Definition and status of Hackspaces


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.


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.