Farset Labs 2.0: Nearly ready to go!

Summary: The expansion, renovation, and improvement of Farset Labs is nearly finished, with the project on schedule and anticipated to only slip by a few days, which will not materially affect our timetable. A range of purpose-built features for the Event Space, workshop, and general accessibility have been included. Fundraising to further our charitable aims has started and you can find out how to contact us about this at the end of the post.


How time flies – we’re nearing the end of our eight week build schedule on the Farset Labs renovation and the results are looking fantastic so far. Our Victorian schoolhouse, which has been educating Belfast since 1883, is nearly ready to open its doors again. While the timetable has slipped by a few days, we’re still on target to be back in by early October.

We’re going to take this opportunity to share a few select photos from the project so far, starting right back at the beginning… (Or you can skip right to the current progress.)

The story so far…

After our big push to vacate the building, the construction firm wasted no time in starting demolition, which reduced Unit 1 to a rather sorry state. 

However, it wasn’t long before the mess was cleared up and Unit 1 was a blank canvas again (more or less).

The bulk of the structural work was confined to the eastern end of the building, where a lift shaft was formed and two pre-existing openings were sealed up, with a new, wider opening made.

Looking at the mostly formed new entrance to the ground floor of Farset Labs. Ceiling partially covered by plasterboard. Masonry still being worked on.
The new entrance is mostly formed here.

Demolition wasn’t confined to downstairs, although a previous contractor had torn down most of the internal studs upstairs several months previously in preparation for the project – the below images were actually taken as part of a Farset survey in early March 2019. 

Some say this was briefly the premier toilet in Weavers Court – excellent south facing aspect, glorious afternoon light, fine views over a converted Victorian mill, wonderful sense of spaciousness… 

Briefly the best toilet in Weavers Court Business Park.

Anyway, back to the summertime work: due to the floor settling unevenly at the western end over the last century and a half, the joiners moved in to rectify the problem.

The major stud walls upstairs were erected pretty early in the project.

In the upstairs desk space, looking east.
The studs between the desk space upstairs and the kitchenette/meeting room

You can see the marks for widening the doorway seen in the previous photo. We’re looking east, with the kitchenette through to the left and the meeting room through to the right.

The hallway on the first floor.

The position of the lift shaft (seen here on the left with copious quantities of two-by-four and marine ply) and the existing stairwell (coming up through the purple door on the right) meant the lobby area was a peculiar shape, which we decided to keep open and make into the new lounge area. This will be a chill-out space, a social space, or simply a place to take a phone call or lunch.

Lift shaft under construction, seen from the new lounge area.
Standing in the new lounge area

The new first floor meeting room under construction, before the studs on the left of the image were reinforced for a wall-mounted display. Note also the cabling for power and HDMI to the floor box.

Farset Labs Meeting Room, looking south.
The upstairs meeting room

Back downstairs, we can see the little stud wall that was put in to provide power and support to the central workbench in the workshop. Originally, we had envisaged the power simply coming down the column, but solid iron is, of course, not the best material to work on for that purpose, so a heavily reinforced (almost all two-by-fours and ply) stud was built instead. 

Workshop stud wall in Farset Labs
Using a reinforced little stud wall to avoid having to work on the iron column

At the other end of the building, I returned from a trip away to a conference to find that the upstairs kitchenette and lift had seemingly appeared out of nowhere – appearances were deceiving, though, since most of the internals of the lift were still being worked on. Accessibility has been a very important consideration during this renovation, and a number of features have gone or are going into the building in order to help our users.

These accessibility features include, but are not limited to: twin fire refuge points with two-way firefighter’s comms, installing distress call points in both disabled toilets, a new disabled toilet on the first floor, built to be compliant with the latest regulations, a high-contrast colour scheme throughout the Labs (high LRV differentials) to aid the navigation of visually impaired users, braille signage and wayfinding*, induction loops in the Event Space and meeting room*, drop-level workbenches in the workshop for wheelchair access to an electronics workstation, spaces such as the lounge area for users to decompress and avoid sensory overload, dual electric blinds for dimming rooms to different levels*, high CRI and lower colour temperature LED lighting to avoid fatigue and migraines from fluorescents/CFLs, hold-open fire doors to allow the option of door-free entry from street to the Event Space when an event is starting, and levelling and refitting nearly 4,000 sq ft of flooring, including the use of low-rolling resistance, healthcare-grade vinyl in the ground floor.

