Is a 'hackspace' not open to all still a hackspace?

What do other hackspace members think about space’s which aren’t truly open to the public for regular open days or membership using the term hackspace to describe themselves?
For me a none-public hackspace is simply a shared workshop, as the open community nature of a hackspace is one of it’s defining principles to my personal interpretation of this community.
Much like the discussion on a certain failed magazine which took and used the hackspace name with grossly different interpretations of the core principles of our community, I feel these names hurt us all by diluting the open community feel of the term which many of us have put many years into creating and maintaining. Some have paid staff and large corporate budgets, other have secret selective membership process ( despite saying elitism isn’t allowed! lol ) but the key question I’m asking is how to do other hackspace members FEEL about this topic?

edit: worth noting that in the ‘definition of a hackspace’ page on this site it states:
" * encourages engagement with, and opening to, the public,"
as a requirement for membership of this organisation. I fully support that.

Hello RandomTom

This is a topic which is of great interest to me. First thing that needs to be addressed is the war of “the word”, you mention

I know of no spaces calling themselves “Hackspace” in the UK that fits this representation. However, if a company, anywhere in the world, decided their R&D space, for example, was now a “hackspace” then they can do that. The word is not protected. However, if that space claimed to be a member of the UK Hackspace Foundation and they did not fit the definition of a UK Hackspace, it should be supposed that at some date in the future, they’d be excluded from the UKHF list. Here is the definition:

(I recognise you linked to this, but only the organisations listed on the site are recognised by the foundation as being hackspaces - though to my knowledge no organisation has been refused representation on UKHF lists (thought I can’t find the list)).

There are many terms, including hackspace (as opposed to a member of the UKHF), which have no official definition and could not possibly be enforced. They conjure an idea in our minds of course. Hackspace is the same. Consider the word library. Who gets to decide what a library is? It’s a very broad term, though if you turned up at a town library and it wasn’t a public space and it had no books, you’d be rightfully disappointed perhaps?

edit: It’s been pointed out that some universities has used the word hackspace for an internal space possibly with equipment, for use by their student, staff and a few others. I don’t have any issues with this. It’s just a word, I’ve no doubt if you did email them for their open day dates, they’d let you know when those were. It’s simply a space to do hacks. If they claimed to be a part of the UKHF, that would be a different matter. They simply wouldn’t qualify.

The word Makerspace has had a number of controversies around it. Maker Media (the defunct magazine you speak of?) registered the domain &

They never really did anything with that and certainly didn’t try to own hackspaces. You maybe aware of Makerspacegate

where the term was co-opted by a company that makes trays for schools.

The term hackspace was co-opted by the Raspberry Pi foundation for their (not defunct) magazine Hackspace which as far as I know is still in circulation.

(I have written about this

But to come to the main question… what is a hackspace? I don’t personally think a hackspace or hackerspace should be for everyone. I’d find it abhorrent if they excluded people on the basis of gender, race or colour, sexual preference, social standing and so on. However, I don’t think they should be an open house as such. No space can function “for everyone”. At the hackspace where I am a member (Nottingham Hackspace) we have 670+ members. There is no willingness to have any kind of discussion about how many members the space should have. I personally would like there to be a reasonable operating limit on the number of members.

Rather than having spaces bursting at the seams with members, or more likely simply only able to accommodate a small number of regulars whilst having a large number of non-attending members who support the space with their subscription (sometimes called the gym model which I have written about

Alternatively you might have a space like Limehouse Labs, which has stated they can accommodate only 25 members total, with each member having a veto over new members joining (the same model as used by NYC Resistor, a hackerspace held in high regard). Certainly this model is exclusive, but not exclusionary.

So, what then if you can not get into your local space because it’s full? Start another space. That’s really what the UKFH is about. In my home city of Nottingham, I’d rather see 3 spaces 500 members strong, themselves pooling specialities, then one giant dysfunctional 1500 member strong space. I have written about this too…


I hope this helps?

edit: I started with mentioning the war of the word, but didn’t write about that until later on.

I’ve been watching the growth of corporate ‘hackspaces’ with dismay, whether they’re part of a university or a pay-by-the-hour co-working venue by another name, for exactly this reason. The ones in libraries, etc. that are actively trying to engage the public I have no complaints about (other than wouldn’t it be nice if we all had access to even a limited budget from the local council?). But when universities call an in-house workshop and 3d printer bank aimed at promoting entrepreneurial startups by their students a hackspace it feels like they’re co-opting a much better service without actually providing it.

