Although Library of Things already has a dedicated army of volunteers, a couple of months ago Community Activator Alys Penfold became our first full-time employee. She’s already become an integral part of the LoT family, but what does her job entail and what makes her tick? Chris Twomey decided to ask Alys herself….

It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out your role involves reaching out to members of the community – am I right?

100%! One of the main functions of my role is to compile an events programme, so that’s working with our members, seeing what skills they can share, and forming partnerships with other organisations. One I’m looking to set up, for example, is with an organisation called the Restart Project who organise community events where they have these experts who show you how to fix a broken electrical item you’ve brought to them - there’s a massive amount of electronics that can be fixed or recycled but aren’t, so they just get thrown away and often end up in developing countries. Also, we’d eventually like to run some practical DIY workshops in partnership with the likes of B&Q – organisations based in West Norwood and beyond.

How’s it going so far?

So far so good! We’re hosting a workshop in partnership with Veolia, where people can make planters out of old wooden pallets. They should bring a splash of colour to the streets around here!

As well as partnering with organisations, local people have started leading workshops. For example, our neighbour Meredith came to us one day and said, “I really want to get involved with Library of Things!” so we had a chat, and out of that came the chutney-making workshop that she led at the beginning of September.

When you landed the job you had to relocate from rural Hampshire to Norwood. Was that a challenge in itself?

Well I am actually originally from South London - I was born in Wallington near Croydon, and I'm from a long line of South Londoners on both sides of my family. But yes I moved away when I was six to Hampshire, so I’ve grown up in a very different area – one which is conservative in every sense and where there’s not much diversity. I lived in a community in rural Kenya for 3 months at the beginning of this year, so I like to think I’m quite an adaptable person. It’s nice to be somewhere different and I really enjoy meeting new people.

Er, you spent three months in Kenya earlier this year….doing what?

I took part in International Citizen Service which is a programme funded by the UK government for 18 to 25 year-olds. They send you to a developing country for three months to work on a local project…and I got placed in Kenya. My placement was run by Voluntary Services Overseas who are one of the world’s biggest international development charities. I ended up in a town called Maungu, south east Kenya, which was on the very dusty Mombasa to Nairobi highway. Whilst I was there I got involved in all sorts of things such as massive litter clearing operations and working with a community-based handicraft organisation.

Before this, you’d not been long out of university I gather?

That’s right. I graduated from Bournemouth University with a degree in multimedia journalism two years ago. I went to uni with the intention of becoming a journalist for glossy magazines doing fashion and all sorts, and then discovered other passions along the way. My thing is the environment – my friends call me a hippie – I’m particularly passionate about recycling and trying to find ways of achieving zero waste in my own life and encouraging other people to adopt environmentally friendly habits too.

Which is how you stumbled across Library of Things…

When I came back from Kenya I started looking for jobs and stumbled across Library of Things. What appealed to me was that LoT is so community focused, but also part of this big shift towards a circular economy. I’d just learned about minimalism which is about getting rid of stuff you don’t need, or that doesn’t bring you joy. I thought about the time I went kayaking and camping for a week last year and I spent about £200 buying a sleeping bag, tent and dry bags and all this stuff, when, if I’d had something like Library of Things I could have just borrowed all of those for something like £20 for the week. I applied for the Community Activator job and here I am a few months later…it feels like it’s meant to be and I’m really enjoying it.

What’s been the highlight for you so far?

It’s hard to pinpoint, but there were some really exciting moments within my first two weeks. Jonathan Bartley from the Green Party visited and Tom Heap from Radio 4’s Costing The Earth (and co-presenter of Countryfile) came down to LoT to record a piece which aired last week!

Got an idea for an event? Drop Alys an email and let her know.

Image credit: Loes Keetels