Current Progress

Finally, these most up-to-date images were all taken on one recent evening and should give an idea of the progress:

We start in the team room on the first floor, at the very western end of the building (we’re standing in the north-western corner) – the western fire escape is to the left. Unfortunately, though we fought for it, the beautiful ceiling is being covered up again by a new suspended ceiling. Perhaps something to return to in a future project. 

Farset Labs Team Room, looking south-east.

View of the same room from the opposite corner. This room will be our area for small teams, whether hobbyist or professional. Members can rent several desks and work together on projects, enjoying a higher degree of privacy and an included small meeting pod* (sited in the alcove visible here).

Farset Labs Team Room, looking north-west.

Moving into the next room, we can see the desk space, with eight large windows providing some really beautiful natural light throughout the day. The next image is the same view, but moved right slightly, standing in the door of the team room, and the final image is from the opposite end, looking west towards the doorway the previous image was taken in. There will be circa twenty desks in here, arranged with comfortable room all around, and also a couple of telephone booths*, print services, and storage.

Farset Labs desk space, looking south-east

Facing south, we find ourselves in the meeting room, now with the plasterboard on, which will have a large monitor for presentations, teleconferencing kit for collaboration*, and space for up to seven people to meet privately…

Farset Labs Meeting Room

…and facing north, across the corridor, we can see the kitchenette, just before the piping for the boiler was boxed in. 

Farset Labs first floor kitchenette

Going through the door at the end of the short corridor, in the lounge area, we can also glimpse the lift cabin being worked on at that moment in time. Through the doorway on the left is the toilets, cleaning cupboard, and electrical services for the floor.

Farset Labs lounge/first floor lobby, with a view of the lift being worked on.

The furthest wall that you can see, to the left of the window, will have shelving for our library of texts, classic gaming collection, magazines, and a large screen. The shelving will continue around into the alcove to the left (out of view) and there is hope a fish tank will also be included here, as a donation of materials and time from a member with previous experience. 

Moving the camera round the corner to the right, with the lift to our back left, we get a better look at that alcove and the door to the main stairwell. 

Farset Labs lounge area.

Standing on the landing, we can see the entrances to both floors.

View from the landing between the ground and first floors of Farset Labs. Wooden staircase will be restored.
The wooden staircase is scheduled for restoration

Coming down the stairs, we’re now in the new front doorway, which has become the entrance for both units. We hope to have mail-handling facilities on the left wall and ahead, in what will soon be behind a door, you can see part of the Tibus gear which provides our awesome internet connectivity.

Farset Labs new main entrance hallway for both floors.
The new entrance for both floors

Walking past the ground floor lift lobby and into what was the old co-working space, the camera finds itself in the south western corner, where the networking cabinet used to sit. The alcove to right and the wall on the other side of the entrance hallway will both have lockers* for member storage installed in them. It is our current intention to fabricate some desk-level benches in the middle of the room and at the windows, offering comfortable and generous hotdesking space with power sockets and proper seating. Note the much higher plastered ceiling throughout the ground floor, exposing the beautiful ironwork and central wooden beam, which gives the whole space a very light and airy feel.

View of the old co-working (new hot-desking) space in Farset Labs, which will also feature member storage.
The hot-desking space, which will also feature member storage

We’ve considerably widened our Event Space door, both for general people flow and for improved accessibility. Turning left through it, we can see the new Event Space, which has been enlarged by ~40%, giving considerably more usable space and flexibility than that figure would suggest. This will be kitted out with brand new tables with a non-folding tabletop, and brand new durable moulded chairs with cushions. Both the tables and chairs have been specified to include high-capacity trolley storage and the new store (alcove on the right of the image, waiting for double doors to be fitted) will hold the entire table and chair stock, allowing the Event Space to be completely empty, enhancing its capability as a multi-use space, particularly in light of plans to also integrate room-scale VR facilities into it*. Retractable drop-down power sockets for desk groups will be installed* to eliminate trailing cables and speed up setup time. We also have exciting plans* for best-in class AV to allow our members and external users, such as meet-up groups, access to a unique, highly specified facility. 

