Interview: Rebecca Trevalyan, Library of Things

| Greg Watson

We spoke to Rebecca Trevalyan of Library of Things, a community space where local people can borrow, share and learn.

Do you want to tell me a bit about the work you’ve done?

Sure, Library of Things is a friendly space where you come and borrow items like power tools, gardening things, camping kit, sewing machines and learn how to use them.

There’s over 300 borrowers who have borrowed over 400 items. Most borrowed things have been things that have improved people’s homes and environments. We run a collection of events, mending meet-ups and woodworking workshops that have been incredibly popular locally and there’s huge demand for people to come together and connect with their neighbours around simple practical activities.

Who was the driving force behind that and why did it come about?

There was a group of three of us at the start and we’d been interested in social enterprises and smart ways to combine creativity and long term financial sustainability with solving problems. We came across this article about a similar borrowing concept in Berlin called Leila and I sent that article to my friends and one of them sent back a Twitter handle called @libraryofthings and I followed the link and it just said ‘Library of Things is launched,’ so it started there!

Who has been your greatest inspiration or influence?

There was a community incubator called the Open Works, which you might know. It enabled us to get started and we draw a lot of our ethos and our ways of working from the Open Works principles.

There was a group of designers and entrepreneurs working with Lambeth council who get to know citizens in West Norwood and invite them to start projects.

Whether they were citizen-led free projects or whether they were social enterprises and had that business model, they asked people what they wanted for West Norwood and out of that process twenty of these projects sprang up. The ethos was really just quick prototyping to learn lots very early on but, crucially, to learn and design with the people from the area.

The best thing about what you’ve done is:

Aside from the process of working with people from the area, I think the approach we took to the design is something I’m really proud of.

A lot of people come to Library of Things and say “Oh, I expected it to be a kind of charity shop or look like a junk shop.” We were really clear from the start that we wanted it to be an enjoyable and smooth experience for members and I think the results show that.

So, it’s real attention to detail in terms of the aesthetics and the whole experience.

Did anything surprise you during the project so far?

Every time someone comes in to borrow something, I still have this little moment of surprise. There’s a vibe of it working each time and people coming back and singing its praises and saying “why doesn’t this exist everywhere?”

I guess because it’s new for people and it’s new for us, and it just surprises and delights me that it’s working, and every time it works I get a bit of that feeling.

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of doing something similar?

I’d say having the right people in place is the most important thing and the right dynamic between the people, in terms of the energy and enthusiasm and passion people can bring to the project and the time commitment they can give.

In terms of the different mix of skills, starting something from scratch needs a really broad range of skills. There’s just a whole lot of problems to solve early on and it’s really useful to have motivated, problem-solving generalist people in place from the start.

What’s next for the project?

Next up, we’re running a boot camp. It’s our scaling programme and we’re helping a handful of teams mostly around the south of the UK to set up Libraries of Things where they are. We have a library on board, a community regeneration trust starting a Library of Things near a high street and a housing association that we’re working with amongst potentially others, so we’re really excited about that.

Where can we find out more?

Our website and Twitter and my email,

Tell us your favourite quote…

I’ll do one that fits with the theme: “Collect experiences not things.”

Photo by Daniil Lebedev on Unsplash

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