Fast Fibre Hubs are a cooperative established to drive emerging technology-led businesses and skills development in Caterham, Surrey. Their first shared location is at the old Caterham Barracks site which is linked to both a shared office facility and a creative and recreation oriented centre – The Arc. The Caterham Area Plan provides for a hack/maker space locally as part of a regeneration initiative for local industry. They identified room within the community owned Soper Hall to host a library-hack-maker space, with discussions ongoing about the potential to relocate the public library there in future. They hoped to transform the local community through the provision of a 21st century library offering. The ultimate aim is for the process of making and hacking to engage residents in collaboration and design-led enterprise in a space that fosters learning and sharing.
Caterham is a small town in Surrey approximately 15 miles south of London. Due to its proximity to London it is a commuter town with small to medium sized businesses of its own. It has a population of 8,348 working largely in the creative industries (design) and a significant area of retail and restaurants in the Caterham Valley area. Fast Fibre Hubs, a locally based digital fibre cooperative has been working with a number of local agencies to enable technology and design companies to thrive in the local area, linked to the development of a Neighbourhood Plan; the Caterham Area Plan provides for a hack/maker space locally as part of these regeneration plans. Following initial discussions, Fast Fibre Hubs and Surrey Libraries agreed to partner to set up a library-hack-makerspace in Caterham Valley Library, a well-used library in the heart of the valley area.
In addition to the groups using the community arts centre and Miller Centre, there are two Parish Councils, CO9, The Bourne Society and the Digital Caterham group that will be invited to get involved. There are also a small number of local business people operating graphic design and computer repair businesses that have been approached to help drive forward the hack-makerspace. Crucially, an agreement with Surrey Libraries was reached during the initial prototyping phase, and a partnership is now being created to establish a hack-maker space in conjunction with the Library Service who have stated: Surrey Library Service is committed to a programme of development which will widen the range of services available in our buildings, move down the route of co-design with library users, support local community needs, and encourage local economic development, particularly around the creative industries. We are very pleased to have the opportunity to work with community partners in the Caterham area to develop a maker space in the library.
Surrey library staff are in the process of identifying suitable spaces in the Caterham Valley Library where, in the longer term, a variety of different activities could be housed. In the short-term, however, a space on the 2nd floor of the building will be utilised for an Open Day to illicit response and support from library users and local residents. Surrey Libraries are also in the process of identifying human resource to allocate for coordination and management of hacking and making activities. The space is unlikely to boast several work and event spaces as per the Waiting Room, and more likely to operate from one smaller space in the Soper Hall, or ideally from the existing Caterham Valley Library which can then be moved to Soper Hall in due course. Together, Fast Fibre Hubs and Surrey Libraries will seek to build a local network to help drive forward the hack-maker events and develop MakerBoxes and Kits within this context.
How has it gone so far?
After initial investigations by Fast Fibre Hubs to locate the hack-maker space in the Soper Hall and maintain links with the library service, an agreement was made with Surrey Libraries that the hack-maker space would in fact be located within Caterham Valley Library itself. Following a successful meeting with the Surrey Library Service, adequate space has now been identified, along with human resource to enable the hack-maker space to be launched. Plans are now in train to hold an Open Day in July and build a directory of local Makers.
A coordinator from the Library team will be allocated to lead the project from Surrey Libraries working together with Fast Fibres, current library users, interested local groups and local residents – the aim: to begin curating regular maker events. Surrey Libraries are keen to begin co-designing with their library users across the county and see the hack-maker space in Caterham Valley Library as a test-bed for this. It is likely that the longer term focus of the hack-maker space in Surrey Libraries will focus on digital making, which sits in line with Fast Fibre Hubs’ mission and the digital inclusion focus that Surrey Libraries has adopted, although early interest is expected to relate to more traditional making activities.
The project is evolving through the formation of a Steering Group which will include local people who can introduce different awareness and expertise to the programme. There will be the experience too from the activities in the wider range of Surrey County Council libraries. There are number of local being considered and contacted for what they can bring to the programme – the Steering Group inviting different people over time working through different topics to keep the programme dynamic and interesting. People are enthusiastically looking forward to this programme flourishing and continuing to establish itself.