Farset Labs Event Space, looking north-west.

Moving to the other side of the Event Space, we can see that it now has own-door access from the car park, allowing event organisers to welcome guests directly into the space in good weather. (Industrial clean-off carpet will be fitted at this and other entrances to prevent ingress of water/dirt.) The window to the workshop sits just beside it, allowing a connection between the two core rooms of the hackerspace.  

Farset Labs Event Space, looking south-west.

The workshop is completely new, with sealed lighting fixtures, a large cored external hole for air extraction, emergency cut-off panic switches on sockets, a dedicated 20A supply for a down-draught vented 1,200°C+ kiln*, the same for a 4’ x 2’ CNC router with fourth axis*, space for a large (~1000mm x 600mm) laser cutter with dual (CO2 and MOPA fibre) diodes*, a Formlabs Form 3 3D Printer with wash and cure*, a large industrial sink with waste filtration (allowing, for example, ceramics work), FDM 3D printers, a pedestal drill, a smaller CNC mill (Nomad 883 Pro)*, smaller laser cutter (Glowforge Pro)*, desktop vacuum former*, screen printer*, ultrasonic cleaner*, high quality hand tools, an industrial sewing machine & overlocker*, computerised embroidery machine*, tailor’s form*, steam iron*, and two electronics workstations, with a reflow oven*, high-end Oscilloscopes*, bench top PSUs*, bench top multimeters*, microscopy*, PCB shear*, Weller solder/desolder stations*, Weller hot-air rework station*, and more. Whew!

Farset Labs workshop, looking north-east, towards the Event Space.
Workshop – note the window to the Event Space

Finally, moving to the right, we get a view of the dedicated fire escape/separate entrance for the workshop, the new boiler room access door, and the aforementioned cored hole for extraction services. It’s worth mentioning that the philosophy for the workshop is to allow the creation of objects anywhere up to about a metre cubed, whether as prototypes, art, or whatever our members can imagine. We have placed a heavy emphasis on precision engineering and end-to-end electronics fabrication.

Farset Labs workshop, looking north-west.

That completes the tour of the work-in-progress – which I hope you’ve found helpful – and brings us to those little asterisks…

* Funding permitting – we’re currently fundraising for capital expenditure that will support us in achieving our charitable aims and increase the impact of the outcomes we already provide as a volunteer-led and -run organisation. If you’d like to hear more or discuss how you could help us provide STEAM outreach and education for children, young people, and adults, as well as a community environment for hobbyists, professionals, and everyone in between, from arts to engineering, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at admin@farsetlabs.org.uk or, if you’d prefer to speak directly with me, feel free to give me a shout at david@farsetlabs.org.uk and we can have a chat. 

This is the largest project the charity has ever undertaken, but we’re building on eight years of experience, developing robust governance, and a wealth of knowledge from our volunteer teams; we’d love to have great partners on the next eight years of our journey!

Any questions? Join our Slack and ask away. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and see you soon in the new and improved Farset Labs.

Photography by David Kane (earlier progress) & Alan Ferguson (current progress). Editing by David Kane.

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.

A packed week ahead: ELI5, Christmas Party and Workshop Clearing

December is nearly upon us and with it comes a raft of Farset events! What better way to christen our new and improved Event Space?

Kicking off the month, we have our regular casual talk series, Explain it Like I’m 5, where some great speakers break down a concept they have experience with and present it in seven minutes. We’ve had everything from baking to plasma physics in the past and we welcome talks from the floor on the night.

Join us on Thursday 1st December at 1800 for some truly entertaining talks, plus a Japanese buffet and plenty of time to chat with other attendees. Read more here.

Next up, we have the annual Farset Christmas Party in the form of a pot-luck dinner. Culinary hacks are encouraged and the event is open to all. Bring something edible and bring a friend, but please don’t bring an edible friend – that’d be against the law and not much fun for the friend. Party poppers, retro console gaming and festive treats await!

