Blogger, journalist, dad and West Norwood local Chris Twomey reports the latest from the Library:
It’s amazing to think Library of Things only properly launched in West Norwood 6 months ago. In that time, LOT has attracted media attention from around the world and all sorts of people have been contacting co-directors Bex, Sophia and Emma to express their admiration for the project…and ask how they could get involved. The overriding message from well-wishers and volunteers – like yours truly – was “Why haven't more people done this before?”
Keen to see an affordable borrowing culture flourish in the UK, co-directors Bex, Emma and Sophia met with libraries, charities, housing associations and community groups to ask if they had the manpower and space to set up a Library of Things. In February, 3 organisations were invited to the first ever Library of Things Bootcamp!
So what does a LOT Bootcamp consist of?
Initially lots of introductions in West Norwood’s Community Shop. We heard from Emily, Margaret and James of the Upper Norwood Library Trust; Joe from Crystal Palace Transition Town (more about that later); Marie and Phil from the Westway Trust (an organisation responsible for running 23 acres of land underneath The Westway, the elevated section of the A40 which runs from North Kensington to the M4); and Helen, representing Cross Keys Housing Association, which runs 12,000 homes in Peterborough. All keen to establish similar borrowing facilities in their own organisations and communities, they were there to learn from the West Norwood example – and to share their own collective knowledge and experience.
As I’ve often discovered in the past, when like-minded people come together, or you simply engage more closely with your own community, you learn a lot. For instance, as a Devon boy originally, I’ve driven over the unlovely Westway heading either to or from Exeter and beyond. I had no idea that somewhere below me, nestled in the shadow of this 3.5 mile section of road, was everything from a skate park and a nightclub to a horse-riding centre with stables! Nor did I know that at the time it was being built, the Westway was the biggest construction project in Europe. Nor, for that matter, did I realise that as a Crystal Palace resident I was living in a Transition Town.
According to Wikipedia, Transition Towns are “grassroot community projects that aim to increase self-sufficiency to reduce the potential effects of peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability.” Cool. Apparently the first designated Transition Town, in 2006, was Totnes in Devon…
And what did the distinguished assembled learn from me? (Although I was only present as an observer I was encouraged to join in with activities). Nothing more exciting, I’m afraid, than the fact that the worst job I ever had to do was spray chicken poop off plastic mats on a poultry farm in Israel. In fairness, I think I won that particular competition hands down.
I could only stick around until lunchtime on Saturday – making darned sure I didn’t miss the truly delicious buffet laid on by Community Shop’s Head Chef Trisha James – but I gather the rest of the weekend went really well.
Saturday afternoon kicked off with a session about service design and branding. “Sophia asked everyone to go into Library of Things to experience the service,” Bex explains. “What did they think about the team running the shop (who were loyal Librarians Nat and Ollie, by the way), the space, how did they feel about the things on show, how did they find the the website.
“Then she got them to contrast that experience with the current retail experience. People got a lot from it and I think were surprised by the amount of thought and care that had gone into the making of the Library of Things…that it had gone through that rigorous approach of ‘we need to design a service that’s better than buying.’
“I was proud of Sophia – it was the first time she’d ever led that workshop, but it felt like she’d done it a hundred times before.”
Day 2 was based at the Impact Hub Brixton. A highlight this time was a visit to Brixton Pound Café on Atlantic Road – a pay-as-you-feel café serving delicious meals made primarily from surplus food. It opened around the same time as LOT, in July 2016, and is another example of a great idea that had been waiting to happen.
“As with Community Shop, Brixton Pound Café is making use of food that would otherwise go to waste,” says Bex. “People living in big cities like London can often feel very isolated. Everyone who participated in Bootcamp is striving to bring people together in new ways and make better use of the resources we have.”