Somerset Share Shop offers a new kind of enterprise.
Project that loans household items for nominal sums is attempting to reduce waste, save customers money and train young people.
An awe-inspiring array of tools, from trowels to an angle grinder, are laid out rather beautifully on the rough reclaimed wood shelves running along one side of the Share Shop in Frome, Somerset. Nestled among them is a photograph of the man who donated them, on a card explaining that they belonged to his late brother, a builder, who died of a heart attack. “When we walked past and saw the shop, we knew it was the perfect place for his tools to go,” it reads.
The shop, which opened at the end of last month, is billed as the only one of its kind in the UK at the moment (although there’s also been a “Library of Things” piloted in West Norwood, south London). By allowing residents to borrow, for a minimal fee, good quality household and leisure items donated by the public, it aims to save people money and reduce waste – the average electric drill is used for just 15 minutes in its lifetime, the organisers point out. At the same time, the scheme has offered the young people who built it from scratch a free, intensive training in community entrepreneurship.
On its first day, the dizzying mix of preserving pans, PA systems and petanque sets is already attracting impressive footfall. Tim Cutting is handing over what is thought to be either a leaf blower or a leaf sucker. “It was given to me by my neighbour,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever used it.”
Hannah Hallybone has just delivered a record player and has already spotted a travel cot she could use. Meanwhile, Emily Bull, who works at a local school for students with autism, is returning a projector borrowed (the day before, sneakily) for the inaugural meeting of its autism-friendly film club. “We didn’t have a projector and because we’re quite a small school, we didn’t really have the funds to go out and buy one.” The Share Shop is the brainchild of Anna Francis, Frome town council’s energy and recycling officer, who had initially hoped the space could be used as a reuse and recycling centre. Realising it was too small, she lighted on the idea of creating a sharing hub instead.
The council, run for the past four years by the Independents for Frome party (which won every seat in last week’s parish elections), put up funding of £7,000 for social enterprise Edventure: Frome to get the shop off the ground as one of its “school for community enterprise” schemes. The money will support the shop for six months, after which the hope is that it will become self-sustaining.
Items cost either £1, £2 or £4 to borrow for a week, depending on their size and maintenance cost. Trust is a key factor; it’s hoped the photographs and donor stories around the room will help build a sense of connection that ensures people don’t simply keep the items. The shop is also linking up with local housing associations to encourage residents to volunteer, and in doing so spread the word about what’s available to borrow. It will work closely with staff, volunteers and users of the food bank. “We really want to make sure this does benefit the people that need it most,” says Francis. “We don’t want it just to be a middle-class swapsie.”
The shop was set up by an eight-strong team of 18-30-year-olds. Three are from Frome. Edventure tries to give 40% of places to young people who are currently unemployed, although it’s not always possible.
“If funding for the project is low – as it is this time – we cannot recruit too many long-term unemployed people because of the high level of support they need,” says Edventure’s co-founder and director, Johannes Moeller.
Two members of the team will share the paid shop-manager role earning £8 an hour, working with volunteers to keep it open four days a week. And for the next six months, Edventure will support all participants to set up their own projects, or become successfully self-employed, meeting with them once a week for a few hours. The aim is to help them “create a living through doing something that has a community benefit, but also pays the bills,” says Moeller.
The participants received eight weeks of training, which included making a business plan, carrying out research, creating a brand and establishing the actual shop – with a budget of just £500. “Most people learn best from just doing,” says Moeller. “They get a whole experience of what it’s like to set up a community enterprise.”
Edventure has been working with the town council and other charities for two-and-a-half years to find challenges that offer opportunities to young people – including those who are unemployed – while addressing real needs in Frome. This is the fourth such scheme.
Nineteen-year-old Jacob Preston had been looking for work since leaving college last June when he joined the Share Shop scheme. He’s now got a bartending job, after getting help with a covering letter from Edventure staff, and hopes the experience he’s gained will help him build a future career. “It’s boosted my confidence,” he says. “It’s given me a chance to find where my limits are and where I can push them, and what I’m actually capable of.”
The above article by Rachel Williams first published on theguardian.com in May, 2015.