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Tldr: we are still going, currently have lots of space, and have potential for further growth. Please apply if you have EA-related learning or research you want to do that requires support.

Update

It’s been a while since our last update, but, suffice to say, we are still here! During 2021 we gradually increased our numbers again, from a low of 4 grantees mid-pandemic, to 15 by the end of the year (our full capacity, with no room sharing and 2 staff living on site). We lifted all Covid restrictions in March 2022, and things started to again feel like they were pre-pandemic. However, our building and its contents are old, and in mid-May this year we closed to new grantees for building repairs and maintenance. We reopened bookings again at the end of July, by which time we had once again got down to very low numbers - we are now up and running again and starting to fill up with new grantees, but we still have plenty of spare capacity. Please apply if you are interested in doing EA work at the hotel. We are offering (up to full) subsidies on accommodation and board for those wishing to learn or work on research or charitable projects (in fitting with our charitable objects). See our Grant Making Policy for more details.

Along with the ups and downs in numbers, we’ve had ups and downs in other ways. We were delighted to receive our largest grant to date, from the FTX Future Fund, in May ($125k or ~ a year of runway), but this is now bittersweet given recent events. We condemn the actions of SBF and the FTX/Alameda inner circle, and are ashamed of the association. It’s possible the grant will be subject to clawbacks[1] as a result of the commenced bankruptcy proceedings. As with many FTX grantees in the EA Community, we are following and discussing the situation as it unfolds. We intend to follow the consensus that emerges around any voluntary returning of unspent funds[2].

Despite the significant funding, with the ongoing energy crisis, inflation in general, and increased spending on building maintenance and salaries, our costs have risen rapidly, and we were recently down to ~4 months of runway again. Enter the Survival & Flourishing Fund (SFF). We are extremely grateful to have been awarded a grant of $224,000(!) by Jaan Tallinn as per their most recent announcement.

In order to attract and retain talent, with the last grant we upped our management salaries to ~the UK median salary (£31,286), plus accommodation and food (worth about £6k). 

It’s now 4.5 years since we first opened. Since then we have supported ~100 EAs aspiring to do direct work with their career development, and hosted another ~200 visitors from the EA community participating in events, networking and community building. We’ve established an EA community hub in a relatively low cost location. We believe there is plenty of potential demand for it to scale, but we still need to get the word out (which we are doing in part with this blog post).

Our impact

Grantee work 

There are two main aspects to our potential impact: the direct work and career building of our grantees, and the community building and networking we facilitate.

We are open to people working on all cause areas of EA, with the caveat that the work we facilitate is desk-based and mostly remote. In practice, this has meant that longtermist topics, especially x-risks, and in particular AI Alignment, have been foremost amongst the work of the grantees we have hosted. But we have also had grantees interested in animal welfare, global health, wellbeing, development and progress, and meta topics related to EA community building. 

Since our last update, we have had a number of grantees go on to internships, contracts and jobs at the likes of SERI, CHAI, Alvea, Redwood Research, Conjecture and Open AI (see the Highlights tab on our outputs page).

Community building

People tend to stay at CEEALAR for a few months. We get a lot of international grantees, and the standard visa allows 6 months. The vibe at the hotel varies depending on the interests of the group and the balance of social energy (level of extraversion). Non-work group activities people have taken part in whilst at CEEALAR include learning to play musical instruments, meditation, drawing and painting, (vegan) BBQ's on the beach, (vegan) baking, makeup, photography, swimming in the sea (regardless of the season), creative writing, running (sprinting and jogging), board games, tai chi, qi gong, yoga, sunset watching, liqueur/beer tasting, watching the World Fireworks Championship, going to the Christmas fair, ice skating, EA/fiction reading clubs, improvised gardening, breakfast on the beach, karaoke nights, rollerblading on the promenade, bike rides, contra dancing, fasting, Rubik's cube challenges, walks to the forest (near Stanley Park).

As members of the EA community, guests have a shared affinity and many values and perspectives in common. As people help each other (both with work, and with more personal concerns), networks strengthen and collaborations naturally emerge. It’s not always plain sailing, of course. Occasionally differing backgrounds and styles of engagement can lead to triggering and conflict, and although we are committed to providing a safe and comfortable space to all people coming from diverse backgrounds, we are constantly learning how to better deal with such issues when they arise.

The general case for CEEALAR

The case for CEEALAR remains: we provide people with little or no track record in EA a way of gaining one. People who are promising but may not yet be at the level of getting funded by EA Funds get a chance to upskill and put themselves in a better position career-wise. We give people time and space to think, learn, research and plan the next steps of their (high impact) career, and to make valuable contacts and friendships. Getting accepted into CEEALAR gives our grantees time to study pre-requisite material, and apply for internships and jobs.

Whilst our costs have increased substantially recently, we are still highly cost effective, able to host people for ~£800/month including free food, a nightly cooked meal, all logistics taken care of by paid staff, and project guidance. So we can fund 6-10 unproven aspiring EAs for about the cost of 1 established EA worker; our view is that this is an example of hits-based giving.

