Farset hardhat, blueprints for the 2019 renovation, along with ruler and pencil/pen

Farset Labs 2.0: Expanding, renovating, improving

It’s been over seven years since Northern Ireland’s hackerspace opened its doors to the artists, engineers, and makers of Belfast. Farset Labs has spent that time delivering STEAM education, providing a space and tools for the tech and creative scene, and being a focal point for events and meetups. We’ve had a blast, and grown immensely, both as an organisation and – more importantly – as a community.

Many will have noticed that, over the past couple of years, it’s been getting rather cosy in Unit 1, our home in Weavers Court Business Park. There’s just not quite enough room for everyone, the event space is regularly used for overflow from the co-working space, and the workshop is, well, regularly used for overflow from the event space!

We do, however, have some news to share (and some awkward weeks ahead of us).

In the middle of November last year, we got word from our landlord that the other tenants in building, who occupied the first floor, were departing and we were asked if we wanted to take it on. This scenario had been long discussed within the Farset Labs team, but now we had first refusal on occupying the entire building.

While the thought of more than doubling our floorspace was a daunting one, we sharpened our pencils and kicked off the due diligence, and have been working with the team at Weavers Court for the last eight months to bring this dream to reality.

After many, many delays, complications, surveyors, consultations, and long weekends of planning, shuffling, and boxing, we’ve set in motion both the biggest and riskiest manoeuvre that the charity has attempted yet.

The next few months are going to see major changes happening at your community hackerspace, as we begin a programme of renovations and expansion that will stand us in good stead for the next eight years and beyond. Our current location, Unit 1, will be shut to members in the coming weeks and completely emptied by Friday 19th July, while our new temporary premises, Unit 5E, will be available for use from the week beginning Monday 1st July.

We hope to take possession of Unit 1 again in late September and, following a period of internal fit out, have it fully open again in Early October. We know that this will cause disruption to many of the usual activities that take place in Farset Labs, but we are seeking to minimise the impact where possible, and Farset Labs will remain open throughout, though in a substantially smaller space

We’re very excited to share the new space with the community and if you’d like to know more about what is planned, please read on.


Further information:

The renovation and expansion of the hackerspace is a large project that involves Farset Labs more than doubling its floor space by taking possession of the unit above us, making us the sole tenants of our beloved old Victorian schoolhouse, just five minutes from Great Victoria Street and on the doorstep of Weavers Cross, the new transport hub.

Our building, which was once used as the schoolhouse for the old linen mill

This gives us the opportunity to do the following:

  • Provide up to 40 additional dedicated desk spaces upstairs in a bright and airy environment
  • Expand our workshop, adding a new fire exit and access control
  • Increase the size of our flexible event space and improve AV facilities
  • Create a new multipurpose space suited for art projects, teams, startups etc
  • Move the lounge upstairs and create a new dedicated meeting room
  • Add call booths*, a second kitchenette, and additional toilets upstairs
  • Provide lift access to the new floor so everyone can use it
  • Finally, we will now have a single, unified entrance hallway for both floors

There are many other small tweaks and additions, too numerous to list here, from new bench tops in the ground floor kitchenette, to improved sound proofing between floors, and furniture storage for the event space.

This improved canvas has also prompted us to reevaluate the equipment and facilities in the space. Since we’ll be redistributing member storage spaces from the workshop to across the building, we can now access-control the workshop and certain tools within it. This means training will be required to enter it, and further training will be required to energise and use certain tools, which will enable us to accommodate more advanced equipment and processes than we’ve been able to support so far.

We have identified the following as priorities and will be seeking further input from the wider community soon on shaping this list:

  • New workshop equipment:
    • Small laser cutter*
    • Small vacuum former
    • Small CNC router*
    • Benchtop small lathe*
    • FDM and SLA/DLP/LCD 3D Printers*
    • Benchtop power supplies*
    • Oscilloscopes
    • Logic analyser*
    • PCB stereo microscope
    • Dust and fume extraction
    • Heavy duty sewing machine
    • Hot wire cutter*
  • Event space:
    • Updated ultra-bright projection*
    • 1.2kW RMS surround sound system
    • Event recording/streaming equipment*
    • New lighting and backdrop options
  • Elsewhere:
    • New information displays
    • Access control throughout
    • Systems for smart management of heating, lighting etc in the space
    • Teleconferencing facilities
    • New plants and eco friendly features
    • Fixtures for displaying art and member projects

This list is not exhaustive and is dependent on reaching our target level of funding (items highlighted by an asterisk* indicate inclusion in our fundraising drive).

