I have to apologise to the guys at the London Hackspace (LHS) in advance for this write up. I visited around a month or so ago and have only just got to writing it up. Whilst kicking around in London with a day to spare, at short notice, I contacted the London Hackspace and asked if I could come visit. Jasper replied pretty quickly and despite the horribly short notice was a very willing and helpful host. Many thanks then to Jasper.
The nearest tube station is Bethnel Green but the walk to the space through Tower Hamlets and past the Museum of Childhood is not very far and it was a pleasant day. LHS can only be described as huge. We were impressed at the size of Nottingham Hackspace but London is actually bigger. Not that size matters…. It leaves our hackspace feeling positively bijou, in true 80’s estate agent speak. The space itself occupies the entire ground floor of the A2E building as pictured, the equally large basement and the whole of the rear yard. Turning up as I did mid-week it was surprising to see how busy the space was with a number of folk working away on their projects.
Straight in through the door you walk into the communal chill out area. With a display of things made in the space, comfy seating and the kitchen area featuring a re-purposed fridge/beer cooler and beer on tap. More about the beer later. On the wall dividing this room and the next on this side is a sizeable makers library. Straight ahead through a pair of double doors is a substantial classroom area, with the biggest TV I have ever seen for presentations, apparently gifted by a very generous donor. This classroom area doubles as communal workspace for folk more software oriented when not being used as a classroom. Just out of shot on the left of the classroom is a passage way to the basement stairs and yard door.
Just off this passage way on the left hand side is the kitchen proper and toilets. Turning immediately left there is the laser and handicraft area, plus the full size roller shutter door to the large rear yard. The yard is just visible through the windows. The area is set up for a bunch of textile oriented projects with a good range of textile oriented machinery and facilities. As I already mentioned, considering it was a midday, and mid-week visit I was pleasantly surprised at how many folk were in the space working on their projects. To the left down the rear wall, again just out of shot is a small quite room/meeting room. Despite there being so much in this open ground floor area the feeling is very light and spacious. So far we have only walked in through the door and turned to our left.
If we turn left again so we are looking behind where we came in we can see the electronics lab. Just out of shot to the right is the 3D printing area, behind which is the quiet room we mentioned earlier. The electronics lab is well appointed with a range of test equipment, soldering stations and a whole bunch of components in drawers. There was a large 16 segment display made up from sticks of LED’s on the rear wall. What was starting to become apparent was that for a busy hackspace with a lot of equipment and ongoing projects it was surprisingly tidy. Before heading down to the basement to see what was in there, Jasper and I took a little time out to have a talk. London Hackspace seem to use IRC quite a bit for extended discussion out side of the space. Questions I had that Jasper was not sure about someone on IRC could help with. Access to the space is via RfID and 24×7. Interestingly enough being London most folk have Oyster cards or some other RfID tag. So the entry system works with these rather than sourcing tags for members to use. Re-purposing starting early. I was curious as to how they managed to have such a large space, especially n London giving the high property and rental costs. Jasper explained that although difficult and a bit of a struggle they do have well in excess of a thousand members. This does sound a lot until you consider just how many folk actually live in London.
Having talked a while we headed for the basement. To the right as you enter the basement area, and extending under the stairs we had just come down, is the biohacking lab, with the appropriate certification. I took this photo through the door glass not wanting to risk contaminating the workspace. Immediately behind me or to the left as you enter the basement is a large storage area with lines of shelving full of storage boxes for donated things to hack upon and personal projects. The basement area appeared to stretch on forever. Maybe it is a tardis like thing, bigger on the inside. Apart form the biohacking lab, this is where the dirtier and dust making work gets done. This lab is the first of a chain of enclosed areas leading from the main work area that make up the right hand side.
Moving along the right hand side passed a space that is currently a work in progress, we came to the essential stash of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). As can be seen from the photograph a quantity of this was in use at the time. It was good seeing this in place and the shadow board shows how much is in use. Storing this equipment out of the main mess making rooms helps keep it clean and ready for use. There is a temptation to place it next to the place of use, with the resulting consequences. As appears to be the norm with hackspaces, PPE is provided and it is the members responsibility to select that which is appropriate for the task and use it. This point marks the end of the storage section of the basement and the beginning of the workshop proper.
