I moved to Nottingham around five years ago1 from London and was eager to get to know the city. One of the places I heard about was the Nottingham Hackspace. Then, I forgot about it. Then we weren’t allowed out of our houses for a short while. Then I completely forgot about it, until I found a flyer about it in a doughnut shop, completely by coincidence.

A nottinghack flyer found in Doughnots, 29th March 2024

I found the flyer on the 29th of March, and by 10th April I had attended one of the Wednesday tours and signed up. The next day I was in there to self-register my access card. Since then, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time there!

If you don’t know what a Hackspace is, then you’ll be kicking yourself in a moment! There is likely one near you, but I believe I lucked out by having the Nottingham one be my base. There are a few around the country though.

A hack space is using the old meaning of “hack”: hacking something together. It’s not the computery “hack”, although we’ve no shortage of software developers. By and large though, it’s a maker’s space. People contribute time and resources, and that builds to a really love community and a surprising number of gadgets, tools, and new hobbies to pick up.

At Nottingham Hackspace, we’re spread over two floors. You can see the floor plan on our wiki. We have a soft crafts room (sewing machines, an overlocker, an industrial sewing machine, an embroidery machine, a cutting plotter, sublimation printers, a large amount of fabric and threads), a wood working workshop (hand tools, jigsaws, routers, bandsaws, a planer, a thicknesser, a lathe, a scrollsaw), a metal working area (with many tools, including welders, that I couldn’t even guess what they are), bike repair shop (which is a bit of a state at the moment - but it exists), a screenprinting and dark room, a spraypaint booth, a CNC, a laser CNC machine, an electronics bay (a whole wall of resistors, solidering tools, other things I don’t recognise yet), a comfy area with a projector and a museum of archaic tech, a studio with desks, a meeting and coworking room, a classroom fitted for dozens of people, and a fully fitted kitchen.

I’ve certainly missed out some tools.

It’s all been donated or fund raised by the community.

You get 24 hour access to the building and tools.

I’ve not even mentioned the community, which is truly lovely. There are regular film nights, a combat robot club, a radio club, social Wednesdays, and loads of other reasons people come and gather for. Even when nothing is organised, you’ll often still find someone up for a chat. Going up to a stranger and asking “what are you working on today?” is downright weird outside of the space, but inside total strangers will approach each other to have a chat.

We have over 500 members (with around 150 members actively coming in in any given month) and everyone I’ve met has been great to chat to. Not a bad egg amongst them.

I was speaking to one member about this weird phenomenon and they said that after trying to explain the vibe of the Hackspace - where people contribute resources and hang out with complete strangers, bonding over saw preferences - the person responded “it sound like a cult”. I believe that’s why we’ve managed to garner such a good community: shitty people struggle to imagine how the place could work outside of their shitty world view, and so they stay away.

What shocking price would all of this cost you?

£15 per month. Actually, our minimum is £5 (and anything above that is considered a donation) but the space can’t really run on that if everyone was paying that.

That’s huge value for money: access to dozens of new hobbies. Fantastic!

It’s worth noting - as it’s come up recently - that one of our rules is that you shouldn’t take more from the Space than you give. So, although we don’t charge for printing, there is a donation box you’re expected to contribute to. (Have you seen how much toner cartridges cost?!)

There are a few other ways the Space makes money.

We have a couple of vending machines, which I think are priced much too cheaply, but I suppose that’s in the spirit of things.

We also charge for ‘inductions’. Some machines are too dangerous or easily broken to just let anyone use, so we require a session with an instructor before you’re allowed to use it. The embroidery machine is one. The planer (but not the thicknesser), the laser cutter, the table saw, and a few others that I’m forgetting need this induction session. These cost £20. £20 for access to a whole new hobby is great value!

There are workshops too. This weekend I finished part 2 of a wood working workshop, where a member showed a few of us around some of the tools and woodworking principles. £20 for 12 hours of teaching. And the tutor decided to put the money to buying a new bandsaw.

I’m over the moon with the place, I really am. I feel like I’ve jumped into the middle of a new friend group. How often do adults get to make new friends?

The Hackspace is a members run organisation. There’s only one paid person: the cleaner that does the bits that it’s quite hard to convince members to do. Everything else is done by volunteers (and everyone is a potential volunteer) and constant vigilance towards one of our rules: respect the space (which includes clean up after yourself, leaving spaces safe for someone else to use, and making it better than you found it).

Since it’s a makers’ space, there are always people eager to working on fixing the vending machine’s refrigerator, or help putting up a stud wall, or 3D printing a handle to make turning a nut easier. The upside is that people are willing to throw in a load of labour. The downside often is that you may have to wait a while before a change gets made, but eventually it often does.

Almost all Space initiatives are run by members, including the self governing “teams” who make themselves available as point people for particular areas. The 3D printing team handle inductions on the resin printer, the Members team handle tours and new sign ups, the Snackspace team helps keep resources available and vending machines stocked. All member led.

There are some things where that doesn’t work though. We’re a registered company and although we’re a not for profit, we still have obligations like paying rent, taxes, and handling membership interpersonal issues. For those kinds of things, we have the Trustees.

There are seven of them, and they each become directors of the company, but are desperate to not run the day to day of the Space. That should be up to members, and it’s working very well.

The Trustees are elected, running for a two year term, with a few of them offset (so there’s never a 100% new cohort of Trustees). The space has some rules, but further, also a constitution that’s decided these things.

One of the things in the constitution is that when an election is called, there must be a certain number of candidates. If not enough people put themselves forward then it’s an election is an illusion of choice, and so isn’t fit. At that point, the Space has to close whilst the remaining Trustees figure out what the heck to do.

The most recent election was last month, after I’d been a member for only just over a month, and it was looking like we were heading to that worrying position! Not enough people had submitted their names to run for Trustee.

At this point, I’d already been quite excitedly visible around the Space. I’d spoken to lots of people, engaged a lot (too much?) on Discord, and been eager in finding ways I can contribute very quickly (I found my place on the Wiki, and have been having fun updating that). A couple people had pointedly said, “oh, you know there’s nothing in the constitution about how long you need to have been a member for before you can run for Trustee”. And there wasn’t!

So, I do my best to convince people to run. “Oh, you’re very good at using that saw. Have you considered running for Trustee?” And often the answer was the same, “I’d love to, but I just don’t have the time.” Children, people said. Working long hours, people said. Too far to come in often, people said.

Reader, I had none of these excuses..! So, it was with concern for the Space closing and a realisation that although I was new, I also had a bunch of energy that others couldn’t contribute, I submitted myself for nomination. A few people had also decided to run, which more than made up our numbers.

For some strange reason, people voted for me! So now, not long after joining, I’m a Trustee of Nottingham Hackspace.

What an exciting time.

If you’re nearby Nottingham, come and join us.

  1. Which means we’ve recently had a mortgage renewal. 2.39% up to 4.5something% now! I believe we got a pretty good deal, but it’s wild how much that would affect lower income families.