The Christmas party kicks off at 1900 on Friday 2nd December and you can get more details here.  Do let us know you’re coming via Facebook.

Finally, the management team have been toiling hard (as always!) to improve the Labs and, having been working extensively on sprucing up the Event Space, we’re now turning our attention to the Workshop. As discussed on Slack, the Workshop Clearout will be taking place this weekend (Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th December). Any help is appreciated.

Member equipment that is in member project boxes will, of course, remain untouched, as will any clearly labelled equipment as per the member handbook. If you have left any kit in a position that may have, shall we say, not quite complied with the rules, please give us a shout on info@farsetlabs.org.uk to make sure we know about it and that it’s not disposed of. Any queries, as always, can also be directed to that address.

We’ll be relocating a few pieces of equipment to more suitable homes within the workshop and this should make using the space a lot easier for all. Naturally, this means that the workshop can’t be used for any member projects during the clear-out and we apologise for the disruption.

If you want to see what’s planned (particularly disposal of equipment believed to be communal and unwanted), check out the barebones plan available here.

(The rather lovely featured image is by Kevin Dooley.)

Creating Comics All Day Long: 24Hour Comics Day – 1st October

24 Hour Comics Day BannerThis year’s 24 Hour Comics Day comes around on Saturday 1st October, and we mean to be ready!

We have registered to run a 12 hour challenge to get you started, as you won’t be forced to finish within the weekend 😉  If you’re up for the full 24 hour/24 page challenge (on the 24 Hour Comics Day challenge page) Farset Labs offers you the opportunity to take advantage of the 24/7 facilities to complete your opus in the one weekend.
Join the Sketchy Individuals meetup or via our Facebook event to register your interest!

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or enthusiastic amateur, you’re welcome to come hang out and set your mind to the task. Snacks, tea and some art supplies will be available (plus access to the kitchen, of course)
but the most valuable thing on-site will be your mind… and your drawing/writing appendage 🙂

We look forward to seeing you there – the comics challenge is always good fun, and it’s a brilliant chance to finish a small project with some funny, smart, artistic, or just interesting company 🙂

Update: The lovely people at InkMonkey on North Street are providing us with some free art materials to work with this Saturday, including some of their fantastic Zebra ink brush-pens (so you can get your INKtober started as well 😉 )rurrl1c2-jpg-largeAs well as being lovely pens to look at (!?) they’re genuinely pretty well-regarded.
“Possibly the best brush pen in the world; capable of vanishingly thin lines and bold back lines all on the same stroke.” – PJH
“Awesome ink heaven with a side order of flexibility 🙂 it’s a must have inking pen for me.” – Ann H

Our normal venue rules apply. Under 18s must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult. Please contact events@farsetlabs.org.uk if you have any queries about the venue facilities or access.

CoderDojo Back for Autumn 2015 Term

This Friday (2nd) at 17:30, the Dojo is back.

Info for Kids/Parents

CoderDojo is a movement orientated around running not-for-profit coding clubs and regular sessions for young people.

At CoderDojo, young people learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and more.  In addition to learning to code, members meet like minded people, show off what they’ve been working on and as well as developing key critical thinking and problem solving skills. It’s also a lot of fun!

We’ve also pre-booked between now and Christmas, at which point we’ll be taking a small break and will be relaunching in January. Those dates are:

Info for Mentors

Thanks to our recent “mentor drive”, we’ve got lots of new volunteers to help out with running this great programme. (There’s always room for more!)

As part of this new wave of mentors, we’re hosting an induction session this Wednesday between 17:30 and 19:30, sneaking in before the Google Developer Group Meetup (although we can break out into the workshop if discussion continues).

Don’t worry if you’re running late / can’t make it, but it’d be helpful if you could let outreach@farsetlabs.org.uk know if you’re no longer interested and we’ll take you off the mailing list.

This discussion will include:

  • Introductions / Networking (“Hi, I’m $NAME, ask me about $SKILLS, don’t ask me about $FEARS”)
  • Child Protection Policies / Emergency procedures
  • Worksheet / Equipment / Resource overviews
  • Communication preferences
  • Open forum for “cool things we should do”