Maybe we should start calling them out by asking them repeatedly when their open days are until they change the name or provide them. And if they do give in, we should really promote their open days to the wider public for the benefit of increased public participation.

On a slightly side note, I’ve just discovered that I’m part of a tiny minority at our hackspace without a degree, so maybe we should just take a leaf out of the universities’ book - if they open a hackspace that is not open, maybe we should add to our names, i.e. "Leeds Universities post-graduate Hackspace’. That way we can press them for funding as part of their ‘aftercare’…

But does this also apply to Hacklabs, Makerspaces, etc. (see above reply)?

Truth is, they don’t owe anything to anyone legally or otherwise to follow any such definition and trying to impose one almost comes off as elitism.

Almost bullying a place starting up a hackspace with the best of intentions to help people or employees embrace tech, just because they have some form of budget in some instances or are able to take revenue from it, doesn’t help anyone.

Work with them.

This is why the distinction is made as to what a member of the hackspace foundation is and the criteria for it, that can be controlled and evolved as to what that means, but in general? That fight was already lost without financial backing.

As I see it we are all winning, no one is diluting the name by starting a hackspace that’s limited to students or RAF members.

Edit: posted via discourse though I tried to reply via email

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i didnt want to name any specific spaces in my initial post but as you posted you don’t know of which i am talking about i will here:
limehouse labs has no open days and only invited members are allowed, is listed on this website despite not being open to the public in any way, and the directors are the same people who complained about the hackspace magazine using the name without following the principles (although we all admit they are not enforceable in anyway, more desires)

imperial college ‘advanced’ hackspace is an an example of a space with large corporate funding, paid staff and closed membership (only students of the uni) although it is not listed as a hackspace on this sites map

which spaces can be members of the foundation is still not clear, we have waited three years to find the answer to that now. and now the foundation (run by the same people who started the private limehouse labs) has a large chunk of free money to hand out this is more interesting topic than before.

thanks for links to your others blogs, i have read most of them before and generally agree with you :slight_smile:

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I wasn’t aware of Limehouse Labs but having had a quick look it doesn’t seem to comply with two of the Foundation Requirements:

  1. encourages engagement with, and opening to, the public, Limehouse Labs deny public access although the membership page does identify “public open events”. The website doesn’t seem to list them.
  2. mainly a private club, group or clique (with the exception of membership being a gateway to regular access) I would argue that being invitation only makes this a private club, group or clique and does not fall into the exception noted regarding membership.

There is no doubt in my mind that the directors set up Limehouse Labs for good reason, after all they were key people in development of Hackspaces and EMF Camp, however I have to agree with @RandomTom that Limehouse Labs doesn’t belong on the Hackspace Foundation map

Tom, you don’t need to make vague references to “The Directors of Limehouse Labs”, @russ and I are members of the forum, and you can just ask us questions. We’re not monsters.

Regarding LL, point by point:

  • LL should be having open days (as it says here: however we’ve not been able to organise them as frankly the space isn’t usable yet. We have been organising a regular Dorkbot meeting, but not declaring it as an LL event (, it’s next Thursday!)
  • Monday nights are open-house, we’ve just not been shouting about it - anyone who asks is welcome to come by. This is common of many spaces where access control is a problem, including other spaces in the UK.
  • If you can point at any other part of the HSF membership requirements it doesn’t comply with, we’ll do our very best to change that:

Regarding ICAH meeting the HSF membership requirements:

  • it is not member owned/operated
  • is is not an unincorporated or incorporated association
  • it does not have a democratically elected board of at least 3 directors
  • it does not conduct its business by allowing each member over 16 one vote

Which is fairly clear-cut really - the whole point of the HSF is to encourage member-owned-and-run spaces for communities, the model that we’ve been working to spread since the very beginning.

Russ and I really do not want to be the directors of the HSF as we’ve said for a long time, and we would like to hand this over to other people who are willing to put the time in.

We will be the first to admit that this has not been sorted out as quickly as anyone would have liked, which is mostly due to EMF being rather more successful than we planned and having to put frankly all our free time (and a large amount of unpaid time) into making it happen.

Oh, and to be quite clear: Russ and I will not be applying for or using any of the HSF funds, because it is an obvious conflict of interest. Ideally we should have a grant committee making those decisions anyway.

Please assume good faith.


