Collaborative consumption enhances community spirit
It started with Sam going around to his neighbour to borrow some milk. Things took a further step when one of them borrowed some chairs for a barbecue. Finally, the two neighbours decided the time had come to take down the fence between their gardens, to better enjoy the shared space.
This is how StreetBank - an online tool sharing website - started. On a street in West London, two neighbours started to share what they each owned, replacing the idea of possessions with the more collaborative concept of shared tools.
Shortly after Sam, now the founder of StreetBank, saw a neighbour he did not know on the street trimming a hedge – something he also needed to do, but he hesitated. thinking it rude to ask to borrow a tool from someone he did not know. It was at that moment he thought surely there must be a website where people who don't know each other yet can arrange to share tools. But there wasn't and so Sam got together with some friends to make one, and in April 2010 StreetBank was launched.
StreetBank now has 15000 active members, with strong and growing communities in Brighton, Leeds, London, and even in Washington State in the US and Vancouver, Canada. According to Alice Amies, one of the small team at StreetBank, you need around 50-100 people registered in a square mile to reach the 'tipping point' for a tool-share.
Where these schemes have been most successful is where there is a high density of housing, a sense of community, and a few trailblazers willing to get things started. So I checked out my own neighbourhood and found out there were already 30 Streetbank members within a mile of me and offers of origami lessons, a vax, ladder loans, violin lessons, and of course..a drill.
StreetBank is one of a number of schemes and projects inspired by collaborative consumption. The online Collaborative Consumption Hub provides many examples ranging from car sharing through organisations like LifeShare to fashion rental. This movement away from out-consuming other people and sharing with them instead is the next step on from Freecycle and swapshops, and is driven by using social media and networks to bring people face to face.
And the advantages of this type of sharing are three-fold. Firstly, people spend less on tools and equipment rarely used – the average drill is used for just 50 minutes in its entire lifetime. Secondly, sharing reduces consumption of natural resources to make these items in the first place and also stops so many of them being ditched in landfill at the end of their useful lives. And finally, it enhances community spirit by encouraging people to talk and share with each other.
On the StreetBank site itself, having a short biography and picture of yourself really helps the process. Alice says this is because we are often quite reluctant to lend to someone whom we know nothing about. Local press and newsletters are also vital to getting something going, she says.
StreetBank is now working with local councils and even the Cabinet Office to try to better reach community activists who could form the nucleus of a new group. So, don't be a fool. Share your tools!
Samir Jeraj is a freelance writer