How to run an open source community space

About the same time as we started Loomio, a group of us also set up 17 Tory St: an “Open Source Community Gallery”.

In the last three years, hundreds of events have been held in the space, covering a huge diversity of noncommercial uses: political meetings, art exhibitions, massage classes, paint-making workshops, film nights + many, many more.

Some of the 17 Tory St whānau, including folk from Kava Club, Peace Action Wellington, and Concerned Citizens

The people from Urban Dream Brokerage (UDB) worked with the owner of this vacant inner-city commercial space to secure a license for us to use the premises temporarily, while they searched for permanent commercial tenants.

Recently, the folks at UDB had the opportunity to set up another community space in the old McDonald’s building in Porirua.

I offered to document the logistical details of how we run 17 Tory St, to inform the model in Porirua:

How we run our Open Source Community Gallery

When someone wants to use the space, here’s how the process works:

  1. Anyone can apply to use the space using the form on our website.
  2. When someone makes a new event application, I pencil the event into our calendar like: “Proposed event: Cool Art Exhibit”
  3. I copy the application into our Loomio group, starting a new thread to announce the application to the members of the 17 Tory St Loomio group. The thread is marked with “Liaison needed”, to let everyone know we’re looking for a volunteer to work with the event host.
  4. If someone wants to help make the event happen, they will raise a proposal in the Loomio thread (we call this person the ‘liaison’). The Loomio proposal gives everyone a chance to check in on the event, confirm that it meets our criteria, and doesn’t clash with another event.
  5. Once the proposal has passed (usually we leave them up for 3 days), the liaison will confirm the event in the calendar (removing the “Proposed event:” bit), and get in touch with the event organiser. They’ll usually send through the space guidelines, and then meet up to discuss logistics, e.g. how to hang paintings, lighting, seating, access, etc.

When someone has used the space a couple of times, we’ll often invite them to become a liaison, so they can help other people use it too.

There are a few technical bits that tie the process together (all of which can be used for free):

  1. Wordpress website: includes a calendar of upcoming events, brief blog posts to document past events, and the application form for people to propose their own events.
  2. Google Form for event applications. When anyone submits the form, I get an email. (I set it up to email me by going to Tools… then Notification settings… on the Responses spreadsheet.)
  3. Google Calendar to keep track of events: this means anyone can check to see if the space is available before they submit their application.
  4. Loomio group for us to discuss applications and coordinate events.
  5. Facebook group for promoting events and chatting.

This system has kept the space operational and basically conflict-free for the last 3.5 years of operation. In addition to me doing the technical bits, there’s usually one person that is keeping an eye on the space and making sure proposals don’t fall through the cracks (thanks Murdoch!).

In addition to those two people, there’s a roving crew of volunteers that come and go as they have time. There are about 80 people in the Loomio group, and about 10–20 active at any time.

Aroha + tikanga + space = community

17 Tory St has grown into a pretty amazing little hub in the heart of Wellington CBD, home to lots of beautiful communities and action groups.

One of them is the Kava Club, a local collective of Maori and Pacific Island creatives. Check out this video and tell me you’re not inspired:


Evolution and transmission

It’s been 2 months since I first wrote up these instructions for how we run 17 Tory St. In that time the crew in Porirua have set up The Old McDonalds building as another thriving community hub:

Their tenure in that premises has nearly expired, but the community will continue, evolving as it moves. With the TEZA project igniting in Porirua next month, the momentum is sure to amplify and spread.


Who’s next?

If you’re running an open community space like this, or thinking about starting one, I would love to hear from you!

Perhaps if there are a few of us around the world, we could pull together into a group of our own to share and learn from each other.

❤ from Rich