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.

Now offering in-space advertising

Farset Labs has accomplished a lot in the past 5 years, stimulated by the goodwill of the STEAM community, and underpinned by the direct financial support of the membership.

However, like many others in the community and voluntary sector, we face continually rising overheads despite efficiently delivering our charitable aims. As such, we’re exploring a new revenue stream: in-space advertising.

Next month, we will be putting up four A3 poster panels in the co-working space and workshop on a three-month trial basis, available on rolling monthly hire by outside organisations and companies.

These poster locations will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis at the discretion of the Farset Labs management team, and posters must be provided by the advertiser.

These are currently priced as follows:

  • Community/charitable/non-profit groups advertising events, programmes & opportunities: £150pm
  • Direct advertisement of goods, services & jobs: £300pm
  • Indirect promotion of recruitment services & non-specific roles: £600pm

If you’d be interested in participating in this trial, contact us on info@farsetlabs.org.uk.

At the end of this three month period, the results and impact will be assessed openly in the community along with trial participants, and any modifications deemed necessary will be made before restarting the programme. Trial participants will have early-access into the continued programme.

This new revenue stream will give Farset Labs a more stable platform from which we can cover our increasing operational costs and focus on reinvesting in our services and facilities. We want to achieve this without having to put any more financial pressure on the members of our community who need access to these resources the most.

Farset Labs has been a fully membership-funded community space, delivering volunteer-driven outreach, education, and facilitation to the STEAM community; from programming & engineering courses at local primary and secondary schools, to taking part in national and global collaborative events such as Global Game Jam and BBC’s Make It Digital campaigns.

Beyond this, we have been a melting pot for meetups and user-groups, with our free use of our event space on Wednesday evenings for qualifying non-profit groups and individuals, where organisers can test the viability of their event ideas, developing communities that can (and usually do) rapidly grow to join the major meetup circuit beyond Farset Labs.

Given the nature of the community fostered under our roof, Farset Labs has also hosted and spun-through a number of successful member-run startups, giving entrepreneurs the freedom to explore, collaborate, and experiment without losing equity or requiring significant upfront costs (Desk rental starts at £100 per month, but hot desking is included at all membership levels).

All of this while operating on what can only be described as a “lean” budget. With no staff, no salaries, and no institutional funding, we have kept our significant outgoings limited to rent, power, heating (most of the time), cleaning and refuse collection, and insurance/accounting/legal fees.

If you, your company or your organisation wish to support the work of Farset Labs, or are interested in engaging with this unique community, get in touch via email to info@farsetlabs.org.uk, or tweet us at @FarsetLabs.

Launching @MakerAssemblyNI: 16th March

EDIT: Schedule released below
We’ve been quietly toiling away in the background to bring the movers, shakers and taste makers of the UK Maker Community  (and beyond!) to Belfast for a one day mini-conference, set up to tear down some misconceptions about the community and to address some of the unique challenges faced in our region.

Maker Assembly NI is a one-day gathering hosted in the labs to critically discuss maker culture: its meaning, politics, history and future.

Speakers

Currently confirmed speakers / workshop leaders are:

But the speakers don’t make the conference; the attendees do, and while we’re not publishing our invited attendee list, it’s pretty awesome if we do say so ourselves!

Schedule

The conference will explore a series of topics around making, with a focus on critical discussion about the current state of the maker culture.

 

10:00 Registration and coffee

10:30 Welcome address

10:45 Session 1: Making & Peace Building

Kicking off Maker Assembly NI is a session about the politics and nuances of community-facing digital fabrication projects. It will look at how maker cultures are emerging at the grassroots and how local organisations are contributing to the peace-building project currently underway in Northern Ireland. It hopes to reveal how the idea of ‘critical making’ can be adjusted to suit the specificities of different contexts.

