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”

Guest Post: CULTURETECH BBC MAKE IT DIGITAL DOTS BOARDS ACTIVITY

Foreword

Andrew Mulholland has been an active member of the Farset community since he was dragged down from native Coleraine to attend the first Raspberry Jam in Northern Ireland, hosted by Farset Labs in the Event space in November 2012.

Since then he’s gone from strength to strength and has since taken over the running of the Jam’s,and is on the Raspberry Pi Creative Technologist programme with the Raspberry Pi Foundation.. Andrew is also the Non Executive Manager for Outreach and lead on our Outreach project with support from DCAL, CultureTech and the Pi Foundation, introducing young people to technology in the most fun ways possible.

As part of his responsibilities as a Creative Technologist, Farset Labs supported Andrew taking the Foundation’s Dots Boards activity to the BBC’s MakeItDigital tent at the CultureTech festival in Derry, where it also joined Dr Robin Price’s “This Is Not A Table” that was constructed (and usually lives in) in the Farset Labs workshop. I managed to stick around and help for a bit but it was clear I wasn’t needed, and the event ran very smoothly (if messily), all in all engaging with over 2000 children and young people.

The below is a guest blog, originally published by Andrew Mulholland, reproduced with permission.

Foreword by: Andrew Bolster

Introduction

After the major success of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots board activity with Minecraft Pi at Liverpool Makefest and Dublin Maker, there was one final event left that I was down to help out at before the start of the new university term, the BBC Make It Digital event at Culturetech!

So on Friday 18th September, me and a set of volunteers from Farset Labs and the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam made our way to outside the Guildhall in Londonderry to the massive Make It Digital tent.

It was a very big tent!
It was a very big tent!

With us, we had a set of 8 Raspberry Pis (with monitors and all the cables required for them) and a box of 100 Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots boards ready to be filled in with Bare Conductive Electric paint.

100 Dots boards, ready to be filled in.
100 Dots boards, ready to be filled in.

The activity

The activity we were running involved kids filling in one of the Dots boards with electric paint, then attaching these to a Raspberry Pi and seeing whatever they had drawn appear in 3d in Minecraft.

The Dots boards were developed by Rachel Rayns from the Raspberry Pi Foundation as an activity to engage people of all ages (especially younger children) in technology.

They are an extremely simple circuit board featuring a 40 pin Raspberry Pi header, a single resistor and a series of pads on the front.
These pads are the key to it all, they feature an inner circular pad and an outer ring. Between the 2 pads is a gap which can be bridged by electric paint.
Bridging the pads allows the Raspberry Pi to read it like any input, for example a button. There is 22 dot-to-dot pads, 4 colour selection pads, a pad on a cloud and finally a pad on a parachuting bear.

Although we tell the kids to do the dot-to-dot, in fact all that is actually required is a dot on each pad you want to select.

The software

For the activity, there is 2 options for the software on the Raspberry Pi side.

  1. The original rpi_dots python program written by Eben Upton and Ben Nuttall that simply if you have enough pins covered, an airplane (in your selected colour) will appear on screen.
  2. The Minecraft Pi program written by myself while on my internship with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It splits the plane up into 10 sections, each of which is added to a 3d version of the plane inside Minecraft if it is dotted. Once the user is happy with their plane, they can attempt to see if the plane will fly. If they have enough dots dotted, the plane will fly across the sky, if not it will plummet to the ground and crash.
    If the user selects the bear, a parachuting bear will come down from the clouds and if they select the cloud, grey clouds will be added to the scene and lightning will strike down.

For Liverpool Makefest, Dublin Maker and the BBC Make It Digital event, we used the 2nd option, the Minecraft Pi program.

Friday evening

The event ran from 6pm-10pm on the Friday evening to coincide with Londonderry Culturenight and the many other family friendly events going on in Londonderry that evening.

Within minutes of the doors being opened, we were swamped by people wanting to have a go with our activity, so much so we immediately discovered we had underestimated the number of volunteers we would need to run the activity!
Thankfully, the BBC stepped in and we able to provide 2 awesome guys from their team to help out.