Accessibility was a key consideration in this expansion, and despite many difficulties with providing it in the structure of the old building, a lift will be installed to allow wheelchair/reduced mobility access to all spaces. In addition, key doors are being replaced and widened, improving flow throughout the space for all users. Certain doors, where possible, will also be electromagnetically held to eliminate the need to open them.

The new spaces have been designed to make it as easy as possible for members with accessibility needs to access them, with Farset Labs providing high contrast surfaces, induction loops, and Braille signage where possible. We remain firm in our commitment that people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds should be able to enjoy our space, and we are doing our best to provide this within our means.

(Presumptive) FAQs:

I have stuff in Farset, what’s gonna happen to it?
All member storage boxes will still be available in our new, temporary location, Unit 5E and will be moved over with the rest of the equipment and furniture. If your stuff isn’t in a box, you can either collect it or let us know what you would like done with it via email or Slack.

What’s going to happen to [insert event or programme here]?
We’re going to try our best to keep “Minimum Viable Farset” going in the time being, but that’s going to be mostly co-working/hot-desking, as we’re moving from 2000 sq. ft over multiple rooms, to circa 600 sq. ft over a single room. We’ve shut down the CoderDojo for summer, as well as a few other regular events, and we won’t be taking most new event bookings for the period that we’re in our temporary location. However, these will all be coming back after the move!

Who’s paying for all this?
The reason for the major renovation is related to the building (which hasn’t been fully renovated in about thirty years), rather than our tenancy, so the work being done to the fabric of the building is within the purview of the landlord (although they’ve kindly integrated some of our ideas and requests into the building plans). As for all the office furnishings, decoration, equipment, etc, we’ll be using core funds for that from members dues, so it’s still “our” space. However, we want to do this right, so we’ll be raising funds to make the transition as smooth as possible, and leave us with the best space we can manage.

What’s the network like in 5E?
We’ve worked with our good friends at Tibus to make sure it’s almost as awesome as the connection in Unit 1. A couple of years ago, we invested in some additional FTTC equipment as part of the Super Connected Communities programme and we won’t be able to migrate that over with us to our temporary location, so it’s not exactly the same, but it’s still a very solid and performant connection.

How is access going to work in Unit 5E?
We will be fitting a mechanical code lock this week and distributing the sequence to members, so access will be largely the same as in Unit 1 once it is set up.

How is this expansion going to effect membership dues?
We hope it won’t directly, however, we haven’t changed membership dues in over five years, so as part of the “settling in” period, we’ll be consulting with the membership on the charity’s cashflows and revenue calculations, so that we can make decisions about the long term sustainability of the community together.

One of the major motivations for the expansion is to increase the number of hackers, makers, and breakers that we can accommodate, and this increase in membership will offset the increased rent/electricity/heating costs so that Farset Labs can continue to be core-funded by the community

Further questions?

Please direct any enquiries to info@farsetlabs.org.uk or to @managers on the Farset Labs Slack and we will be happy to answer them. We have been trying to keep members updated through our Town Hall meetings and external event organisers updated via email, but if you have any specific concerns, please get in touch.

Acknowledgements:

This project to enhance the hackerspace is in association with our landlords, Weavers Court Business Park, and we have received additional support from our awesome fibre internet sponsors, Tibus, for which we are ever grateful. We have a fundraising strategy constructed and we are hoping to elicit additional support from the tech and creative community in Northern Ireland – if you’d like to hear more about this, please email admin@farsetlabs.org.uk.

A few notes on Farset Labs:

Farset Labs is a hackerspace, non-profit company, and registered charity based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It opened its doors in 2012 to respond to a demonstrated need for an independent, charitable community of creatives and technology innovators. Farset Labs provides this community with an open space and shared resources to experiment, explore, and grow themselves, their projects, and relationships locally and globally. Farset Labs stands as a valued part of the technology, entrepreneurship, and STEAM outreach communities, conducting collaborations with academia, government, and the private sector across Northern Ireland. It is entirely volunteer-run, member-funded, and has an open governance model, with no salaries or profit-making – all funds generated are reinvested in the charity and the community.

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