We deliberately want to target people who are early in their EA journey and who don’t yet have a lot of opportunities. If we only hosted people who could already make it professionally in EA, we would probably have lower counterfactual impact.

Given the FTX collapse, there has been concern recently about the lack of security of grants for EAs. The hotel offers, at least for those able to get visas, longer term security at lower costs, subject to grantees continuing to do meaningful work.

“Staying at CEEALAR has provided me with a productive and sustainable working environment to develop projects as well as a wonderful community of friends and connections with whom I have built meaningful relationships, developed my involvement in EA communities, and in some cases leveraged to find future opportunities. Without this experience, it is less likely that I would have chosen to or been able to transition as smoothly towards a career in contributing to AI alignment research.” - Vinay

Challenges

Self-reporting progress

There are methodological/social challenges that come with getting people to self-report progress, and expecting a certain amount of output from them, while allowing for output being hard to quantify (especially for e.g. self-study). We have addressed this by setting up weekly one-on-ones between grantees and staff, and having group meetings to discuss progress and goals for the week. We ask that people report on what they have done, even if it is very little, in order to understand what we can do to help them be more productive.

Staff turnover

Our staff can be overloaded with responsibilities, and we want to relieve the pressure on them; living and working in the same building can be difficult in terms of managing work-life balance. The difficulty of getting a significant runway has meant we’ve had to be conservative in our hires, meaning staff were sometimes overworked. Being locked in their workplace during the pandemic didn’t help much either. We also had a false-start with a new hire who left (on good terms) for a high-paying role at Meta not long after they started. Our ideal at the moment would be to have two full-time managers, to provide enough cover for holidays and a decent work-life balance for management while getting the efficiency of a fully occupied building, and perhaps to have scope to hire a third as we expand the project. We are still working toward this. Recently, we hired Ramika as our full time Community & Operations manager; she has thrown herself into the role intends to work long term running and building CEEALAR. We hope to make an additional full-time hire soon, upon filling up further and receiving the SFF grant.

Finding reliable handypeople

One thing that we have struggled with throughout our history, especially considering the extensive building maintenance that needs doing, is finding reliable tradespeople to do the work. We still think there is a case for having a mission-aligned handy-person, ideally someone from the EA community. If this is you, let us know!

FTX crisis

See above.

The Future 

Next door and the possibility of expansion

We have scope to expand in the immediate future. The adjoining building next door that  Greg Colbourn (the CEEALAR founder) bought in 2019 in a derelict state has been slowly renovated (at Greg’s cost) over the last year, and is nearly ready for occupation. This would expand our capacity by ~70% (from 17 to 29 bedrooms). Greg is happy to donate the building to CEEALAR in the event that there is demand for it. We could then combine the two buildings by knocking through the wall with an archway/double-door, and knocking down the wall between the back yards to create a courtyard, perhaps with a conservatory in between[3]. We believe that the network effect of expanding the project locally would lead to an increased value per grantee.

Potential upgrades enabled with increased funding

Ideally, with increased funding we would invest in some much needed building and energy system improvements. UK gas and electric bills have recently more than doubled, and our central heating system is old and unreliable, and in need of an overhaul. Ideally we’d like to install a new smart heating system with an air source heat pump, ventilation for en suite rooms; and a 10kW solar panel system with battery storage (and water heating) for electric. This would increase our resilience to further energy shocks and save money in the long run.

Expanding an EA community in a low-cost location

There is scope for further roll-out of the EA Community in Blackpool with other projects. As a charity, CEEALAR can’t support earning-to-give, so another project could be an earning-to-give (EtG) EA Hotel that is structured as a for-profit limited company that provides food, accommodation and a stipend to EA-aligned start-up founders either in exchange for equity or as an interest bearing loan. We have hosted events in the past at CEEALAR, and maintain the capacity to do so. However, a difficulty we’ve experienced is that of not having much spare capacity to house outside attendees. To this end, an EA Hotel dedicated to events could be good. It could also host fixed-duration cohort-based internships and bootcamps. There could also be standard shared houses for EAs (that spin out of any of the above) to expand the community..

Conclusion

Runway

With current funds, and the SFF grant, we will have ~18-20 months runway at current spend, or 12-15 months runway were we to hire an additional full-time manager, overhaul our energy systems, and expand to hosting 25 grantees within the next 6 months. This means we are not in imminent need of fundraising this giving season, but we will still welcome donations up until we have no need for further building upgrades and 18 months of runway at full capacity.

We welcome new grantees

We are still going, currently have lots of space, and have potential for further growth. Please apply if you want to do EA-related learning or research that requires support, especially if you don’t have runway to do it without otherwise having to earn money in an unrelated job. We welcome applicants from all over the world. Citizens of many countries (especially North America and Europe) can get 6-month Standard Visitor visas to the UK upon prior application. But we remind those in the UK especially that they can apply, and we welcome people to stay for up to 2 years for free, provided they maintain a reasonable level of productivity. Please share with anyone you think may be interested or be a good fit!

  1. ^

    Although as it was >90 days before FTX filed for bankruptcy, clawbacks seem like they might be less likely to apply. But it's possible fraudulent conveyance claims may still be brought.

