Making a Hackspace, part 3

1st Aug 2017

Previously, we had finally agreed on how the building would be arranged, but needed permission from the local council (in their role as landlord) before we could start on any major work.

Original building layout

Diagram of layout M

What it will eventually look like


The drawings were sent over to the council, and they’re happy with what we’re wanting to do, so finally there’s nothing standing between us and a fully kitted out-hackspace.

This, of course, assumes you redefine “nothing” to mean

  • building control consent
  • money
  • somewhere to put the waste
  • time
  • effort
  • more money
  • more effort

The local council’s building control people are mostly concerned that removing the internal walls doesn’t destabilise the external walls, making the whole thing fall down. The next step is to find a structural engineer who can give them (and us, since we’ll be the ones in the building!) suitable reassurance that everything will be fine.

Unexpected discovery

There are certain things in life you take for granted. Death, taxes, the rising and setting of the sun. And that a group of people with a wall they want to knock down, and a collection of tools, will eventually make a hole in it…

Hole in the wall. The floor on the other side is higher

Something else we had taken for granted was that the floor in the new space was level. And, after bashing the wall a bit, it turns out we were wrong, to the tune of about 15 centimetres. The gents and cistern room are level with each other, which is fortunate as we’d agreed to turn them into one room, but their floor is higher than the ladies. The reason for this is that Bancroft (the road the building is on) slopes very slightly, so building the floors at different heights means both entrances are exactly at pavement level.

In practical terms, this means there is a fairly small step between the two sides, and it could be left as such. However, our aim has always been to make a fully accessible hackspace, so it will mean building a ramp up in the workshop (ex-ladies toilets). A ramp down to the level of the ladies on the office side (ex-cistern room) isn’t possible as it would involve digging out the floor in that part of the building, which is actually manhole covers over a sewer.

Hungry, Hungry Hipposkip

Hippo, the yellow waste bag people, were kind enough to give us a free Hipposkip and collection under their Grants Up For Grabs scheme. We managed to get rid of 4.5 cubic yards of waste, including toilet doors, doorframes, cisterns, concrete slab cubicle walls from the ladies toilets, a load of bricks, pipes and other rubbish.

Before the clear-out

Before the clear-out

Before the clear-out

After a solid Sunday afternoon of shifting and tidying, the place is looking a lot cleaner now, and thanks to Hippo’s generosity, we have a bit more space to work on the things we need to do next without risk of tripping over a load of rubbish.

After the clear-out

After the clear-out

After the clear-out

A big yellow bag of waste. And, just off the left of the picture, a telegraph pole. Sorry.

Extra special thanks to the Hippo vehicle driver, who managed to collect the bag from under the phone lines that I forgot were there despite the clear instructions that the collection area must be free of overhead wires.

Let there be lights

As alluded to above, money is not sloshing freely around this project, so several Hackspace members have taken to watching the local Freecycle and Freegle groups for anything which could be useful. We hit a small jackpot with some brand new office lighting which had come, unused, from a warehouse clearance.

Eight new, never-used office light fittings ready to be put into their new home

There are three long light fittings, and five short ones. No decision has been made yet about where the lights will go, but this gives us more options to move lights around and find the best solution for lighting up the entire space.

Water tank platform

As part of the building’s history as a public toilet, there was a pretty solid wooden platform in the roof space, sitting on the walls of the cistern room. It was there to support two large water tanks (and 2 tonnes of water) for washing hands and flushing toilets.

We’d already removed the tanks themselves, and the plumbing which they were connected to.

Water tank platform and insulated shed

Since we want to get rid of most of one wall, and cut a big doorway in the other, the tank platform which it was supporting also had to go, along with the “shed” of polystyrene-insulated walls which surrounded it to protect the water in the tanks against freezing in winter.

Polystyrene insulated walls removed, and water tank platform taken out where the cistern room wall (behind the ladder) will be demolished

Over the course of two evenings, we removed the insulated shed walls and the floor of the platform, before taking up the support beams between the two cistern room walls. A few beams at the back of the building were left in place, where the cistern room walls on both sides will be retained (backing on to the old disabled toilets)

What’s next?

As mentioned above, we need to get building control approval to take down the walls we want to remove, and put a new doorway in from one side to the other. Once we have that, the walls need to actually come down, ceilings and floors need to be patched up, unused drains need to be filled, a ramp needs to be made, and so on. There’s a more comprehensive list in the previous post.

And… money. We need more of it, so fundraising is going to be a thing. You might well see us out and about in Hitchin town centre in the near future. If you do, please chuck us a quid or two. Or come and get involved…

Help wanted

As always, we would welcome any assistance, financial or practical, particularly if you have any relevant building experience (but enthusiasm and a willingness to help is a good substitute). New members are always welcome; get in touch, or pop along to the build night or monthly pub meet