Response to TOG's Third Eviction

Andrew Bolster

Senior R&D Manager (Data Science) at Synopsys Software Integrity Group and Treasurer @ Bsides Belfast and NI OpenGovernment Network

This is a condensed version of a twitter thread in response to @silverSpoon asking about how Farset Labs would comment on recent news of Dublins hackerspace (TOG) being uncerimoniously turfed out of their third home thanks to developers just wanting to flip sites

It’s similar up here, but that’s more challenging (and lines up with @jeffrey_roe’s comments in the piece) that hackerspaces fall between a crack in local development support between ‘entrepeneurship/startups support’ (aka subsidised professional services and office space), the classical arts sector individual and studio support (which has its own significant issues, often a lot more bureaucracy than it’s worth, and stifling community revenue generation by arcane entertainments licensing that I’m sure if you start @adamtucks he’ll chip in) and last, the classical community centre/sports groups (such as the GAA clubs discussed in the original article).

I’ve also had push back in the past because “Oh, you should go for this cross-community fund” when even asking the monitoring questions of “so which side are you from” makes my skin crawl and is against the #hacker ethos.

In the case of Farset Labs our out goings are >90% related to building and upkeep and we spend the vast majority of our administrative time paying the landlord and heating/electric bills that we should be doing teaching/learning, but instead of that we’ve had decades of young technologists energies going in to pure governance, upkeep, and maintenance. And when we ask for help, there are always two ‘strata’ of help;

First, the sporadic, seemingly random, £1-5k pots for individual projects, which aren’t really something you can put for rent (or even most #hackerspace) equipment, and secondly, 6/7-figure annual funding programmes expecting staff of dozens and 30 year leases.

So we’ve survived based on our community just keeping paying, even while before the pandemic, we’d been shut down for about a year due to structural issues in our building requiring a complete refit.

As for ‘get the tech sector to pay for it’, there are very few models where this doesn’t create perverse incentives in terms of recruitment bias or restrictions to ‘only relevant’ practice; Farset Labs is a community, not a startup, not an incubator, & not a co-working space.

For years, @dsrkane had a great slide in his presentations asking people who they thought paid for @FarsetLabs, and people always just assumed that it was something paid for by @belfastcc or @InvestNI, because that’s what everyone else seems to get, but the fact is that a voluntary run self-funded STEAM charity that doesn’t claim members IP or curate products and doesn’t want to scam it’s community with exploitative fees isn’t something that interests bureaucrats. At least not the ones with the purse strings.

Disclaimer: Speaking as an individual with 10 years of pissing upstream to keep the place going, and not as a representative of the board.

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