As you’ll have read in some of our previous blogs, the need to buy and consume new things is damaging our planet. This means that engaging in the sharing economy is a great way to help fight climate change – and to save yourself a bit of money. There are various options for sharing and repairing here in Bristol, including Karshare, Freecycle and Share Bristol’s awesome Library of Things.
What is the Library of Things (LoT), I hear you ask? Well, it’s exactly as it sounds. It’s a magical place in Kingswood, Bristol where you can borrow household items for a small annual membership fee, so you don’t have to buy specialist stuff you’ll probably use only twice before it starts to gather grime in the corner.
Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash
I had a chat with Judith, head of Share Bristol, about how the library came to be and how our readers can use it.
Some years ago, Judith decided to try her hand at microadventuring; that is, small adventures for busy people. She wanted to try sleeping outside with a bivvy bag, but wasn’t sure if she would enjoy the experience. So she went onto a local Facebook group about adventuring and asked if there was a way equipment could be shared. No-one else in Bristol seemed to be doing this kind of thing at the time, so Judith and her husband Ben decided to start sharing on a wider scale.
Frome, London, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cardiff all had libraries of things – why not Bristol?
Judith and Ben visited the LoTs in London, Edinburgh and Oxford to learn more about how their libraries work. Each has a different model; by learning from those sites, the pair felt they had the understanding and the tech, so all they needed was the space and the people.
Bristol is a big city, so the branch in Kingswood is a pilot. It’s been going since May 2021; although there may be more branches in future, Judith and Ben want to ensure that they have a sustainable model before going forwards. Having said that, early conversations in four different areas of Bristol have started already, so the future is looking bright. Once the right money, support and premises are in place, more sites might open.
Photo by Andy Newton on Unsplash
Currently, the LoT in Bristol is open to the public on Saturdays 10am-2pm, Tuesdays 10:30am-12:30pm and Thursdays 5-7pm, and is run by a great team of volunteers. When the volunteers arrive, they open the shutters, get out all the things that have been reserved for that day and check the names of the borrowers they are expecting. When borrowers come to collect, they will usually have a little chat about why they need the item, at which point volunteers can offer anything else that might be needed, such as PPE for DIY, extra party items and so on. Friendly people of all ages and abilities drop in to ask questions and say hello – the response from the public has been really positive.
“Some people say, ‘Thank goodness, we didn’t think people were environmentally-minded in this area,’” said Judith. She thinks that people in Kingswood are climate-concerned but haven’t found a way to join together. The LoT is a great way to join that community.
When items get returned, the volunteer ‘Thing Technicians’ check them over during the week to ensure that they are ready to go out again.
Sounds good, right? So how can you sign up? Well, you can either join online or in person. Standard membership is £50 for the year. However, if you’re on a low income, you can pay £20; or if you’re feeling flush, you can generously pay £80 instead, helping to support the work of the LoT. Once you’ve paid for the year, you can borrow as much as you want.
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash
You can browse the library catalogue online before joining to check that the things you want are in stock. Once you’ve paid, you can reserve those things weeks in advance. You have to sign a membership agreement to say you will look after the items, read the instructions and bring your things back in good condition. If the LoT doesn’t have what you are looking for in their catalogue, you can send them an email and they will see what they can do to get the things you need.
“Pressure washers and carpet cleaners are the two most popular items,” says Judith – if anyone has any of these to donate, please do so! And bear in mind that if you want these items, you’ll have to book in advance. Other things they’re also looking for can be found on their wishlist.
I asked Judith for her top tip for reusing rather than buying new. “If you think you want something rather than needing it, pause,” she said, “and think about the number of times you would use it.”
If, like me, you sometimes struggle to distinguish between what you need and what you THINK you need but actually just want, avoid those impulse purchases. If you’re still thinking about the item in a week or a month, maybe it is worth buying. If not, maybe you can find a way to borrow it!
While the Bristol LoT doesn’t lend clothing – one item I think lots of us buy on impulse – there are other places out there where you can borrow clothes. Or you could try asking your neighbours or friends.
If you’d like to get involved, there are volunteering opportunities at the LoT.
Thing Technicians check items in when they arrive, to ensure they are fit for borrowing, and then check them over every time they come back, to clean them up and make sure they’re ready to go out again. You don’t have to be technical to do this job, you just need an eye for detail and a few hours a week or month. In contrast, Librarians are in the shop front, checking things in and out and promoting the LoT to people who visit the space.
If you’d like to support the LoT you can do this by spreading the word, making a donation, raising funds when you shop online, buying gift vouchers for friends and families, collaborating to support development or joining the team.