  2. ^

    We acknowledge a conflict of interest here in that two of our trustees are FTX creditors who lost significant amounts of money when FTX went down.

  3. ^

    Pending permission being granted by the relevant parties.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:42 PM

Although it seems likely that it was >90 days before FTX filed for bankruptcy, so clawbacks seem like they might be less likely to apply.

I'm not able to give legal advice but I would also watch out for fraudulent conveyance claims. While your statement is literally true as far as I can tell (it is indeed "less likely"), the 90 day lookback window is not as much protection as I would've hoped. Happy to help you in more detail if you'd like.

Thanks, I've amended the wording to mention this (and also correct the first bit - it was definitely >90 days before the bankruptcy filing). I note that Molly says in her post that:

The second clawback process (called a “fraudulent conveyance claim”) targets transactions that happened up to two years prior to the bankruptcy filing. The root of these claims is an allegation that the debtor moved assets out of their organization for the purpose of frustrating future creditor claims. These types of claims are more complicated to prove, less commonly brought, and more individualized to the specific transaction. 

IANAL, but "for the purpose of frustrating future creditor claims" seems like quite a high bar. Have DM'd you.

The fraudulent conveyance statute requires satisfaction of one of two conditions. One is " actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud any entity to which the debtor was or became . . . intended." The other is that the debtor "received less than a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for such transfer or obligation" and was insolvent at the time (or met one of three other criteria). 

That being said -- while it wouldn't be appropriate for me to speculate on any specific organization's exposure -- both the foreign nature of an organization and a relatively small grant size are favorable predictors for the estate deciding clawback proceedings would not be cost-effective and/or settling the claim on favorable terms in light of those costs. I think those kinds of facts may ultimately matter more than the timing of a grant.

Thanks a lot for the update!  I feel excited about this project and grateful that it exists!

As someone who stayed at CEEALAR for ~6 months over the last year, I though I'd share some reflections that might help people decide whether going to the EA Hotel is a good decision for them. I'm sure experiences vary a lot, so, general disclaimer, this is just my personal data point and not some broad impression of the typical experience. 

Some of the best things that happened as a result of my stay:

  1.  I made at least three close friends I'm still in regular contact with, despite leaving the hotel half a year ago. That is a lot by my standards! I also increased my "network" by at least 20 people from all parts of the world and various professional/academic backgrounds that I'd be pretty happy to reach out to.
  2. I greatly increased my productivity. During my stay, a friend and I came up with an accountability system that increased my productivity on average by >5 focused hours per week over the last year (compared to previous years) and made me generally more healthy (e.g. I would estimate that I now exercise >1h more per week on average).
    1. Relatedly, I managed to create four episodes of a German podcast about EA in my first two months there.
  3. Harder to quantify: a lot of inspiration! I came to the hotel after a year of being more or less in covid-isolation and so I went from that to talking hours every day to researchers and creators with loads of new ideas. I hope that spending so much time around people who were smarter and more knowledgeable than I lead to a decent amount of intellectual growth for me. Somewhat relatedly, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the value of my stay came from many small suggestions other people casually made in conversation (e.g. of some concept, some website or some other product).
    1. I think this varied a lot over time as the group of people changed and especially as we became a smaller group over the summer it became less of a stimulating environment. 

Some downsides: 

  1. I'm not a fan of Blackpool. I remember it largely as being grimy and dull, especially in winter. The proximity to the sea and the park are quite nice though 
  2. I think the hotel rooms were also less comfortable and nice than what I'm used to from home. I think this was fine for the most part since I mostly used my room to sleep.  

On balance, I think I benefitted a lot from staying at the hotel and I'm very glad I made the decision to go! Thanks to Greg, Lumi, Denisa, Dave and everyone else who spend time with me while I was there <3
Please reach out if you have any questions you'd rater like to ask me in private.

Post summary (feel free to suggest edits!):
The Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) is an EA hotel that provides grants in the form of food and accommodation on-site in Blackpool, UK. They have lots of space and encourage applications from those wishing to learn or work on research or charitable projects in any cause area. This includes study and upskilling with the intent to move into those areas.

Since opening 4.5 years ago, they’ve supported ~100 EAs with their career development, and hosted another ~200 visitors for events / networking / community building. It costs CEEALAR ~£800/month to host someone - including free food, logistics, and project guidance. This is ~13% the cost of an established EA worker, and an example of hits-based giving.

They have plans to expand, and are fixing up a next door property that will increase capacity by ~70%. They welcome donations, though aren’t in imminent need (they have 12 - 20 months of runway, depending on factors covered in the post). They’re also looking for a handy-person.

(If you'd like to see more summaries of top EA and LW forum posts, check out the Weekly Summaries series.)

Greg and crew: Thanks for all your work, happy to see you made it through the pandemic.

Others: If you want a third-party opinion on what it's like, DM me.

We are hiring for a full-time Operations Manager, please share with anyone you think may be interested: https://ceealar.org/job-operations-manager

To start mid-late February. £31,286 – £35,457 per year (full time, 40 hours a week).

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