THE BLOG

Is Borrowing Set to Be the New Buying in the UK?

09/10/2015 17:05 BST | Updated 09/10/2016 10:12 BST

Have you ever needed a drill or a tent or a sewing machine just for a few days or weeks?

Have you spent lots of money on suitcases or breadmakers only for them to sit unused in the cupboard under the stairs for most of the year?

Library of Things solves this dilemma. It's a community space where people can come to borrow useful items and learn how to use them.

Last year, two friends and I were busy working full-time jobs and studying, when I came across this article about a borrowing shop in Berlin, called Leila. The shelves were filled with items like power tools, tents, sewing machines, waffle irons...

I sent the article to my friends James and Emma. James, who's a bit impulsive, simply sent back a Twitter handle, @Libraryofthings. I clicked on the link and saw one tweet: "Library of Things has launched!"

We decided the best way to make Library of Things a reality was to build a tiny version of it during our spare evenings and weekends outside the day jobs. We found some space that we could use for free for three months. It was in the public library in West Norwood - a community in South London.

To build furniture for the shop, we scavenged old chests and shelves left on London's pavements and invited creative local people to come and help us transform the otherwise lifeless room in the library.

The following week Library of Things was open for borrowing. How it worked in those first few months was that people donated an item or volunteered their time and in exchange could borrow items. On week one we started with fairly empty shelves, but within a few weeks in they were groaning under the weight of strimmers, suitcases, surfboards, Nintendo games. Some items were less expected than others - one donation was a green velvet lampshade for example. But others walked in with a wheelbarrow full of valuable stuff.

Hilary for example, who edits a local news magazine, came by with a complete range of circular saws, electric sanders and drills. 'My husband has had these in his shed for the last 5 years. I don't think he's ever touched them', Hilary told us.

I'm still not sure if Hilary's husband knows they've gone.

What gave me energy over this three month test phase was getting to know the vast cross-section of West Norwood that came through our doors.

An old guy called Mo who lived in an estate nearby came in to borrow shears, lawn mowers, paint for his fencing - he loved gardening but had no tools to work with. He stayed in the library for half an hour each time. We'd offer him tea whilst he told us stories about his childhood in Jamaica, about his grandkids he was proud of, about what he loved in the area.

A Spanish woman called Flavia dropped by with her young son. She mentioned her living room that was covered in musty floral wallpaper that she just hated. It was going to cost her hundreds of pounds to call someone to remove it and then paint up the room. We said, well why not borrow our wallpaper steamer? And spent an hour showing her how to use it. A fortnight later she came back beaming. Her living room had been transformed, it no longer looked like an unfortunate 80s relic and importantly, she'd done it herself.

At the end of the three months we came back to tidy up, and were astonished to find a queue of people asking where we'd gone:

'Can I borrow a satnav?'

'Do you have a marquee?'

'I could do with some tea urns...'

Our inbox was flooded with requests from further afield too. People were wanting to set up a Library of Things in Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Australia, Bolivia, the Philippines...

It was at this point that we realised the potential of the idea.

Since then, we have been on the hunt for an affordable space in South London to be our next home. This has certainly been a challenge - but we're finally making progress!

We also ran a Kickstarter campaign for this first proper home and raised £15,000 thanks to 250 awesome backers.

The big dream is to build a toolkit that enables people around the UK to create a Library of Things for their community. Watch this space.

Rebecca will be talking about Library of Things at TEDx Brixton this Saturday. The event will be livestreamed between 13:30 and 20:00 on 10th October at the Ritzy, Brixton and on http://tedxbrixton.com/livestream/