Library of Things

London's first borrowing shop open!

Social enterprise Library of Things, which lends out useful items like power tools, camping gear and kitchenware, has launched its first shipping container borrowing space in West Norwood and signed up 90 members within a fortnight.

Young entrepreneurs Emma (26), Sophia (25) and Bex (26) have created the project, seeing an opportunity for people to save money, meet neighbours and reduce waste.

'It just makes sense', said co-director Sophia. ‘I speak to old and young, and everyone gets it – why buy an expensive thing you only use once or twice a year, that then clogs up your small London living space?

90 people signed up as members and 16 borrows were made within the first fortnight. Local councillors Anna and Joe borrowed strimmers and lawnmowers to do their lawns. 8 year-old Amy borrowed ukulele to try it out for the first time. Local mum Sarah borrowed the tent and sleeping mat for her family camping trip to the New Forest.

Local resident Mario said, ‘I think it’s a brilliant idea. I’m borrowing the steam cleaner for the community centre – we don’t have one there so it’s really useful.’

Having tested the project in West Norwood Library for 3 months in 2014, the team raised £15,000 via a crowdfunding campaign to build the 'flagship'Library of Thingsspace. Then followed an 18 month search for an affordable space for the lending project in an increasingly unaffordable London property market.

We looked at garages, sheds, leaky community spaces, old pubs and commercial spaces in redevelopment. The council were reluctant to work with a young organisation like ours, and private developers expected £50,000 in rent for otherwise unused spaces,’ said co-director Emma.

West Norwood-based social supermarket, Community Shop, came to the rescue. A similar sharing economy project, Community Shop takes surplus food from supermarkets ranging from Asda to Waitrose, and sells it at 70% of the retail price to local people who can most benefit from it.

Library of Things seemed a natural fit for what we’re doing here at Community Shop, working to help people save money and meet others, and to reduce waste at the same time,’ said National Growth Manager Clara Widdison.

Hundreds of other people and organisations have helped bring Library of Things to life. The shipping containers have been designed and hand-built by Lifeboat Studio, a new start-up that designs and makes playful community spaces. The eye-catching icons and graphics have been produced by local designers Kind Studio.

Corporate companies have helped Library of Things through donations of items. B&Q West Norwood donated a pressure washer, lawn mower, wallpaper steamer, soldering iron, hand sanders and more. Circular economy leaders Patagonia and Berghaus donated a selection of hiking backpacks, day packs and overnight bags.

Library of Things is still open for donations, particularly of high value items like carpet cleaners, satnavs, projectors, gazebos and music speakers.

The team has secured funding from the RSA to help 5 teams around the UK build a Library of Things where they are.

Co-director Bex said, 'Someday soon, we'll see a Library of Things in our local libraries, churches and post offices – perhaps alongside skill-sharing projects, community cinema and practical making spaces. The dream is that Library of Things lets anyone, anywhere, borrow anything.’

The above piece first published on in Jul, 2016.