Co-founder Emma shares her memories of grappling with the UK's antiquated legal system, to get Library of Things registered as a non-profit company.
There I was, at 1 o’clock in the morning, with a 30-page legal document in front of me. We were trying to register Library of Things as a non-profit company.
After the success of our trial in West Norwood Library last year, we were overwhelmed with the community’s support for Library of Things, and desperate to make it a permanent feature on our local high street.
During the 10 week trial we’d welcomed 1000 people into our shop, signed up 100 members, and created a vibrant space in the community for neighbours to meet and share their things. Just as we’d hoped, this idea really works.
So we spoke to as many people as we could about how to turn our homemade trial into a more permanent service for the community: a space where useful items are made available to people that need them, just when they need them, at very affordable prices.
To do this we’d need to find a space to call our own, refurbish it, and fill it with high quality items for our members to borrow. We’d need to build partnerships with local businesses, charities and councils. We’d need a bank account. And we’d need a significant amount of money to keep the place running – rent, bills and insurance don’t come cheap, especially in London!
And to do all these things, we were told, we’d need to become A Legal Entity.
But what exactly is Library of Things, legally speaking? Or what should it be? We’ve always called ourselves a ‘social enterprise’, but there’s no box on the Company’s House registration form for that… yet.
So, we did what most people would do and typed ‘legal’ ‘entity’ ‘non-profit’ ‘social’ ‘enterprise’ into Google. We trawled through the legal guidance on Company’s House, chatted with other social entrepreneurs online and down the pub, and got to grips with the Companies Act, then the Charities Act, and all sorts of other legal bumph.
We even went along to a pro bono legal support session for start-ups. “What’s a social enterprise?” they said. Ah.
In the end, we settled on ‘company limited by guarantee with a non-profit distribution clause’. Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? It means that we exist, in the eyes of the law, to generate social impact: we're part-company, part-charity, part-unique. And that's why it was such a headache to create those legal documents.
Most importantly though, any ‘profit’ we make gets reinvested back into the company – and straight back into our mission to make Library of Things a reality for every community across the UK.
Now that's all sorted, we can get on with the exciting stuff...