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Library of Things

I don’t think I’m nosey, I think I’m just interested…well that’s my excuse.  My dad was the same.  He couldn’t help himself just talking to people.  When he was my chaperone during my early years signed to Rocket Records I used to find him terribly embarrassing.  We would be having breakfast in the 5 star Cumberland Hotel on Marble Arch and my dad would start chatting to the people on the next table as they tried to tuck into their bacon and eggs.  Having said that, I will always remember my dad coming into his own on the day I first met my idol Elton John.  Finding myself tongue tied it fell to my dad to fill the space chatting to the popstar about gardening and in particular roses.

That is how I found myself this week entering the ‘Swansea Library of Things’.  I had just been for a very nice breakfast in Cwtch Café (chorizo, sun-dried tomatoes, smashed avocado, fried egg, tomato sauce, maple syrup all in a bagel) and found myself wandering around the Market before heading for the car park.

As I left the market, heading for ‘New Look’ exit, I noticed what seemed to be a shop full of cages.  As I looked in I discovered that these cages were full of drills and carpet cleaners and saws and well just about everything you might need for a job around the house.  There were bits of kit you might need for going camping, or a photographic session or gardening or charging your car battery.

It was at this stage the teenage Maldwyn would have turned around and walked out, but of course I have now become my dad and so the interrogation of the lady behind the counter started.

Fair play, Julie behind the counter didn’t immediately reach for the panic button or call for security but when she mistook my interest for being a potential new subscriber I thought I ought to put my cards on the table straight away.  ‘Hi. my name is Mal Pope and I write a weekly column for the Evening Post, that why I’m asking all these questions’

The Swansea Library of Things has been running from this little kiosk on the edge of the Quadrant since April this year.  As their website says,

‘This project has been developed by Urban Foundry Ltd. as part of the wider Popup Wales initiative and is kindly supported by Welsh Government and Swansea Council.’

The Urban Foundry is behind so many great projects in our city.  They have set themselves the target of turning good ideas into reality whilst hopefully changing the world for the better. The Library of things came about when a number of stars aligned.  The councils ‘Tip Treasures’ reuse shop based at the Llansamlet Recycling Centre had originally wanted to do something similar, but it was proving tricky. Working with a model that has already been rolled out across Wales by an organisation ‘Benthyg Cymru’, The Urban Foundry decided to set up the Swansea Library of Things right into the heart of the city centre.

Anyway, back to the Library itself.  There are certain things that at some stage in your life you are really going to need, like say a carpet cleaner or a family tent or a car roof box.  They are absolutely essential for that day or two or maybe that week but after that you might not use them again for a long time if ever.  In the meantime you find that you’ve spent hundreds of pounds and now that the job is done you’ve got to find somewhere to store it. 

This recently became apparent for me when my old garden shed collapsed.  Underneath the debris I found a power washer that I had bought, used once and then completely forgotten about.  I cleaned it up a bit, plugged it in, and it worked.  The trouble is now I don’t have a shed to store it in anymore and I can’t throw it away because, well, it was too expensive.  Its currently in the hallway and I’ve tripped over it twice this week already.

Wouldn’t it have been better, cheaper and more practical to hire one and then give it back.  Now I’m sure there are hire companies that do that type of thing but when the hire charge is quite expensive you might still come to the conclusion that it’s cheaper in the long term to buy.  That’s where the Library of Things comes in, the tools and items are all regularly checked to make sure they are safe and work well and they are reasonable, you might even say cheap to borrow.

So you save money not buying or hiring the kit you need occasionally, and you give it back to be stored until you need it next time.

The Library was being manned by Julie, a recently retired teacher who was almost evangelical in her love for the idea.  She told me that one of their prams had been taken out of the country for two holidays this year.  They currently have over 600 subscribers to the service and although they do have to take a deposit for some of the more expensive items they rarely hang onto that deposit.  There was one person who cut through the electric cable of a hedge trimmer and tried to repair it with Sellotape but that was the exception to the rule.

Who uses the Library?  Everybody. 

If you’ve watched the news lately you can’t have failed to notice that we are heading for a cost of living crisis, but that doesn’t mean that people will have to ignore jobs that need to be done.  The library is perfect for getting the tools you need without going into massive debt.  Julie told me they had been used by lots of young people setting up home for the first time who need to do jobs in their new flat.  She was bracing herself for a massive influx of students over the next few weeks looking for a cheap way to access tools.

Julie also went on to say that it wasn’t just people on a budget who used their services.  A lot of their subscribers were probably more than able to buy the tools in the Library, but they wanted to help the planet by cutting down on their own use of resources, save money and save the planet.

The reason the Library is able to offer their kit at such reasonable prices is that it is supported by the Swansea Council and the Welsh Government and it is staffed by volunteers.  Julie told me she has recently retired from teaching and this was a great way to give back and to meet lots of different people.  She heartily recommended others to join as volunteers for lots of other reasons too.  Sometimes if people have been out of work for some time they need a ‘job’ to get them back into a workplace.  Volunteering is a good way to start again and build up confidence and build up a CV.

Julie suggested I chat to Gareth at the Urban Foundry who helps manage the project.  It was obvious by chatting to Gareth that passion is at the heart of everything Urban Foundry do.  Gareth went on to tell me that they are just starting to work with an organisation called ‘Tempo Time Credits’.  For each hour or day of volunteering the volunteers earn credits which can used for use in a gym or going bowling or maybe going to the rugby.

As I left the Library I bumped into an old school friend.  We chatted for a while.  He’s had a good job and good career.  He asked me what I was doing.  I told him I was thinking about writing this week’s Evening Post column about the Library of Things.   It’s brilliant, he told me.  I needed a special drill to make holes for a fence and it would have cost me hundreds of pounds to buy.  I borrowed one from the Library and saved a fortune.  As I said, who uses the Swansea Library of Things…everybody.

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