We tired Mark out so much, he was half asleep at this point...
We tired Mark out so much, he was half asleep at this point with black hands from cleaning so many boards!

Throughout the 4 hours that evening, we had roughly 800 Dots Boards filled in (and then cleaned)!
Because we weren’t able to keep up with the demand, a hefty chunk of those 800 boards were filled in in pairs or families so the number of people taking part in the activity that evening was 1000+.

We also were visited by some pretty awesome Minecraft in education people who came by to try out the activity including COO of Mojang, Vu Bue, Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft Education from Microsoft) and Santeri Koivisto (CEO of Teachergaming).

Vu Bue (Mojang COO), Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft in education at Microsoft) and Stephen Reid (Immersive Minds)
Vu Bue (Mojang COO), Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft in education at Microsoft) and Stephen Reid (Immersive Minds) trying out the Raspberry Pi Dots boards.

Santeri Koivisto (CEO) and Mikael Uusi-Mäkelä (Learning developer) from Teaching gaming having too much fun with Raspberry Pi Dots boards
Santeri Koivisto (CEO) and Mikael Uusi-Mäkelä (Learning developer) from Teaching gaming having far too much fun with Raspberry Pi Dots boards.

We even somehow got Stuart Portis (event organiser and manager) to try out the activity!
We even somehow got Stuart Portis (event organiser and manager) to try out the activity!

Lots of Dots boards getting filled in (and this was a quiet part)
Lots of Dots boards getting filled in (and this was a quiet part).

Testing to see if their planes will fly.
Testing to see if their planes will fly.

"Whatever you do, don't make Minecraft Pi full screen"
“Whatever you do, don’t make Minecraft Pi full screen”

A huge thanks to my team of volunteers on the Friday evening.

My awesome team of volunteers for Friday evening. From left to right: David Linton, Ryan Neill, Oliver Warke, Andrew Bolster, Andrew Mulholland (myself).
My awesome team of volunteers for Friday evening.
From left to right:
David Linton, Ryan Neill, Oliver Warke, Andrew Bolster, Andrew Mulholland (myself).

Saturday

The event ran from 10am-6pm on the Saturday. It coincided with the Londonderry Maker City event that was happening in next door in the Guildhall.

By the Saturday morning, I had been able to get some additional volunteers over to help out, although even with a team of 9 people (plus Matt from the BBC), we were still overwhelmed later in the day.

Although the event started at 10am, it didn’t get busy till after midday which allowed us to do some much needed Dots board cleaning catch up, table cleaning and GPIO pin fixing.

After midday though, we were basically constantly assisting people with the activity. This continued till around 5:30pm when it started to quiet down again.

On the Saturday we also set up a Raspberry Pi Camera module to do a timelapse of the event. Below is roughly 2 hours of the event in 55 seconds. As can be seen, it was incredibly busy!

"It's my airplane I just drew!"
“It’s my airplane I just drew!”

IMG_8771

IMG_8810

IMG_8822

"My plane is better than yours!"
“My plane is better than yours!”

A trip to the local bakery is a good way to keep volunteer moral up.
A trip to the local bakery is a good way to keep volunteer moral up.

My awesome team of volunteers for Saturday From left to right: Toby Tregear, David Linton, Libby Hoy, Sam Stuart, Vincent Lee, Finley Roulston, Ryan Neill, Andrew Mulholland (myself) and Oliver Warke.
My awesome team of volunteers for Saturday
From left to right:
Toby Tregear, David Linton, Libby Hoy, Sam Stuart, Vincent Lee, Finley Roulston, Ryan Neill, Andrew Mulholland (myself) and Oliver Warke.

Conclusion

From feedback from parents, kids and the BBC, we can say that the activity was a complete success. With over 2000 people of all ages taking part from kids as young as 4, right up to senior citizens of 80+ years.

This is what makes the Dots Board activity so awesome, it really is suitable for people of all ages, thanks to its simplicity.

Big thanks to the BBC Make It Digital team for inviting us along and looking after us while in Londonderry, the Raspberry Pi Foundation for the Dots boards, Farset Labs for use of their equipment and to my volunteers, couldn’t ask for a better team over the 2 days.