Here’s a brilliant idea to help save the planet. Involving the local community in and around Devon, co-founder Mirella Ferraz and her team are onto a sure-fire hit with Share Shed.
In a nutshell:
- Organisation: Share Shed is a travelling library of things that lends everyday objects to members in and around Devon
- Business model: Grant-funded and sustained through membership and loan fees
- SSE programme: The Community Business Trade Up Programme 2020, in partnership with Power to Change
- Supported by SSE in Dartington
Mirella Ferraz was doing some online research when she heard about a new share shop in Frome. “I read about this place called the Library of Things where people borrowed the stuff they needed instead of buying it and thought it was a great idea!” recalls Mirella.
Intrigued, she travelled to Frome to see the concept for herself and decided to propose a similar project to the Network of Wellbeing, the charity she worked for in Totnes. “I wanted to set up something similar, so we held a community consultation to see what people in Totnes thought, and to see what they’d be willing to donate and borrow.”
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Buoyed by the response, Mirella and the team approached the town council who lent them a garage free of charge for six months, allowing them to launch the Share Shed in April 2017. After that, in 2019, came a successful bid for a National Lottery Fund grant and the world’s first travelling library of things opened its doors in July 2019.
The magic happens
By early 2019 the Share Shed was an established project with more than 350 items available to loan, of which 99% were donated by the local community. Membership fees were kept deliberately low, at a sliding scale from £5 to £50 per year, with items costing anywhere from 50p to £18 to borrow for a week.
“Whenever somebody comes to us and asks for an item that we don’t have, we add it to our wish list on our website, and promote it on social media,” explains Mirella. “And that’s when the magic happens – there’s so much stuff lying around in people’s attics that we’re almost always donated what we need.”
In February 2020 Mirella started the Community Business Trade Up programme, just a few weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic swept through the UK. As well as helping navigate the pandemic, the programme has helped the team improve how they promote and market the project and make it more sustainable – while also providing ideas for potentially restructuring the Share Shed into a standalone organisation one day.
Despite being just halfway through the programme, Mirella can already see the benefits it’s bringing. “We just had our SSE panel review, which was a session where we got to talk to four other social entrepreneurs who had no idea about the Share Shed. And just by talking, loads of ideas came up about how we could improve our service, and how we could promote it better – it was extremely helpful.”
Joining the programme has helped Mirella and the team refine their marketing plan, and also the overall strategy moving forward. “It’s made us question things like, do we focus on the number of items in the library or the quality of items, for example?”
“We weren’t so focused before I started the programme, so it’s really helped us refine and improve our offering.”
Interested in this free learning programme and up to £10,000 grant?
While the pandemic forced the Share Shed to shut its doors in March 2020, the project managed to reopen again in July – albeit with stringent new measures in place. Cash payments were stopped and the numbers of customers entering the van at any one time were restricted. “People can still book items online to come and collect in person. We’re adapting how we work according to the changing situation, it’s difficult but worth it.”
Mirella’s top tip for community businesses
“If you have an idea that you truly believe in, then start your project no matter how many question marks you might have around it. Figuring things out is an ongoing journey, and the sense of being ‘ready’ will never happen. Take a leap and just go for it!”