Speakers:

Adam Wallace & Eamon Durey, Fab Labs NI, John Peto, Nerve Centre

12:00 Session 2: Speculative Making: New Contexts and Futures

As the idea of digital making beds down—and practices become more visible and accessible—what new trajectories are emerging and how are speculative futures being framed? This session hopes to reveal the supports we might need to maintain a critical forecast of making and maker culture.

Speakers:

Nora O’Murchu, University of Limerick, Kat Braybrooke, University of Sussex

13:00 Lunch

14:00 Session 3: Governance, Sustainability & Maker Networks

How are maker networks nurtured and sustained? And how ‘critical’ are the governance

strategies of the physical spaces and networked platforms that mediate maker networks?

This session hopes to somewhat unravel the entanglements of people, places, and things, to better understand how maker culture is being facilitated.

Speakers:

Javier Burón, Fab Lab Limerick & University of Limerick, Hannah Stewart, Royal College of Art, Future Makerspaces Project

15:30 Session 4: Critics of the world, create!

Final session to be a making exercise, inspired by the Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska’s (2012) Creative Media Manifesto and Garnet Hertz’s Critical Making zine series.

17:00 Closing remarks and Networking

18:00 Bus to the Pub – BREWBOT http://www.brewbotbelfast.com/

Supporters

Running as part of Creativity Month, DCALNI have kindly funded a limited number of subsidised tickets and travel bursaries for some speakers & attendees. This fund has also been topped up by those kind folks at BBC Northern Ireland.

If you would like to contribute to these bursaries (or enquire about making use of) contact info@makerassemblyni.org.

Follow us on @MakerAssemblyNI for up to the minute news and info!

Farset Labs 3rd Birthday Anniversary Celebration – 13th April

Can you believe it has been 3 years since we opened our doors?

We’re going to have a bit of a party, and Farset Labs invite you to come and celebrate with us on Monday 13th April – as a thank you for helping us on our way, and to look forward to many more years of nurturing local creative and technology endeavours.

Please do invite friends and well-wishers.

As well as being a general “Open/Social Evening”, we will of course have cake, snacks and drinks, plus a selection of our best boardgames and multiplayer video-games, plenty of opportunities to experiment with some of our projects and tools, and the all important “traditional” (not yet, but it will be) Farset birthday raffle, with some great prizes available, kindly donated to us by local and more distant organisations.

Some great raffle prizes have already been contributed by such generous benefactors as Intel BelfastBrightwaterBufferBelfast Roller DerbyMiss McKeown’s extraordinary teas, rehabstudio, and our own excellent Farset brewers will be offering some of their latest.

We’re looking forward to seeing your wonderful face!

You are also welcome to BYOB.

(Anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a responsible adult.)

Getting kids excited about Computer Science in Northern Ireland

The following is a combined position paper and call-to-action for a project that many of us have been working on behind the scenes for a long time now, especially Andrew Mulholland who’s taken over the operation of the Raspberry Jam programme.

Andrew and I collaborated on this document to put forward our plans for a school outreach programme built on the experience we’ve gained from running the Jam programme in Belfast for the past two years, including a collaboration between Farset Labs, Digital Circle and W5 that brought teachers together from across the province to share best practice for ICT education, as well as receiving our ‘wisdom’ from running CoderDojo and Jam-like programmes. This programme was assessed DCAL and was very well received but due to personnel changes in some relevant organisations, has not been directly carried on as a full pilot programme.

We hope to change that, and thanks in part to Andrew’s recent successes at the TalkTalk Digital Hero awards, as well as working over the summer with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’ve secured match funding up to £4,000 to support the proposed programme.

But we need your help to drum up the rest of our estimated £8,000 programme costs, and hopefully this document will help. Have a read at our thoughts, and Andrew and I are more than happy to answer any questions, concerns or ideas about the proposed programme.

EDIT:

We’re happy to announce that The CultureTech Festival have pledged £1,000 towards this programme, as well as inviting us to participate in three events in the North West.

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