Minimum Membership Fees

Since the hackspace was founded in 2010, membership fees have always been set by the member – whatever you feel the hackspace is worth, is should be what you pay. The minimum was effectively £0.01, and in quite a few cases, that’s what members paid, whether they used the space a lot or not. During that time, we’ve grown from a handful of members to over 650 members. However, in 2021, we accidentally went over our VAT threshold and incurred significant costs. To prevent this from happening again and ensure the space can be here for years to come, it was announced during the 2022 AGM that we would be implementing a minimum membership fee. Without these changes, we felt the space would be at risk of closing.

It took us a while to get the details and implementation figured out, but as of the 1st of October 2023 the new minimum is in place, aligning with our new financial year. We had hoped that this wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – we’ve been mentioning it in our members’ meetings and membership emails for some months running up to this change. Even so, we’ve had a fair few emails from confused members.

While the space is not necessarily financially solvent, the changes were not implemented with the intent of increasing income. We still believe in the pay what it’s worth to you model of membership fees. However, defining a fair and reasonable minimum allows the space to declare amounts above the minimum as tax-free income – essentially a donation to the space. We decided that a reasonable minimum would be £5 per month. This would ensure that membership payments alone would not bring us close to the VAT threshold, while also being a fair amount to pay each month for an infrequent user of the space.

In terms of implementation, this means that payments below £5 would be automatically be classified as a donation, with amounts equal to or above this granting membership status. On the 2nd of October, 170 members were emailed notifying them that their membership would be revoked unless they make a suitable membership payment “soon” – admittedly, we could have been clearer on what “soon” meant. On the 17th, 148 memberships were revoked. This brought our membership numbers down from roughly 650 to 500 over night. We have new members joining and old members leaving fairly regularly, so it’s hard to be precise about the numbers. While some of these ex members may leave their standing orders running as a donation, others may cancel it entirely. We do of course appreciate all support we receive – the space would not exist without donations.

The reaction to the revocation email has varied dramatically. The majority of responses have been very polite and positive – either explaining they no longer use the space or that they would increase their membership payments. In fact, if we run some sentiment analysis on all the revocation email responses joined together, we get a score of mostly positive. There were some fairly impolite responses though, too – on one hand, we’re glad those members are passionate enough about the space to get angry, but we are disappointed that not all members see why this change is needed to ensure the space can continue to exist. At the time of writing, we’ve had zero responses informing us that they cannot afford the increase.

It’s too early to say how this will impact our financial situation – we of course continue to provide financial summaries on the wiki. The accumulated fees of those 148 members worked out to be roughly £250 per month, which is not an insignificant amount – as mentioned earlier, some will cancel their standing order, some may leave it running as is, and some may increase it to the minimum or more. Over the coming months we will begin to get an idea of what these members decided to do and how it will impact the space longer term.

The hackspace is an amazing place where people learn, socialise with like-minded people and release their creativity – we hope that the space will be here for years to come, but we do need support from our members. Our recommended membership fee remains £15 per month for a semi-regular user of the space (e.g. once or twice a month). This is based on the costs to run the space over the number of members we have – please remember that we have no staff, everyone at the space is a volunteer. We know some members cannot afford that, and appreciate that you are still supporting the space at the minimum amount. We feel it’s important that members pay what they feel the space is worth to them, where they can, and balance how much they take from the space versus what they give back. We hope to provide more information about how these changes have impacted the space (for better, or worse) in our AGM in December. We hope to see you there!