While many of us like to think in software freedom terms, a hackspace isn’t like software in many respects. If someone changes ownership of a project, or restricts it like Oracle did with many open source projects, it’s far harder to fork a physical space with all the physical tools, infrastructure, and space. One bad actor, one corrupting influence that happens to be impossible for members to remove, can be all it takes to kill a space entirely, and make it next-to-impossible to create a new one in any reasonable timespan. As such, we feel that the definition of a hackspace, for membership purposes, is not only in the best interest of the Foundation, but also for future member organisations.


Yes that is all very well, but it is not the structure that the membership has asked for. You have some values and by forcing them on people, or withholding a benefit, you are breaking your own principle. In denying their very right to make their own choice do you not see how that is massively hypocritical?

@Norro Literally nobody wants to exclude Reading, please stop assuming this is some kind of snub. We’ve just not figured out how to change the rules to fit Reading in without allowing in half the non-hackspacey world.

Fundamentally we need to set down guidelines for what a hackspace is in order for the organisation to be able to function when new groups join as legal members. The point of the HSF is to promote the hackspace movement in the UK, so we have to define what a hackspace is in order to achieve those goals - the current written statement has changed shape a number of times to fit more spaces into it while ensuring we don’t open up loopholes for commercial/non-spaces.

As @badspyro asked, can you outline which parts of the current statement don’t work for Reading, and ideally make suggestions as to how they can be tweaked to make it work? We can then see how that affects things.

I noted in another thread that membership of the HSF is at the discretion of the directors, so in the near future it might just be easier to vote on adding Reading regardless of the current statement while we attempt to make it work.


We have been flat out told by 4 different people that we would be classed as a 2nd tier if we didn’t comply so I don’t think it is fair to say that I am making assumptions. However it is good to hear your reassurance and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and drop it.

Technically it is 2 orgs, neither one fulfills all the criteria alone or both together…
Org1 does not have a bank account, a board at all, minimal voting
Org2 is not member owned, has no members, board was selected after an advisory vote from the other org
Combined: non-elected board, people have a say but no actual protected right

IMHO the structure is not ideal, it would be difficult to include without making the definition too wide. It would likely be easier to allow it as an exception as long as that option is kept open. I think really just a reassuring statement that it is open to other ways of doing this by discretion and that it isn’t going to be bound by idealism and rules lawyering would be good.

@Norro That sounds …complicated! Out of curiosity are there plans to change it at some point?

Would a statement like this work?

“While these are the statements that define the majority of hackspaces in the UK, full membership of the foundation is at the discretion of the elected foundation directors so that we can accommodate spaces with slight variances in their models”


Yeah, that sounds good.

I hope so, but at the moment it works well enough that people arn’t overly keen to tackle changing it.

oh wow. i guess it took a while to write that :smiley: but i do agree with you. thanks for sharing and taking your time.

Not as complicated as all that. The Ltd company was formed when we took on permanent premises to provide just sufficient legal personality to allow us to operate in the real world without the burden falling too heavily on any individual’s shoulders. It was considered a legal ‘hack’ - it was never intended to and has never adopted any higher status than that. It collects monies, pays rent and bills etc., and invests in equipment when a consensus forms around a proposal. The directors have no higher status in the group other than the respect that they (deservedly) earn for spending their time on making things happen for their fellow members. There are plenty of other members who also put in a lot of effort into improving and keeping the place ticking over and they similarly have the gratitude and respect of their fellow members.

The ‘members’ ie. the people paying the money, are just a loose rabble - an ever-changing, and ever-growing community of people who want to make things, share knowledge and experience, do projects together and benefit from the collective purchasing power of being part of a large group of similarly minded people. We have no trustees, no committees and practically no formal governance. In many ways that suits us - we’re all too busy making stuff to be bothered with it. Holding an advisory election for new directors for the company was pretty much the most formal thing we’ve ever done (except the vote we held for a logo - but that’s a different story!).

Could we devise a more formal system that was less dependent on trust and faith in the directors? - almost certainly and occasionally we kick the idea around. But most of those discussions end with the conclusion that it would involve heated and divisive debate and, besides, we have insufficient governance to even bootstrap the decision making process anyway. So we carry on getting along, trusting each other, making things, doing what interests us.

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I spoke at a Cooperative party meeting the other day and they suggested if we declares ourselves a coop there would be support from the cooperative society.

Will report back what I find out.

So I’ve given this some more thought and have a more general observation about the Foundation Definition. It seems to me that the different elements of the definition might be usefully grouped:

  • some simply define boundaries (groups that describe themselves as a hackspace, where they’re based, number of members)
  • some address motivation (not for profit, shared workspace, inclusivity, tolerance, STEAM), and
  • some address how you think hackspaces are best run (ownership, democratic elections)

I think that if your aim is to promote ‘hacking’ in the UK then you would be best off sticking to the first two categories, else you risk inadvertently excluding some groups who share your hacking motivations, but have successfully established themselves with different models. If as a group you wholly buy into the last group of defining elements - and I say this with the best will in the world - you might more accurately describe yourself as the ‘Foundation of Hackspace Cooperatives’.

I will point you back to my post:

"Another major issue we were concerned with is university and company spaces with a private remit.

