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Meet the #EWWRAwards finalists: a different kind of library inspires Cloughmills to reduce waste

The EWWR Awards finalists have been announced! In each category, the Jury has selected their top 3 finalists. The winners will be revealed on 15 May in Brussels during the EWWR Awards Ceremony. In the days and weeks to come, we will introduce you the finalists one by one. Today, we would like you to present to you the initiative undertaken by the Cloughmills Community Action Team. This action has been nominated in the NGO/Associations category.

Cloughmills citizens borrowing items at the library of things
Cloughmills citizens borrowing items at the library of things

What did your action consist of?

We established what we believe to be Northern Ireland’s first Library of Things. This is a mechanism for people to borrow items that might be used infrequently or which they believe might be something they will use regularly but wish to try it before committing to a purchase. We have a selection of items available for borrowing which can be roughly divided into the following categories: homes and kitchen, DIY and cleaning, hobbies and leisure.

Members pay an annual fee of £10 to join and we offer payment plans to facilitate those on limited incomes. All hand tools are free to borrow with the maximum borrowing period being 7 days. Other items are priced according to their original value with the most expensive hire cost being £5 for 7 days. Our Library was designed and built by volunteers, is managed by volunteers and is for the benefit of people of all ages across our community.

We have items available including bread and jam making kits, food mixers, smoothie makers, drills, saws, carpet cleaners, a bicycle and child car seats. We have asked people to donate unwanted items to us and have received a belt sander, some hand tools, two bread makers, a food mixer and a sewing machine! We are challenging traditional consumerism which suggests to people that we need to ‘own’ things.

We are challenging traditional consumerism which suggests to people that we need to ‘own’ things. We suggest to people that we can provide options for either borrowing something that you may only require once a year or alternatively if you are curious about something such as bread making borrow ours to try it out before taking the plunge and buying one. At least then we begin to tackle the build-up of unused or infrequently used items in people’s homes. We also collect batteries at the Library to ensure these are recycled properly. These currently are not collected through our kerbside collection scheme. We believe in community or cooperative approaches and this is a way of bringing people together, starting conversations around how we become a more resilient community, and how by collectively or cooperatively doing or buying things we can increase choices for our community.

To date we have 31 members ranging in age from 19 to 81. Our members range in backgrounds and there have been 69 ‘loans’ in our first 6 months of operation. One member recently commented:
‘I’ve just borrowed a power washer and this isn’t just about not spending money, I feel part of something here and I feel good because I know I don’t have to have one of my own. I have other stuff I don’t really use and I’m going to drop it in for the Library. I can’t believe I can do things like this in my community, it’s great being part of something, its brilliant’

Alongside this we devised a ‘skillshare’ programme where we encourage people within our community to share skills and knowledge. We do this to broaden the impact of the Library and because we know we need to reskill our community and because it’s fun. We operate on a ‘shared learning’ principle in that we know our community possess a huge range of skills but many lack the confidence to ‘teach or tutor’. So, we structure our skillshares around conversations. One example is making bread where we had two people who make bread standing around a table with others mixing dough and chatting – nobody was at the front presenting and everyone contributed. It’s a relaxed way to do things and in our first 6 months 71 people aged from 5 upwards have learned how to make soup, cook Indian food, re-varnish furniture, make giant bubbles with children, make bread and repair a puncture. You do not have to be a member of the Library to participate in the skillshare.

Cloughmills Library of Things is working and is an example of how communities can use sharing and cooperation to make life better and to begin to tackle global issues like consumerism and waste a micro level in a meaningful way which engages people of all ages without the need to use jargon or complicated principles.

How did you come up with this idea?

Our group is volunteer driven, we have no paid staff. For some time we have been developing our thinking around sharing and the sharing economy. As volunteers we share our time and skills for the benefit of others. We organise batch cooking and bread clubs, we purchase food collectively. We have a community or solidarity fridge, which in its first 12 months diverted 3.1 tonnes of food from landfill.

The Library of Things grew out of a conversation some of our volunteers had after we started the Community Fridge. One volunteer suggested that if we were sharing food could we share other things like tools and equipment. This developed into a fuller conversation and some research and after a few months of talking and thinking we began work on our Library of Things. We did look at other ideas around the sharing or solidarity economy from across the world but this is very much a home grown model which suits our volunteers and meets the needs of our community. We wanted this to be more than a tool library and we wanted it to have mass appeal so we have a range of items available to members who pay an annual fee of £10 to join.

Why is waste reduction important for you and for the Cloughmills Community Action Team?

For us there are two aspects to waste, there is the physical material but also the opportunities this presents. We have a track record of delivery sustainable low impact activities. Our community garden is managed according to the permaculture principles of earth care, people care and future care so we understand our obligations to look after this precious planet. We have initiated a water bottle refill scheme and received PlasticSmart accreditation from our local authority for our efforts to reduce single use plastics both amongst our volunteers and the many visitors we have each year.

Our Community Fridge exists to minimise food waste across our community and to encourage people to think about their attitudes at home which may contribute towards food being wasted. The Library of Things is driven by our desire to tackle the amount of ‘stuff’ people own or strive to own. This in turn reduces the financial pressure on people but ultimately reduces the amount of waste ending up in landfill. Our skillshare programme is reskilling people of all ages and is another component in our effort to reduce dependency on buying more ‘stuff’. On a practical level we used some recycled timber to make our Library, the shelves were donated and we have received quite a few donated items. All this is an attempt to reduce or minimise waste locally. We also believe that a simpler, less busy life with less stuff can lead to greater connectivity within the community and enhanced physical and emotional well being or happiness. We can achieve this individually and collectively by striving towards new models of ownership and of cooperative action.

Where can people reach you if they have questions?

Our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/CloughmillsCAT or email:

frewpatrick [AT] gmail.com
declan.donnelly [AT] causewaycoastandglens.gov.uk