Posts Tagged ‘TechStart’

What to do with a dead shopping centre?

April 21, 2016
The Galleries

The Galleries

The Galleries

The Galleries

The Galleries

The Galleries

Aldershot is a dead town, boarded-up shops, charity shops, betting shops, fast food outlets. A very depressing place to visit. Which is why few do. The dead town centre the result of decades of bad planning decisions, a dysfunctional local council that has not a clue what constitutes good town centre planning, how local economies function.

In the midst of this desolation is an empty shopping centre, The Galleries. It could be the film set for a post-apocalyptic movie. The occasional zombie is even seen to walk through negating the need to hire extras, though could hire locals and ask them to be themselves, no acting required. The shopping centre has been derelict for years, is likely to be for the foreseeable future.

What to do with this empty space?

The local council claims to have plans for redevelopment.

This should set alarm bells ringing.

This is a local council that has:

  • got into bed with a developer and destroyed Farnborough town centre
  • got into bed with a developer and destroyed The Tumbledown Dick for a Drive-Thru McDonald’s
  • got into bed with a developer and destroyed Firgrove Green to erect an eysore Premier Inn
  • got into bed with a developer to construct Wastegate which has laid waste to Aldershot town centre

Hence the last thing we need is the council involved in redevelopment of this dead shopping centre.

The top down approach of the council, contempt for the views of the local community, has been an unmitigated disaster for Aldershot.

In is now time for an alternative approach, bottom up, the local community in charge.

First, as it has been empty for six months, the dead shopping centre should be designated as ReSpace. This opens the way for negotiations with the property developer for use by the local community, for social enterprises that contribute to the common good, irrigate the collaborate commons. These social enterprises would pay a peppercorn rent, the property developer no business rates.

There is already one social enterprise occupying the dead shopping centre, TechStart.

TechStart, run by volunteers, recycles computers, carries out repairs, provides training and help, a net café is available for walk in use.

TechStart last Saturday, closed, its funding had been pulled. Luckily, common sense has prevailed, and a four month extension of funding has been made available.

We now need to build on TechStart, open the dead shopping centre to other social enterprises.

The claim in the local rag that TechStart is ‘unviable’  is simply not true.


TechStart granted a temporary reprieve

April 18, 2016

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.

TechStart to close at the end of the month

April 9, 2016


We’re asking councils to implement a new planning classification of ‘ReSpace’, which enables landlords and community groups to easily collaborate on the re-use of empty buildings. — The Hive in Dalston

Located in the dead shopping centre in Aldershot, Techstart recycles computers, provides help, advice and training, and runs a free net café.

TechStart could be part of a hub of social enterprises, for example a social enterprise café turning waste food into delicious meals.

Lacking in vision, the local council has cut the funding. TechStart will close at the end of the month. The local council is even refusing to provide bridge funding to give TechStart time to establish as an independent trust or cooperative and seek alternative funding.

Were the council to put in bridge funding, then alternatives could be explored, crowd funding, but time is not on the side of TechStart.

The fastest growing sector of the economy is sharing, collaborative commons, open coops, but sadly a local council lacking vision, a local council that has trashed Aldershot through decades of bad planning, with no understanding of how local economies work, is deliberately undermining a social enterprise, a social enterprise that is run by volunteers.

There has been no public consultation with the local community on pulling the plug on TechStart. The local council not only demonstrating incompetence by destroying a valuable social enterprise, but also showing  utter contempt for the local community.

The dysfunctional local council would rather squander public money on monoliths obstructing the public highway bombarding passers by with advertising for consumer junk than support a social enterprise.

The dead shopping centre has been derelict for years. Empty for six months  it can be reclassified as ReSpace.  Units let at peppercorn rents to social enterprises, the landlords pay no businesses rates.

The Hive in Dalston, an independent social space that opened up two weeks after getting permission from the landlord on about £250, is an example of what can be achieved.

The self-sustaining project was set up in May 2015 and has so far facilitated hundreds of unique events, including workshops, conferences, seminars, exhibitions, cabarets – as well as enabling several start-ups businesses and helping a variety of charities by storing donations and raising funds.

It it requires is a community group with ideas, a forward looking visionary council, and a property developer willing to cooperate.

The dead shopping centre in Aldershot has sat derelict for years. This is likely to be its state for the foreseeable future, unless the space is used for social enterprises.

TechStart could form a hub of social enterprises, including small business start-ups. The dysfunctional local council are aware of these opportunities and possibilities. Are they going to show vision and move forward or having destroyed the town centre do they prefer to destroy TechStart and leave the dead shopping centre like a film set for a post-apocalypse movie?

Please sign the petition calling upon councils to make better use of derelict buildings and put to community use.


May 29, 2014


In the natural world, there is no such thing as waste in time or space. The output of one process is the input to another.

We cannot on a finite planet, have a linear process, where we mine, manufacture, use, then throw away.

Nor, on a finite planet, can we have infinite growth. We have enclosed the natural commons, social commons, intellectual commons, there is nothing left to enclose, we have reached the limit of growth.

On a linear system, the stuff that passes through our hands, on its way from mining to disposal, spends six months in our possession. All that environmental destruction, pollution, sweat shop factories, just six months before we throw away. We then have the problems of disposal.

The fastest growing waste stream is electrical goods.

TechStart based in Aldershot, run by volunteers, is a step in the right direction. They take in old computers, check them out, wipe clean the hard drive, install a new operating system (Windows 7) and put them on sale at low prices. Ideally they need to upgrade the machines, more memory and bigger hard drives, as some of their machines are so low spec as to be unusable.

As well as turning around computers, that would otherwise add to the waste stream, they will load Microsoft Office (far better to load Open Office), repair machines.

They have an area of working machines, which are available for teaching, or for people to pop in and use. There is also free wifi.

Located in The Galleries, probably the worst location in Aldershot (a dead shopping centre), but at least they only pay a peppercorn rent.

Opening hours 10-4 Wednesday-Saturday.

Their limiting factor at the moment is shortage of machines. Therefore if you have an old machine, work for a company, TechStart will be only too happy to take off your hands.

TechStart currently do not recycle mobile phones or tablets.

A mobile phone can be mined for its gold and other valuable materials, recovering about a dollars worth. There is a company in Holland that does this, phones are incinerated, around a kilogramme a week of gold is recovered. Or phones can be refurbished. A refurbished smartphone will sell for around $100.

FairPhone is a step in the right direct. They source their materials from conflict free zones (the raw materials are one of the main causes of conflict in Africa), use marginally better manufacturing conditions, and the phones are easy to repair (thus extending their lifetime).

FairPhone is a raw Android phone, lacks the clutter of other smartphones (exception being Google Nexus 5), retails at around 310 euros. It is easy to repair, parts are readily available. It is supplied unlocked and takes two sim cards. Additional memory can be added.

If you cannot open and repair your smartphone, you do not own it.

TechStart is a good example of gift economy and collaborative commons in action. Volunteers are working to provide cheap computers for the local community (in some cases free) and reducing the waste stream going to landfill or incineration.

TechStart is a very rare example of a good news story coming out of Aldershot.

We need more local businesses like TechStart, that work in the collaborative commons, that retain and recycle money within the local economy.

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