OpenIoT: Interview with Hannah Goraya from GIST
One of the great things at OpenIoT was the chance to meet people from different companies, universities, and groups. Because we mostly work out of a coworking office/events/makerspace in Liverpool, we’re especially interested in talking to people involved in geeky groups/spaces. As well as Laura James from the Cambridge Makespace and Andrew Back of OSHUG, I got to speak to Hannah Goraya (@yorkhannah) about the community space she runs in Sheffield, the GIST lab.
Hannah Goraya: The GIST foundation is a not for profit voluntary organization that was set up in January 2010 by myself, my husband Jag Goraya (@jagusti), Ian Ibbotson (@ianibbo) and Chris Murray (@chrismurray0).
It is a community of interest essentially where people who are interested in developing their technical skills or in meeting other people who are interested in the same kind of technology as them come in and use our space to run events or to attend user groups.
As of June 2012 we’ve just run our 300th event, so we have quite a lot of activity in the space. It’s mainly user groups… programming languages, Arduinos, Rep Raps, and just recently Raspberry Pi.
Hannah: Yes, we have a “Geek cadets” project as well, so once a month we invite children in to spend a Saturday morning doing things… so we’re really intersted in the Arduino kits. That group has been running for a couple of years.
We have lots of activities, we’re keen to encourage people… and ourselves, most importantly. I enjoy learning about stuff, and that’s how we get interested in what else is going on. And then the community drives a lot of what we’re interested in, because they come in and say “Can we do something on this?” or “Can we use the space to do this?” and the answer is normally yes.
aBoT: We were saying before it was very like the MadLab ethic (http://madlab.org.uk/ is the Manchester Digital Laboratory, another not-for-profit technical social space, also free to more user groups) But you started before them?
Hannah: I don’t know who started first. I think they started just before us. I remember they came up for one of the BarCamps that we ran, and they were talking about doing something at that point, so we had a chat with them then. When we did eventually set up the GIST foundation, when we got the GIST lab – the physical space that we use, we went up to visit them to see how they were doing.
So they do things like the comics and writing groups. We do stuff like that for NaNoWriMo, but we don’t tend to have more regular writing group. One of the groups that used to come in and use our space was set up last year moved on to being something called Overlap, were they go round lots of different venues in the city.
GIST stands for Grassroots Innovation Society and Technology, and we try and keep most of the projects we’re working with now within those themes. We’ve just taken on two new volunteers – we’re all volunteers – who are keyholders, and that’s made it possible to cover a whole lot more events. But we’ve got about 25 user groups and every night of the month bar four (and Sundays, we don’t work Sundays if we can help it) are taken up with activities most months. So we try to keep it within those themes.
aBoT: Do you mostly open for evening events rather than whole day things?
Hannah: We do host whole day events for one-off occasions, but we do one saturday a month, which is the Open Lab, where anyone can bring any kind of project in. That’s quite often web development meetups, and things like the Rep Rap kits, where people can bring in the kit and spend a long time on it. In fact it did start originally because the Rep Rap people were bringing in the kit once a month on a Monday for two or three hours, but it wasn’t really enough to get all the issues and niggles fixed. So we said we’d open up once a month on Saturday, and it’s proved quite popular across the board, with lots of projects, which is nice.
But normally we do evenings from 6:30-9:00 and then everyone goes to the pub… because we’ve got some good local pubs.
We don’t have anything quite as cool as the live “Operation” game that they’ve got…
aBoT: MadLab do have lots of cool toys…
Hannah: We do have some cool stuff too of course! But I’m very envious of that, I’d love to play with that.
aBoT: How did you get your space, the GIST lab?
Hannah: We were really lucky. There’s an organization in Sheffield called the Workstation. They’re part of a big set of buildings, the Showroom (which is our local cinema) and the Workstation. They’re basically very supportive of startups in the local area. The office that we use at the moment, that we call the GIST Lab used to be… have you come across DocFest, the third largest documentary festival in Europe? It’s really big in Sheffield. It’s only maybe a decade old, so it’s still growing. They originally used the office when they were first starting out. And then another digital festival called Lovebytes used the office after that. Then the space was sitting empty, and they said we were in keeping with what they allow to grow in that space, and would we like to use it and see how it goes…
And that’s been really good for us, because it’s part of a bigger building that has different digital and creative businesses in, because that’s what they’re set up for. But we have our own entrance so if we want to use it all evening, we’re not really hassling the rest of the workspace.
For more information on upcoming GIST events see bit.ly/GISTevents
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