Next in line are the two messier work areas for metal bashing and for woodworking. The metal bashing area has a sub-area set aside for welding and cutting operations. This area can be curtained off with a heavy shade curtain to protect the other workspace users from the effects of welding arc flash and showers of hot metal particles. The usual machine shop equipment is also available together with a power hacksaw. Always useful. The wood working area further along is similarly well provisioned with things like planer/thickeneser, lathe band-saw and workbenches along with dust extraction equipment. Keeping dust and mess levels down in a basement is a challenging pastime. Wood working is a particularly difficult, case in point. The dust extraction was a standard blower and bag type set-up, that could perhaps benefit from a vortex separator.
Arrayed just outside the messy workspaces was a goodly selection of hand and power tools for use in either the cleaner workshop area or the messier one. Finally at the end of the right hand side there was a remaining open area with the spaces server racks and a collection of interesting robots. To the right of the picture covered in plastic is one of the bench robots that were used as in the early stages of the Human Genome Mapping Project (HGMP). There were many of these used to brute force the sequencing of a single human genome using the wet bench technology of the day, these were principally used to save on the huge number of man hours that the repetitive tasks would otherwise of consumed.
Finally we take a step back and look down the basement taking in the main workshop area that lays down the length of the left hand side. Note the keep clear walkways taped out on the floor. A goodly supply of tooling and workbenches to suit most tasks. The dark door way just visible at farthest end of the room leads to the brewing area. In the brewing area there were stored various iterations of Brewbot and brewing paraphernalia. It was about this point in the tour that something that Jasper had mentioned several times sunk in. In talking about the biohacking, brewing, 3D printing or whatever maker thing etc. Jasper had refereed to them as groups. I guess with that many members and that much space a degree of grouping must take place. Being a small, compact hackspace Sheffield is still pretty homogeneous. We tend to refer new folk to members as individuals that have the skills or interests in common, as opposed to referring them to a group with skills. It was interesting to see how the social structure had evolved and coagulated around specifics. It is almost like a mini town or ecosystem with groups making not just for themselves but for the hackspace at large. The brewing group was a particular case in point, considering their produce was made available to the hackspace in the chill out area upstairs. This left me thinking, this is what community’s and society used to be like before the disruptive model of mass manufacture and mass consumption came to prevail. It was not enough to just sell something, it had to be made as well.
All in all then, wow, what a hackspace. I could do with a visitors pass to drop in the half a dozen times a year I am in London, with time to spare. It would sure beat hanging around the usual touristy parts of town and save me the money spent on impulse buys in Foyle’s Bookshop. A “must go see” for makers visiting London then, and a “must be a member” for makers working, living or spending extended time in London. The number of pictures do not do it justice.
Whilst in Edinburgh for a conference we took some time out to drop in on the local hacking community and compare notes. Edinburgh Hacklab have been on the go for a while now and are on the second iteration of their own space, having moved from the other side of the city centre to Summerhall. Initially like SHH&M they started out meeting once a month in space shared with other community groups.
This is a creative hub for the arts that has taken over what used to be the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. It even has its own pub called the Royal Dick in the central courtyard. We caught up with the guys just as they were preparing an installation for the last part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. This was to be a laser maze based in a surreal part of the buildings that still had the animal cages etc all in place. Just as if it was vacated yesterday. Together with the smoke to make the lasers visible it looked like it would be a memorable weekend for anyone that attended. Much of the buildings that are not as yet let are similar. Some parts have been used to great effect in the setting for horror film projects. All in all then a great setting for a Hacklab with lots of visual things going off. Exciting, creepy and surreal by turns as the venue was it wasn’t why were there.
The guys at the Hacklab were very friendly and approachable; Peter had responded quickly to my initial email and as well as inviting us down to see their space and was on hand as we arrived, making us feel very welcome. They have weekly regular meet-ups that are open to the public and are keen to see new faces. Many thanks to Peter, Al, Gandalf and all the guys there who put time aside to talk to us about their projects, constitution, history and the journey to their current state.
As we arrived, Peter was just starting an informal tour so we tagged along. Having come into Summerhall through the main entrance and into the yard you are facing the Royal Dick pub. The Hacklab itself is the ground floor to the right of the pub. The first room on the right as you come in through the door is the workshop for the sort of making that creates mess. In the picture you can see the laser cutter back left, a mini lathe immediately left and the new workbench the guys were just completing down the right hand side of the room. A lot of treasure was piled up to the left to make way for the construction work on the bench. the workbench looked great and like it is intended for some serious making.
Down the corridor and taking the last door on the left was the store room and also where the Ultimaker 3D printer lived. The Hacklab had recently upgraded to the Ultimaker, finding the space frame style printers need of constant adjustment frustrating. Peter explained that members stored their projects etc in Really Useful boxes stacked on shelves along the back wall and on the right of the door. This works reasonably well for them but leaves managing the space and keeping it turning over a challenge. There were more making tools behind the dismantled desks and other things temporarily stored here whilst the workbench construction mentioned above was ongoing.