@Stuart That is not how that is intended to be read, as it would immediately exclude the majority of hackerspaces in the US (who operate by having open house regularly, then you are offered membership when you’ve been showing up for a while).

Assuming spaces with membership size limits become more common (as I fundamentally believe every space should have a size limit), this becomes mandatory as you really can’t operate any other way. A waiting list is an option, but as spaces who have tried that found out it can mean you end up with a space with nobody in it.

@jonty: Thanks for the reply. This does pose an interesting question. I’d argue that being invitation only that LL is neither “open” nor “public”, i.e. it’s discriminating against potential members by virtue of them already knowing existing members (itself a private invite-only clique).

I don’t practically have a solution to this problem, knowing some of the work you both have done in the past I have every confidence that LL has been founded for the right reasons and with good intentions, I’m just wholly unconvinced that the invite-only clause is the right solution to size limitation and agree with both the intent and wording of the Foundation Requirements.

A waiting list does sound like a reasonable interim solution until the existing LL members are able to agree with a scalable long term (open) solution?

@Stuart: You might want to read my previous post too - we specifically have open evenings (that I will shortly be ensuring are better advertised) so there’s no need to know an existing member, you just need to turn up and get nominated as a member - usually this is a matter of just asking two people who you’ve actually met when in the space. Obviously if the space is full, you would then be put on the waitlist.

As I said this is an extremely widely used model outside the UK, and I think it would be very unwise for the HSF to disallow it.

That said, I do think we could do with clarifying what “open” means, as it is very open to interpretation.

EDIT: As promised, we now have an events page documenting open nights, and events we’re running. I’ll try and get that into calendar-form:


Not my business, and I’m not sure I care that much about the meaning of the word ‘hackspace’ (perhaps I’m in the wrong forum!), but the vetoing of potential new members all sounds a bit like an old-fashioned gentleman’s club, or the masons, to me

I can confirm that secret handshakes and robes are involved :mage:‍♂

In all seriousness I hope the veto will ever be used. Many of the larger spaces in the UK (including London Hackspace, which we previously founded) have had problems with people who caused serious issues for some of the core members, causing them to leave. The veto is an attempt to pre-empt this kind of issue which becomes substantially more problematic when the number of members is so low.

LL is sort-of an experiment in safeguards that spaces can put in place to ensure the space continues to stay cohesive and functioning, and we intend to iterate on it to find a good balance that other spaces may want to adopt in the long run - it’s entirely possible we’ll do away with the veto in the future if it proves not to be useful.

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The map on the front page is not a map of member spaces, nor is it a map of spaces which meet our definition. It’s currently just a map of spaces who ask to be put on there, as it has been for many years.

There are several spaces listed on the map which (in my opinion) don’t meet the definition as it currently stands. We’ve historically had “hackspace-adjacent” organisations on the map, dating back to when the map was a physical thing we took to Maker Faire, and we probably will continue to do so once we have member spaces (there’s an issue for that, and also one for flagging “private” spaces).

We made the decision not to make any changes to the way the map works until we fully agreed the definition and we were in a position to start accepting member spaces. The following things are blocking that process:

  • The website needs support for member space applications (issue #6). This is the major blocker.
  • The definition itself needs to be finalised and approved by the membership
  • We need to form a committee to approve new membership applications

my initial post was about the issue in general, which is why i didn’t tag you or name your new space. this isn’t an attack on you guys, its about how people feel about the direction the community is going in.

thanks for explaining more about your intentions, maybe you should re-consider the wording on the website then. The very first line says it’s a ‘private’ hackspace, whatever that means, to me that is directly contradictory of the requirement to be open to the public in your own HSF rules.

Can you tell us how many of the 25 slots are already filled? if any at all are filled before public meetings are posted then they must have been filled by secretly arranged meetings eg, just your friends and people you messaged directly. this is exactly elitism in action in my view and the direct opposite of open to the local community.

I am happy to step up to be a director of the UKHSF , again you say you don’t want to do it but i don’t see any post inviting people to take over. if this is a genuine request for people to step up please post it publicly so a fair process can occur.

As to you being too busy with EMF, you may recall i also offered to help you run that too back near the beginning. I have been in outdoor events for 19 years (and have a great relationship with one of the UK’s largest tent suppliers, which would have helped you out last year as I understand) but you told me you didn’t want my help and to leave you too it. again if that has changed please post publicly the openings and i will apply

i dont have a day job so i have lots of time to volunteer for both roles

I try not to assume anything. but when the first line on the website says “private hackspace” i don’t think it’s an assumption to call it a not public space.

