TechStart granted a temporary reprieve


TechStart obtains a temporary reprieve

TechStart closed its doors for the last time on Saturday, but as can be seen from the Rushmoor press release, at the 11th hour an outbreak of common sense has prevailed, it has been granted temporary funding for four months to allow time to put something more permanent and sustainable in place.

Rushmoor Borough Council and housing association First Wessex are putting together a funding package to provide a four-month extension to the TechStart project in Aldershot.

This will allow the partners involved in TechStart and its management committee time to review the project and possible options that could enable it to continue in a more financially sustainable way in the future.

The review will also look at future management and governance arrangements and consider if any other organisations would like to be involved in the future.

The move follows the reluctant decision by TechStart’s management committee to close the project in The Galleries at the end of April because the current business model has proved not to be financially sustainable.

This business model was that the not-for-profit social enterprise would sell recycled desktops and laptops at a low-cost to residents, particularly those who were more disadvantaged, to help them get online and develop their computer skills.

It would also build a workforce of volunteers who could support the project and, for many, get valuable work experience to increase their own employment chances.

Rushmoor Borough Council, First Wessex, Jobcentre Plus and Rushmoor Schools Plus provided initial funding and support to get the scheme under way in 2014 and negotiated a rent and rate-free unit for TechStart in The Galleries.

Over time, the aim was that income from the sale of computers and laptops would increase and cover TechStart’s costs so it would become self-financing.

Since the project opened in May 2014, it has been rewarding to see how it has met its initial aims, both in terms of computer sales and skills and training, with more than 1000 customers served and 135 volunteers provided with practical work experience.

However, over the last two years, there has also been a growing digital trend towards the use of tablets and mobile phones to access the web and a decrease in the demand for desktop and laptop computers.

As this trend is likely to grow, it has become increasingly clear that the current business model for TechStart is therefore not viable. On that basis, the management committee took the reluctant decision to close the project.

Over the next four months, the partners will work with the management committee, TechStart and others who can provide business expertise to revisit the original aims of the project and to see how it could continue in a more financially sustainable way.

It is likely that proposals on the way forward will be presented to Councillors and partners for consideration in the late summer or early autumn.

This is the minimum that is required.

But, the press release begs more questions than it answers.

Is TechStart to remain open? It closed on Saturday.

From reading of the press release, four months funding provided, it then it becomes less clear.

TechStart needs to become a trust. Alternative funding has to be explored.

A review yes, but by who? Neither Rushmoor nor First Wessex have the capability to carry out a review and we do not wish to see yet more public money squandered on consultants.

Who are the management committee? It does not say. What is their expertise?

Do they have any understanding of the fastest growing sector of the economy, collaborative commons, open coops, sharing economy?

At the very least there has to be an exploration of what the The Hive in Dalston are doing. Hive started with just £250.

As a showcase building, The Hive in Dalston has demonstrated the feasibility of such a model and in only nine  months has seen over 4000 people, held 17 art exhibitions, numerous performance, environmental, political and cultural events and helped about 50 local charities. Has enabled people to start businesses and even had a skate park. This has all been achieved using a system that is self-sustaining and utilises volunteers, donations, up-cycling, recycling and sharing. 

Hive are holding a ReSpacing Conference on Wednesday 20 April and Thursday 21 April. Tickets are free (but need to register).

The dead shopping centre has to be reclassified as ReSpace, units let at peppercorn rent, no businesses rates levied on the developer. Peppercorn rent is better than free, as it places legal obligations on both sides.

There is nothing wrong with the businesses model.

TechStart does more than stated:

  • prevents toxic waste going to landfill or incineration
  • provides a net café
  • provides workshops
  • carries out repairs

Universal Credit requires on-line application. Where? The computers in Aldershot Library are unusable, there is no expertise.

Either Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) or JobCentrePlus should provide funding, or have computers in JobCentres.

There has to be a proper cost benefit analysis, not look only at the funding.

What is the environmental costs of disposal of toxic waste?

