Homelesshack Oxford: why we’ve cancelled it (for now at least)

I’m cancelling the HomelessHack in Oxford scheduled for 28/29 July 2017 and wanted to explain the reasons to everyone.

How it started

With Twitter ablaze with frantic chatter from the London and Manchester events on #homelesshack it looked like anything was possible. There was a real sense of a movement beginning, and it felt like everyone wanted to pitch in.

A chance mention by someone of homelessness being discussed at a meeting in Oxford led to me (naively) replying to suggest there should be a similar hack in Oxford. And then everything just took off. Suddenly I was organising it.

Being new to an event like this I threw myself into it as best I could, with dozens of tweets and emails aimed at people and organisations I know. My hope was we could follow the model used in Manchester of a tech firm ‘adopting’ the event by providing facilities, people and support on the costs.

I had some fantastic help from Oxford Hackspace who got on board early in providing a venue, and giving advice on how to make the event work. So before long we had a date and the Eventbrite sign-up page went up.

But then…

While there was lots of encouragement and remote help from other organisers, after a couple of weeks (and very few sign-ups) it was starting to feel like things weren’t working out as I’d hoped.

Others seemed to share my disappointment

I gave it a further week to see if a change in sign up numbers indicated that we could get a critical mass of interested people together in time. We had a small upswing but not enough.

After a few more sleepless nights and last-ditch pitches to people I decided that it wasn’t going to come off as I’d hoped. Better to cancel now and come back to it later.

What went wrong

Talking to a few people it started to dawn on me that I’d made a number of mistakes in getting this running;

  1. We picked the wrong date: With my kids all grown up I hadn’t realised that the event coincided with the first weekend of the school holidays in Oxford. A fair number of people that wanted to be involved just couldn’t make it.
  2. It came out of nowhere: It feels like the events in London and Manchester emerged after a real groundswell of support built up before launching. We really just unleashed this without any notice on an unsuspecting Oxford, so it’s a bit unfair to expect everyone to drop everything and join in.
  3. An “organising committee of one”: This observation by one of my friends made me realise my key mistake — I was trying to do this alone. And with no experience in doing it before I was really out of my depth. An event like this needs a core of people that can divide up the work between them, and keep the energy going.
  4. We never found our “White Knight”: All the way through the organising I was still hoping that a local tech firm would swoop in and rescue us. But unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I guess I just don’t have the contacts to pull this sort of thing off, and despite grants being available from UKGovCamp the venue costs and catering costs were mounting up. I have to admit to being a bit personally disappointed by this, as Oxford is a recognised TechCity Cluster with the right sort of companies and agencies to adopt an event like this.

What next?

As the HomelessHack movement isn’t organised by one individual or body, it’s really for Oxford to decide what it wants to do next. Perhaps it needs a bit more time to get on board with the idea, or word needs to spread a little more to make it take off. Perhaps there is someone working for that White Knight company that wants to flex its corporate social responsibility muscles and pitch in. I hope it does, as I’d love to be part of something that made a difference in the City I live in.

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