Me and Bristol Hackspace have history. I was a member until about spring 2013 when I finally cancelled my sub and returned my keys. I’d gone down to Bristol for work in the new year 2012 and lived down there on a boat for a bit. Knowing that Bristol had a sizable and venerable space was one of the things that made Bristol a palatable choice for a move in jobs. I’ve written about them before (here and here) also and was quite critical. When I said I was doing a blog post (not unreasonably) one of them joked “What will you call it? Doing it wrong?”
The Bristol Hackspace has certainly grown since my last visit. The setup needs a little explaining. BH have their HQ in the artists community called BV Studios on Philip Street in Bedminster (just south of the river) BV is a very well run cluster of about 30 artists room, each of which is divided into several artist’s studios using white lines a-la-Steptoe and Son. The Bristol Hackspace occupies 5/6th of one room and 2/3rds of another, these rooms are roughly divided into “clean” and “dirty” spaces. The clean space includes some parts and project storage and a number of communal worktables with power and an electronics and tool bench. The dirty room includes a large A2 Epilogue laser cutter (on load and usable for a small fee) various member owned metal working tools like a Myford lathe and a mini mill, as well as a number of wood working tools like a mitre saw, sanding disk and pillar drill.
I chatted with David Wyatt, old friend and treasurer of the Bristol Hackspace who filled me in on some of the statistics. He told me they currently had around 76 members, each of which pays around £10 per month for membership. Keys are issued and managed by BV Studios and these days there was an increase in the number of people working in the Hackspace outside of the very popular Open Night. every Thursday. He said they’d had a lesser focus on workshops and organised activity outside of the open night but had very much enjoyed and benefited from showing off the Hackspace at a recent “Open House” event run by their BV Studio landlords where a large number of the public where both surprised and delighted to find the facility available locally. On the Open Night that I attended there was a great mix of people including some new people looking around for the first time. This community really does enjoy it’s open night for problem solving and sharing as well as some collaboration. Some of members I spoke to admitted they mostly came to the space to bounce ideas and interact with like minded people and socialise (as good a reason as any of course) and that the tool though improved, where no real draw to them as many of the members had as good or better set-ups at home, especially for electronics.
I noted that many of the tools were labeled “induction only” and that they also had a QR code taking you to useful information on their Wiki about the tool. This seemed especially true of tools that were on loan from members rather than owned by the space itself. I was chatting away with David about his “3D Cake Printer”, a machine designed to extrude and layer cake mix and icing in novel ways that has been David’s enduring project for as long as I’ve known him which I am fairly certain has never produced a cake of any sort yet… “try jelly” I said. It occurred to me that the Bristolians are happy… happy with a space they can enjoy in their own way and not feel a driven urge to expand it much beyond the room and space it’s in. They are comfortable and for a moment I wondered what drove me to want to grow the Hackspace to which I belong? In 2012 filled with vim over Nottinghack’s move to a much larger space, I rather banged a BIGGER AND MORE gong at Bristol. It doesn’t really surprise me that they haven’t moved on yet. “…the artist (who rents the last 6th of their room) will be moving on soon…” I was cheerfully told. It seems that the sculpture who has the end part of the Hackspace is going to another unit.
Bristol Hackspace isn’t perhaps without it’s small problems. There was a considerable amount of “junk” that reportedly belonged to only one member taking up some of the desk space. Had all XX of the members have bought such storage demands to the space they’d have little room for anything but storage. This issue was pointed out to me as a problem they were facing so I have no doubt they’ll sort it out. I think it is likely that I’ll be spending a little bit more time in Bristol over the next 18 months or so as I’m planning to re-awaken the Bristol Mini Maker Faire and that is likely to lead to a number of meetings and engagements in the South West. Watch this space!