Mobile Library of Things

Image screenshot from ShareShed's Facebook Page

Share Shed is a Library of Things in Totnes, in the southwest of England, where over 350 items are available for members of the project to borrow at a nominal fee. The library’s collection is versatile and includes such things as camping and gardening equipment, tools, musical instruments, household appliances, bicycles, sewing machines and items for when a baby comes to visit, to name but a few. After watching many people coming in from nearby villages and towns to borrow equipment they didn’t require regularly, Share Shed coordinators began to think about creating a mobile version of the project.

They were presented with the opportunity to apply for The People’s Projects Fund provided by The National Lottery Community Fund in partnership with the TV channel ITV, to fund the world’s first mobile library of things, which would travel to these communities, making it easier and more accessible for all.

Share Shed manager Mark Jefferys says, “Everybody we meet seems to understand the concept of ‘borrow, don’t buy’, and it’s a great feeling when we can help somebody out with the things they need to complete a task, be it putting up a shelf, or getting a house ready for a sale. Expanding this possibility to other villages, and facilitating even more sharing seems like a great and exciting next step for us.”

With the support from their parent organization, the nonprofit Network of Wellbeing, Share Shed decided to start the application process by creating a proposal with a budget of £48,599 (US$63,539). If successful, as well as continue to serve Totnes, the project would also work with three neighbouring towns: Ashburton, Buckfastleigh and South Brent, which have a combined population of 25,000 people. 

Pam Barrett, former Mayor of Buckfastleigh, says, “As soon as I heard of the Share Shed, I wanted to bring it to Buckfastleigh. We’re a small town and lack many facilities. Our inhabitants are often isolated or on low incomes. Sharing tools and other equipment is a natural response to empower people and to build connections, and I’m keen to support the Share Shed in any way I can.” 

Sue Ifould from Sustainable South Brent adds, “We’ve thought for some time about how we could set up a library of things in a small community like South Brent. The Mobile Share Shed is the answer. By working with towns and villages around, we could develop a service that meets all our needs, and build connections between our communities.”

After three phases of the grant process requiring detailed information about the project’s journey up to that point, budgets, marketing strategy, and further aspirations, Share Shed was shortlisted to the final phase of the competition: A 15-day public campaign to get as many votes for the project as possible. The projects with the most votes would be the winners, and be granted their asked-for amount, with the outcome being broadcast live on ITV. 

Being one of five finalists for a particular geographical area the fund provider works with — and not being allowed to invest in paid advertising of any kind — required a great deal of creativity from the Share Shed team, as well as focus to spread the word about the venture, while converting the interest into votes. Jefferys came up with a song explaining how the project had been developed and the ambitious plans for the future. With support from the project’s volunteers, a video was made and shared on social media, which became a great asset in the campaign. 

The Share Shed team and supporters were pleased to receive the news, live on ITV, that the project was indeed awarded the grant. Since then, Share Shed staff have been working to develop this audacious initiative, hoping to inspire and further support a much-needed change; one that is based on sharing and collaboration.

The team is currently working on converting a vehicle to start supporting nearby villages beginning in April 2020. There has already been a great amount of interest from similar projects worldwide on how this venture is evolving, and hopefully this model will be replicated globally, fulfilling the needs of those who want access to, rather than to own, things. Such a shift is supporting people and communities to become much more resourceful and sustainable.

If you’re interested in setting up a similar initiative in your community, you can find some helpful resources here.


Library of Things ebook

This post is part of our 2020 editorial series on libraries of things. Download the free ebook from the series here.

Mirella Ferraz


Mirella Ferraz

Mirella coordinates the Network of Wellbeing's community work in Totnes, U.K., where she's helped set up the Share Shed – A Library