The trend to smartphones and tablets (a market already saturated) does not mean there is no demand for desktops or laptops.

These devices are complimentary, not mutually exclusive.

I have e-reader, tablet, smartphone and laptop.

This is not the problem TechStart face.

Their problem is they are in a dead shopping centre and few know they are there, as no one wanders through. There is no footfall, no passers by.

More has to be done to raise the profile.

Fliers and posters in JobCentres, libraries, other social ventures and community centres. Could have something in Rushmoor Arena, except it is seen as junk mail, and goes straight in the bin.

TechStart has to be seen as the core of a hub, there has to be more social enterprises and community ventures in the dead shopping centre.

TechStart should form the basis of further expansion.

This has to be more than saving TechStart, is has to be how do we build on the success of TechStart?

If we have a network of social enterprises in the dead shopping centre, it will draw people in.

  • TechStart
  • social enterprise café
  • repair shop
  • tool swap
  • credit union
  • start-ups
  • conferences
  • exhibitions

By repair shop, do not repair, people take stuff in, volunteers show them how to repair.

This can be wiring a plug, scanning computer for viruses …

In principle, Morrisons will supply waste food to a social enterprise café.

If very ambitious, could have a FabLab, this is where have machine tools and other high-tech equipment, where people go and try ideas.

The plan in Barcelona is to have a FabLab in every neighbourhood.

A craft fair? Where? In car park.

Are lessons never learnt?

Car park was a disastrous location for Thursday street market. Out of sight, out of mind. Down a stairwell used as a public urinal, dark and damp and cold.

Putting the market in the town centre was one of the few intelligent actions by a dysfunctional council. It is unfortunate it is a bad market and the council is doing everything to kill it. A good market pulls people into a town. Look for example at the Friday and Saturday street market in North Street in Guildford or the farmers market on the first Tuesday of the month in Guildford High Street.

Craft market, if dead shopping centre handed to local community groups, the empty central space ideal location.

It is unfortunate that money that has been spent on Aldershot has not been spent wisely, and has made not a jot of difference to attractiveness of Aldershot.

The approach that has been taken by the council to date, top down does not work, and has to be recognised. Also the failure to consult.

Alternative approach is bottom up.

There was understandable public anger that TechStart had its funding pulled. It was seen as a tiny ray of hope, a real attempt to turn Aldershot around. The idea of a hub of social enterprises, start-ups, etc is welcome.

Less so in the UK, but certainly worldwide, fastest growing economic activity is sharing collaborative economy.

You do not hear about this because it generates no GDP, and as Paul Mason said recently in I think Italy, economic and political journalists are clueless.

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4 Responses to “TechStart granted a temporary reprieve”

  1. Peter Coulson Says:

    It sounds like you have the expertise to run it, why don’t you get involved? I’m sure they’d appreciate the advice and guidance if it helps them to become viable. It could be the beginning of turning round Aldershot and a great legacy.

  2. keithpp Says:

    I have no problem with the running of TechStart, and that was not the problem.

    The problem was the cutting of their funding at short notice, giving no opportunity to make alternatives arrangements.

    This has been rectified.

    There is no problem with their business model, as falsely stated in the Rushmoor press release.

    Their main problem, is that they are located in a dead shopping centre, with no footfall,and few are aware of their existence.

    Their profile has to be raised.

    JobCentrePlus are at fault, they have done nothing to make job seekers aware of this resource.

    First Wessex are at fault, they have done nothing to make their tenants aware of this resource.

    But ultimately, the dead shopping centre has to be filled with social enterprises, business start-ups, the central space used, then it will create a buzz, draw people in.

    What also has to happen, is a recognition by the local council that their policies towards Aldershot (and Farnborough) have been a disaster and a new approach is required.

    Look to The Hive in Dalston, successful use of dead space.

  3. keithpp Says:

    As usual, you read about it here first folks.

    Where we lead the local rag follows.

  4. keithpp Says:

    TechStart re-open next week.

    They were unable to reopen once the funding was restored, as they had already stripped out all the wiring.

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