On the topic of the definition itself:

(To preface this, I absolutely don’t care whether Limehouse Labs ultimately becomes a member space or not. We don’t intend to take any HSF funding, and I think membership of the HSF would be less useful to us than to most other spaces, but if we meet the criteria, we will absolutely join.)

The definition is not yet set in stone. It still needs some work, as we acknowledged when we originally wrote it.

One of the key things I’ve learned over the years is that the health of a hackspace is directly tied to the health of its community - both the members who help out and its directors. We need to be very careful that our definition doesn’t push spaces in an unhealthy direction.

I’ve seen members and directors severely burned out by unchecked membership growth and struggling with disruptive members. It’s very easy to drive established members away if they feel like their hard work is being abused, even by a small minority of members.

I think spaces need to have some capability to control who joins as a member - in fact, I think we should be encouraging spaces to build in this capability from the beginning, as it’s a lot harder to add restrictions on membership when you have to pass a resolution among several hundred people, while feeling burned out.

This might include:

  • Limits on total membership
  • Requiring a proposer/seconder for membership
  • A probation period before receiving full membership

I don’t like the current wording in the definition (which is not actually a condition, but explanatory text):

mainly a private club, group or clique (with the exception of membership being a gateway to regular access)

My suggestion would be to replace that with a condition which says something along the lines of:

has a clear process for members of the public to join

“has a clear process for members of the public to join”
i agree this makes sense for a better wording of a condition of joining the foundation. i would like to suggest edits to a few more of them too, what is the best process to do this?

I guess LL needs to decide if it is truly open to the public or not and make that clearer on the website to avoid these types of confusion and annoyance. to me it’s EITHER private or a hackspace, putting those two words together just seems wrong IMHO

We had quite a discussion on this at the UKHF meeting at Oldham, I’m fairly sure most of us were of a similar opinion, practically however, what would you do about it, if anything? We mainly concluded that while it would be nice to trademark “hackspace / hackerspace” etc, doing that would then require a bunch of financial support in order to defend it, and it didn’t seem that desperate a thing to spend money on.


I’ve put it in a google doc here so people can make edit suggestions.

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Controversial opinion alert!

I think that people in the UK hold on to a certain view of a “Hackspace” as the an immutable impression of the 2009 era LHS/Nottinghack-esk spaces. I personally feel that this model of operation has failed these and a number of other spaces and their potential, current and former members.

I don’t want to create a mega thread qualifying that claim that so I’ll accept that might be my own fallacious view.

However the core principal through the various generations of spaces has been about:

  • Communal making
  • Knowledge exchange
  • Inclusivity
  • Established and emerging technologies

The major issue with all the spaces I’ve seen is that they have a habit of sucking in generous and knowledgable people, chewing them up and spitting them out half broken on the other side. I’ve spoken privately to a number of current and former directors and primary contributors of spaces and there is a wide spread, but oft-little talked about reality that a lot of members and directors that contribute the most to these spaces including myself end up going through incredible mental health pressures trying to support the existence of these spaces.

It’s for this reason that I personally am really open to the idea of new spaces forming that take the idea of a “Hackspace” forward from the seemingly frozen and immutable view of 2009 UK spaces and develop and built upon the learnings of the last decade of successes and failures, which by the way is the exact purpose of the HSF.

I think spaces need to take more responsibility for creating spaces for people, not spaces for machines. By creating ways to support and protect those people from each other and the pressures a space can create.

So when I heard about Limehouse Labs I was really excited, I regret that I don’t have the time to use a space like that these days, nor do I have the energy to travel so far on public transport, but I hovered my fingers over the metaphorical apply button for a while because I was drawn to the idea that I could be part of a smaller community of members where I could develop stronger friendships (which I really lack) with those that I could also bounce ideas around, collaborate and hopefully make some LGBTQ+ friends too.

Maybe I will still apply at some point… I still feel pretty bruised from my past experience as a co-founder, director and member of South London Makerspace.

My view is that HSF is here to provide initial and ongoing guidance and support for those that setup spaces around abouts what a 2009 era Hackspace was as official members, and stuff a bit more on the outer edges of that can be an associate member.

EDIT: Made some grammatical changes and clarified why I didn’t feel able to join or setup new spaces right now.


This message from @unknowndomain is spot on.

Pretty much exactly my thoughts, but much more eloquent.


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