Lending library offers shopping alternative

From power tools to kitchenware, Londoners can now hire from a new ‘borrowing shop’ instead of buying

A social enterprise based in a repurposed shipping container in West Norwood, the Library of Things runs an online database listing useful but often expensive items that people are able to rent affordably. People sign up for free, choose from the online list and then visit the shop to pick up the loan. Items remain the property of the library, which has so far attracted 150 members.

Current offers include a breadmaking machine for £4 per week, a barbecue for £5 and a garden hose for £1. Of the more than 70 items loaned so far, the most popular have been carpet cleaners and lawn mowers, with four-man tents and ukuleles close behind.


From tools to other household goods, the Library of Things stocks practical items to loan

Many of the items are expensive to buy outright and so affordability was a key consideration in devising the business model, co-founder Bex Trevalyan explains. “We believe everyone should be able to access useful and life enhancing things when they need them.”

After the idea was born in 2014, the team trialled several pop-up versions of the Library of Things at the West Norwood Library. Within a few weeks, 100 people signed up as members and some 1,000 people visited the shops. Spurred on by the success and after raising £15,000 in a crowdfunding campaign, the shop opened in July. Donations had come in from friends and family as well as strangers from as far afield as the US, France and Japan. There were 248 backers in total.

We believe everyone should be able to access useful and life enhancing things when they need them

Now, the team is continuing to grow, with current volunteer opportunities ranging from in-house DJ and event promotion to workshop planning. As well as Bex, who is responsible for building community connections, directors also include Emma Shaw, who oversees finance, and Sophia Wyatt who heads up design.


The Library of Things has 150 members and attracts a growing customer-base from the local West Norwood community

This current model is likely to change and develop as the team responds to feedback. They have also experienced increasing interest from international groups hoping to replicate their model in their own communities. Their primary goal at the moment however, is to make the scheme sustainable. Future plans including launching a community share offer in order to allow the library to be owned by and accountable to its local community.

Also in the pipeline is a local delivery service, public supper club events, workshops for members and boot camps to train others to set up their own libraries.

Library of Things

Images: Sebastian Wood