Hosting a hub of residents in Portobello, Edinburgh by Peter Ashe

We hope that our series on hub hosting has shown how diverse a hub can be, both in terms of make-up and in how it is hosted.  If you would like to share your experiences or how you are going about preparing yourself for your hub, please get in touch with Keira (

And so in the last of our planned series of hub hosting, Peter Ashe tells us about their hub of residents in the Portobello area of Edinburgh:

What sort of hub were we?

About 25-30 people were more-or-less routinely involved; we met on Monday evenings (the learning material was released on Thursdays) for two hours or more, at TribePorty, a shared workspace in Portobello.

‘u.lab Scotland’ had encouraged people to come together in place or topic based hubs. In Portobello, we weren’t really either of these. We took the stance that allowing ‘themes’ or topics to emerge as the course went on, rather than declaring one or more, upfront.

Three of us shared the routine activities of hosting, with valuable contributions from others for specific activities.

How did the hosts come together?

…pretty much by accident, really: of the initial developers, a couple of us had recognised one another at the large preparatory meeting organised by the Scottish Government; two people had a cup of coffee together after a rowing session; two others encountered one another in a boatyard, and one person bumped into the (enthusiastic) manager of the shared workspace in the whole food shop downstairs, while buying a loaf of bread.

We arranged to meet to consider a potential hub, agreed to write to anyone who we thought might be interested, in our contacts, held a taster session for people to find out more, and found we were hosts…

How did we ‘do’ hosting?

Reasonably swiftly we fell into a weekly hosting routine: in our case, the materials were released on the Thursday; we had a quick browse through these, looking for things that might come up for participants; we met on the Friday morning for a planning session and review of the previous week; we created ourselves a script for the upcoming session (see the ‘Week N’ pads in the U.Lab Porty collection); we made any necessary announcements on our Hub FB group at the weekend; and then we hosted the Hub session on Monday evenings.

Within the weekly Hub session:

  • We tended to work within a reasonably familiar (but flexible) framework week-by-week (see the script pads linked to above);

  • We found ourselves emphasising small group conversations as much as if not more than whole Hub discussion

  • the first half of each week’s session was often spent in ‘world cafe style’ (see hub host guide for info) conversations (3×20 minutes) including self-monitored checks on listening behaviours. This allowed space for people to stay with discussions if they wanted, or move, and allowed for special foci e.g. those interested in giving Social Presencing Theatre a try-out.

  • the second half was generally spent in coaching circles.

Assorted reflections:

Securing premises and dedicated time in diaries

We were lucky to have a shared workspace available locally, with an enthusiastic and very supportive manager and users – though there are other community spaces in Portobello. The u.lab ethos fitted well with the TribePorty philosophy. It was also great to have a space that was so malleable and flexible to our needs, with all the resources on hand. Chairs, tables, and being able to move these around made it a great stage.

Our weekly hosting cycle of activities did take a noticeable amount of time – along the lines of the well-known (in training circles) need to allow just as much time for prep, as for the session itself. We were fortunate to have a modicum of autonomy in our own scheduling.

For learners, advanced notice of the time that is needed and when (e.g. at what week stakeholder interviews may be helpful etc) really helps them maintain commitment. Working with the published syllabus is really sensible both for Hub hosts and participants – we were quite surprised how many participants seemed at times unaware of the syllabus.

Sharing the Hosting Load

It was really good to be able to share the Hosting load – mostly with one other individual, with a third supporting us as much as her time allowed – in terms of fretting about how it was going generally, planning the next Hub session, sharing hosting tasks like time-keeping during the sessions, etc.

This really helped, double check integrity, relieved pressure, and was fun!

Striking a balance between security and flexibility

It is difficult to suggest “things to do” during the hub times, without coming across as the “teacher”. So finding ways that people can express their needs is key – both how it can be secure and safe and adaptable. By making sure everyone knows there is space to do what their learning needs are, without peer pressure. This could probably be well defined as stewarding.

Hosting and participant attrition

In Portobello, ‘attrition’ seemed more complicated than ‘started and didn’t finish/faded from view’ . Some people did do this, but others started late and hung on in there; others started, disappeared for a bit then came back again; others participated right the way through but didn’t process all of the learning material. This range of behaviours was, we felt, only to be expected in the context of self-organised adult learning.

The ‘Process Infrastructure’

It is almost too hard to overstate the value of the Coaching Circle activity, particularly as the logistical basis for forming and experiencing a trusting & trusted small group.

We also used the Listening Assessments template a lot. It proved sufficient simply to drop the template onto the table where a small group was in discussion, for them to take the cue, and pause for a collective listening assessment.

We found we were continually refining what makes a comfortable but productive time, within our routine session plans (using the online collaboration tool HackPad).

Things I would like to add or would have changed:

  • Give people a nudge on what they would like to share before arriving to the hub (A question on the facebook group/email)
  • More moments for participants to think individually in the whole group
  • A clear intent for the weeks and what happens after. How can we support each other
  • Really focus on the quality of conversation and connection – that should always be a healthy intent.
  • Balancing the experience, learning and challenging ourselves (everyone) more.


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