Such spaces are not primarily community focused, and are not community lead - which, I think you’ll agree, is at the heart of what your hackspace wants, and what we want. They are tightly controlled spaces, with a very specific direction and strong vertical control via a parent organisation."


“There is also concern that groups such as the Russell Group, or companies with stakes in technology could easily form ‘hackspaces’ without these rules in place that could then hijack this organisation with a fair amount of ease, and use it to their benefit rather than that of the maker community. Some of this is, to some extent, already happening with universities setting up makerspaces and hackspaces within the confines of their departments, with, at best, a cursory interest in the wider community.”

A democratic system of governance allows for the freedom of hacking without the kind of restriction that many other, far more distant and hierarchical organisations, will give.

For example, a University is for the betterment of society, interested in developing STEAM, works on inclusivity, has shared workspaces, and has a large number of members. How we organise, and what governance we have is a key differentiator from many other organisations.

As for whether we should all re-define as members co-ops… The overhead for doing that is significant, which is one of the reasons it was tossed out when we discussed it a while back at Manchester Hackspace. Personally, I think with our governance rules we’re practically there, and I’m for it. But we’re a democratic organisation and nobody else thought the difference was worth the effort over what is effectively a legal technicality in our case. Our org here definitely has strong similarities to a secondary co-op such as the aforementioned Radical Routes.

What we are doing is not merely promoting ‘hacking’ or ‘making’, we’re promoting and fostering open community lead spaces where these activities can flourish. We promote spaces with a level of freedom that many places without this form of structure may be unwilling to let exist - or at least be able to prevent that level of freedom from being exercised.

The fact that you have “insufficient governance to even bootstrap the decision making process anyway” leads me to think that in many respects, you’re actually showing why we need to encourage a certain level of structure, as at the moment you appear to have a hackspace that is incapable of progressing with the development of good governance without a significant amount of strife and argument.

It’s also worth noting that you’re very much an outlier with this system of governance (or, realistically, lack thereof). As @jonty has already said, we have the ability for directors to allow in edge case organisations. @Norro even said " the structure is not ideal, it would be difficult to include without making the definition too wide". At this point, the question becomes, what do you see the Foundation as? Because it’s coming across that you see it in an entirely different light to what we’ve tried to start to create.

Thanks for responding.

I can see now that an attempt has been made to exclude certain forms of organisation from the foundation eg. those with vertical control who might seek to exploit communities**, but my concern is that in drafting the Foundation Definition in this way, you have inadvertently excluded an organisation that shares your aims. Of course some accomodation could be made to permit rLab to become a member but the talk elsewhere of there being a distinction between being a full member and an associate frankly leaves me a bit cold.

My point is that I do not think it necessary to include aspects of governance in the definition to achieve the other stated aims. I think it is possible to have a community led and controlled hackspace without a directly elected board, or even any voting at all.

For my day job, I do governance (amongst other things), and when I first joined rLab I looked on with a sense of bemusement - a sense of ‘well, this is never going to work, but will likely be interesting’. Over time that turned into a realisation that rLab works because of behaviours and not rules nor committees nor trustees. There is trust within the group and a collective desire to have an excellent hackspace. The trust is bolstered by transparency and I suppose, lingering in the background, a sense that if it went seriously awry, we, as the membership, could simply withdraw our funding - in that respect as a community we have ultimate control. But that is not at the front of our minds as we’re all too busy learning off each other, and thinking about how we can make the place even better whilst having fun together. In my view that is made easier, not harder, by having an utterly flat structure.

I think @norro nailed it when he pointed out that rLab, as a community, have not chosen to go down that route. Ultimately, I don’t think I could advocate joining a foundation that stipulated elements of a governance model (surely something of our own determination) as a condition of full membership.

** Are you sure that ‘not for profit’ is not sufficient?

My impression is that there are some feelings or comments which aren’t being addressed. Though badspyro has commented on some of them well. I will input my opinion also in the hope that it helps.

There’s an ethos that has underpinned hack(er)spaces since their inception. Where they did somewhat start off initially as electronics hacking and making.

That ethos has been ‘by the people, for the people’ and to fight for and ensure that freedom. My impression is that this is intended to still be reinforced with Hackspaces, and so that is why there has been the mindset of supporting member hackspaces of the hackspace foundation to be community run, and run by the members, decided by the members.

There has been no specific ‘set definition’ of what a Hackspace is, the documentation on the site of what states to be the ‘hackspace definition’ was discussed at the last meeting (First UK Hackspace Foundation V2 meetup) and it was decided that it is more a draft of requirements for membership, and it is not perfect.

What being a member, and being an associate member mean are semantics. What the definition on the site currently is stated as being, is also liable to change.

I have my own views and observations of what a ‘Hackspace’ is, what a ‘Makerspace’ is and how these are shaping in society today.

No-one should feel that what they’re calling their ‘Hackspace’ is ‘wrong’ or ‘not done right’, especially by the definition on this website, or any future definition. Understand that any requirements for membership to the Hackspace Foundation or whichever benefits they may offer is not a criticism of what a Hackspace is, there purely has to be a baseline for which someone goes “okay, we have to stand for something, we have to draw the line somewhere as to what that means” and so far, discussed between people and the directors. This is what we have at present, and it can change.

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