Moving back out of the store room and across the corridor to the larger room next door to the workshop we entered into the Hacklabs commons and electronics/clean work area. This room appears to have originally been a molecular biology lab and still retains recognisable benches and fittings along with reagent shelves that separate the room into the two distinct workspaces. Al explained that they had been letting this space for a couple of years now, the room certainly showed an evolutionary accumulation of awesome projects.Visible in the picture there is a monorail around the edge of the ceiling with a lego mindstorms based robot/train parked over the electronics work area. There were also a number of cameras placed around the periphery of the ceiling. Gandalf explained that these were a spacial positioning project for a mini quad copter. On the right of the picture is a monitor and raspberry Pi combo showing activity in their freenode IRC room and on the rear wall over the electronics work-area is a large LED dot matrix sign displaying useful info about the space. On the wall to the right just out of shot on the picture was a pin board with the Hacklab shop featuring emergency Pi’s and Arduino’s as well as Hacklab souvenirs. There was a lot to see and ask about, too much to get into one visit. We can definitely recommend dropping in on the Edinburgh Hacklab if you are in the local.
For now though our time was up, we had a quick tour of some of the buildings more interesting features from it’s previous life, taking in the art and installations as we passed. Then left the guys to get on with the essential work for the upcoming weekends event. We will certainly drop in again next time we are in Edinburgh.
Last week as part of our research in to opening our own hackspace, one of our members contacted Space. Nottingham was one of the first hack spaces to pop up in the UK, it followed on from London. Arrangements were then made to go and visit. This was to gather as much information as possible related to running/setting up a Hack Space. They have a free open night every Wednesday open to the public.
Whilst we were there we got a tour of the space. It is split in to three different sections as shown below…
Above is the Lounge area. This is the first room you enter in the space. This is where members sit down, have a chat and chill. The room has a fully kitted media system with a projector and sound equipment, plus mood lighting. They have all of the kit to host presentations/talks. Or you can kick back and watch a film. Around the room there were interesting as well as unique items that had been collected over the years. The collection included old test gear, audio recording equipment and much more.
The main making area is where most of the activity takes place. In this room is a collection of kit for members to use. This includes sewing and craft kit and 3D Printers. Below is a list of some of the tools that Nottingham’s Hackspace has on offer to it’s members.
– House hold sewing machine
– Industrial sewing machine
– A store of materials and accessories
– Cutting table
– Pursa Mensel 3D Printer
– Craft supply’s
and the best bit…
– An RFID accessed vending machine
The final section was the workshop, this was fantastic! Every machine that you would need for general hacking was there including…
– Hand tools
– Electronic testing equipment
– Soldering irons
– Hand drills
– Hammer drill
– Table saw
– Mitre saw
– The all important Laser Cutter!
– Metal lave
– Manual mill
the list goes on and on…
The overall assortment of tools was astonishing. Nottingham’s hackspace now has around 350 members and counting. Their laser cutter was purchased from , who import laser cutters then modify and improve them before selling them on. The laser cutter runs from an RFID system linked in to the power cable, so members pay per hour of use. It is a really good idea especially seeing how you can keep track on who is using the machine.
Overall it was a very successful event. All of our questions where answered, giving us a lot more information than we started with. We would like to thank everyone there who showed us around and made us feel welcome. You can visit Nottingham’s Hackspace website here: or you can follow them on Twitter .
Just to round off the evening Nottingham Hackspace donated a used railway clock to us. A whole host of Arduino code is publicly available on Git Hub. Altogether as a group we can’t thank everyone enough especially James who helped answer our questions and everyone else who showed us around the space.
Cheers Nottingham 🙂
A group of SHHM members met up to be shown around the Portland Works. It’s one of the key sites in Sheffield’s manufacturing history; among other claims to fame, it was the home of the first business to make the stainless steel cutlery that carried the city’s name into homes all over the world. It’s still used as a home for small manufacturers and artists, and the rolling refurbishment programme is doing a great job of keeping the character of the original buildings intact. Not normally open to the public, but well worth a look around if you can catch one of their open days.
Whilst visiting Leuven on other business recently I put the time aside to visit FabLab Leuven. The FabLab is embedded at KU Leuven but promotes free open access to both students and the wider local community. As Sheffield Hardware Hackers and Makers aspire to joining or founding a full time FabLab it was a good opportunity to find out how it is done and how others have succeeded with similar challenges. Marc and Thomas run the fab lab with Jose, they were quick to point out that initial funding and finding space was only a small part of the problem. Sustainability is something that has killed several FabLab startups that had shown initial signs of doing very well.
