31 Mar It’s a busy Saturday afternoon in the Leeds suburb of Headingley
In Headingley Methodist Church, there are quieter scenes. Jed Aitchison and his volunteer James Murphy are waiting for potential browsers and borrowers to come and use the Library of Things. “A library of things? What on earth is that?” you might ask. Let me explain.
Well, it’s a library, of sorts, but instead of a space crammed with books it’s a room full of the things you might only use once a year, but still need. Camping equipment, muffin tins, power tools, lawn mowers, ladders, juicers, work benches, pasta makers, snorkels and ski helmets are just some of the things that make up the catalogue of items on the library’s shelves, and Aitchison wants it to keep growing.
“We’ve got nearly 700 items in the library, and around 90 per cent of the items have been donated or lent to us,” he says. “A lot of people have pawn shops in OK things they don’t use very often so they’re willing to part with them because they know they can get them back.”
Along the high street groups of scantily clad young men dressed as referees blow whistles and give each other piggy-backs, and girls wearing capes and wings link arms as they crawl from bar to bar on the infamous Otley run
It currently has more than 450 members, with around a quarter paying a donation of between ?5 and ?20 a month to use as many items as they need, loaned out for one week, with others paying as much as they can afford, as and when they need to borrow. There are similar projects in other cities including London, Edinburgh and Oxford, and Manchester is due to get its own version this year, scheduled to open at Levenshulme Old Library in the summer.
Aitchison gives me a tour of the library. A 50 square metre space nestled at the back of the church, its shelves are bursting with carefully organised items arranged into sections. There’s a section for garden equipment, a section for power tools, board games, fancy dress costumes, kitchen goods and outdoor equipment, and more. Every item in the library has been cleaned, mended if necessary, valued for insurance purposes, photographed, itemised, recorded and uploaded onto the library’s website, where borrowers can browse the inventory before making the trip to Headingley to pick up what they need.
The Leeds Library of Things is run on a pay-as-you-feel basis
Aitchison points out a box of screws with a sign above instructing visitors to “take a screw, leave a screw”.
“We’ve taken this concept from the ‘take a penny, leave a penny’ idea used in shops in North America,” he says. “It means if you have a bit of change left over, you’d leave it in case another customer fell short. We’re doing the same with screws, washers, nails and drill bits, for example.”
We walk around to the shelves stacked with camping equipment. Aitchison and his team of volunteers went to Leeds Festival last year to collect tents and other items left behind, with Aitchison estimating they collected around ?500-?1,000 worth of camping gear.
“There was a mountain of stuff left on the site,” he says. “We were there for around two hours and collected what we could to save it from landfill, but there was just so much.”
Last year the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) launched the Take Your Tent Home initiative, estimating that around 250,000 tents are left at music festivals across the UK, with the average tent weighing around 3.5kg and making up the equivalent in plastic as 250 pint cups.