I would like to thank Marc and Thomas of FabLab Leuven for putting the time aside to show me around, make me feel welcome and share their experience and enthusiasm for their FabLab. I can definitely recommend visiting them if in the local if only just to see how well they are doing, it is inspirational. It would be even better though to do a spot of making and hacking whilst sharing with like minded folk.
First in through the door I was struck by their own floor tiles with the FabLabLeuven Logo superimposed on the FabLab Movements Logo. The FabLab is open to all including students and drop in public users. Access and usage of machinery is free but materials are either self supplied or can be bought at the FabLab. Fab lab supplied materials are purchased in as being suitable for the machinery that it will be used with. This should make it easier to get reasonable results without needing to know in advance what materials are suitable.
The main room is a large open flexible space with tables as work spaces that are shared by those visiting the Lab. Essential services like electricity and networking drop down from a roof distribution grid. This removes tripping hazards and leaves the work tables free to be moved around as needed. The managing staff have dedicated desks in this main room so are an active part of this making community.
To the front of the building leading off the main room is a well organized area with a number of laser cutters and small CNC machines. I asked Thomas about keeping the optics aligned and cleaned. He showed me how the laser cutters were built such that the optics were not readily accessible from the cutting compartment which both shields them from combustion products and twiddling fingers. The lasers are plumbed up to a common air extract. It was noticeable how the air was good even in a small room stood next to 5 working laser cutters. All the machinery in this room had dedicated PC’s to drive them with the correct CAM software to make the most of their capabilities. Taking all of these elements together it was clear that Thomas and Marc had been doing this for some time and had worked ways around the issues that crop up from time to time.
Towards the rear of the room there was a display of a selection of projects made at the fablab. Thomas explained that over the last year alone there had been literally thousands of projects coming through the FabLab from both Student and Public makers. I wondered how they had managed this. Thomas was quick to explain that being embedded within the university meant that they were able to offer voluntary staff positions to students. The students after a suitable training period are able if they so wish to open the fablab at weekends and in some cases 24 hours a day. These extended hours are usually to cope with the high demand that course hand-in’s and assessed student projects generate as dead lines approach. The same volunteer staff also provide support to members of the public coming into the FabLab. Moving back through the main room there are a number of 3D printers ranging from a Makerbot through to a large Dimension printer. To the left hand side as we pass through Thomas draws my attention to their area dedicated to electronics work.
Out across the corridor there is the workshop where all the nosier and dust/waste creating activities are carried out. One end is partitioned off and this is where a full sheet CNC router lives. It has a vacuum bed and sawdust collection. We had a look at furniture items being in various stages of being prototyped and built. The services again drop down from the ceiling leaving the workspace more flexible. A dust and waste vacuum extract is also plumbed in across the ceiling with drop tubes to remove the dust from band-saws, drills sanders and the like. Again a well equipped space light and airy with a lot of thought put into keeping it serviceable. Thomas and I both agreed keeping the Lab zoned to minimise disruption from noisy machines as well as dust etc is a good design feature.
Marc the FabLab manger joined us and we went outside for coffee. I complimented them on their FabLab. Marc was quick to explain that it had not happened over night they had gone through 3 main expansion phases as well as the usual raft of tweaks and improvements that go into running such a place on a day by day basis. I asked about sustainability Marc and Thomas explained that they thought embedding FabLabs within a larger organisation such as KU Leuven was good symbiosis and ensured a degree of sustainability that other FabLabs may struggle to achieve, The university gained extra maker-space enabling more assessed projects as a component of their courses. Sharing of resources between university departments and the local community on a non partisan basis. Volunteer students enabled and supported their peers as well as members of the public. Marc acknowledged with a smile that having KU Leuven’s name on application for EU and Regional initiatives probably did not do them any harm either. All in all a win, win for everyone.
All in all an inspirational visit it gave me plenty to think about as I rode back into town on the Bicycle I had rented for the day from the train station. In summary then, a vibrant, happening and above all successful FabLab catering for Students and Public on a first come first served basis. Open all year round and often into extended hours courtesy of student volunteer staffers. FabLab Leuven has a wide range of capabilities and sufficient active machine, flexible manufacturing machinery and supportive staff to meet the needs of most projects, from newbie through to accomplished maker..
Wish I could say I was’nt jealous……. Time to drown my sorrows with some Belgian beer.