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10. Meet your street

May 6, 2012

I’ve moved recently, and that means a couple of things. Firstly, it means that I’ve seriously downsized, and in ruthless few hours several months ago, packed off half my stuff to charity shops. In many ways, this is great – my room is less cluttered, I can find things I need more easily and I actually know what I have in each drawer. However, every now and then, I find myself searching for something and then realising that it was one of the things I parted with, assuming I would never need it again. Things like, for example, knitting needles. When I was about ten, I used to knit quite a lot after my grandmother taught me, but I hadn’t done it for years and they were culled. Recently, though, I’ve seen my mother knitting in front of the TV and thought, hey! That could be fun! But no needles. Or when my family recently became enthusiastic enough to want to play a game of Monopoly. It rarely happens that all of us are simultaneously mentally prepared for a game of such fortitude. But it happened a few weeks ago – and there was no Monopoly to be found.

Here is another thing: I don’t know anybody. Sure, I have a few friends in London, but the thing that you don’t realise when you move to London is that it’s stupidly big. Just because I live in London, and Harriet lives in London, does not mean that Harriet and I will ever see each other, unless I go on a bus and then catch a tube and travel for an hour each way. Put it this way: I’m not dropping into Harriet’s for a cup of tea. There are, of course, lots of people who do live near me – people who live on my road, or who live within a ten minutes’ walk – hundreds of them! But I don’t know any of them. It doesn’t help that I am sufficiently socially awkward that when I walked a few steps up my neighbour’s path to stroke their cat, and my neighbour opened the front door, I turned and ran because my immediate assumption was that he would think I was some sort of daytime burglar or catnapper. True story.

But, joy of joys, here we have Streetbank to solve both of these problems. It’s a bit like Freecycle, because when you have things that you don’t need anymore, you put them up on the site for others to claim. It’s more than that, though, because there’s a sort of trading principle, and you can also offer things to borrow (I have a huge collection of books, and while I wouldn’t give them away, I’d be more than happy to lend them), or even services, such as dog walking or teaching somebody how to make a cheesecake. How useful is that? There are so many things that you don’t really need to buy, because you only need them for a party or a holiday, and probably half your street own the thing you need, but we all inefficiently end up making these short term purchases that end up under our beds and in our sheds because we don’t need them anymore.

The extra thing is, as well as giving people things they need, Streetbank also connects neighbours. If I go borrow a lawnmower from Becca and Pablo from two doors down, then we’ll probably have a conversation, and another one when I bring it back, and another one when I bring round a jug of homemade lime juice and some brownies. Now I wave at them when I walk past and if I need any gardening equipment, I know they’ll be happy to help. It gives you warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?

Here’s what some people who’ve used Streetbank say about it:

I was looking for some lego for my four-year old son and did a call out to my area. A neighbour I hadn’t met before got in touch and ended up giving me three huge bucketfuls of lego! We had so much we ended up passing on half of it to my son’s school. I love that – the idea of spreading things around your community to where it’s going to be best used.

Without Streetbank, I would have hoarded all my baby gear as opposed to meeting someone really nice and give it to a deserving home. Without Streetbank I might not have met the amazing neighbour who gave a knitting lessons to my child while we downed red wine and chatted, or met the neighbour who strung my daughter’s guitar. I might not have the fab music centre that was fortuitously advertised the day mine died; or met the amazing Chrissy who gave my daughters a ton of brilliant books. I might not have had coffee with another really charming neighbour whilst experiencing pangs of Floor Envy (she has a great floor).

I think the thing that touched me most was the number of people who rustled up VCRs for me when in desperation I contacted Streetbank: My child with Autism fast-forwards and re-winds videos and when they break and we have no replacement ready and waiting she screams the house down. I have been really moved that so many people were quite so incredibly kind. Similarly when a pal was looking for some urgent advice on NHS dentists, and I posted a query, the response was fantastic. People bothered to reply. That’s the thing. In a world that can be quite bleak Streetbank is quite an eye opener to the possibility that that many people have a kind and altruistic side to them.

I put a note up asking to borrow a fondue set for a dinner party and also asking for dolls clothes so that i can make a box frame/sculpture as a gift for a friend who’s having a new baby. By the end of the day I had two offers of fondue sets and two offers of dolls clothes! So today I went round to pick up the fondue set and got on really well with the lady who was loaning it. She said she uses Streetbank all the time. She also gave me some dolls clothes on the condition that I came round and did some craft making with her 8 year old daughter sometime. So I am going to go round and teach her daughter how to make box frames like the one I’m making!

It’s easy to sign up. All you need is something that you can offer – you can’t sign up just to take check out what your neighbours are willing to give you! I signed up offering several books to lend. I can see that, pretty close to me, I can get my hands on a ladder, heat gun, or somebody to babysit. I can get tutored in French and borrow a single sofa bed. It’s awesome! Also, if there’s something specific I’m after, I can post about it and hope somebody in my neighbourhood can help. So I might just manage to get my hands on some knitting needles after all…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 9:46 pm

    Why don’t you just borrow you mother’s knitting needles?

  2. May 8, 2012 9:52 pm

    a) Then I wouldn’t meet a nice person from StreetBank!
    b) She’s using them. To knit.

  3. Anon permalink
    May 9, 2012 6:47 pm

    Why not buy a pair from a charity shop for thirty pence and chat to the person behind the till?
    That way you’ve: a) got a pair of knitting needles, b)avoided the sign up process for StreetBank, c) met someone and d) given to charity.

  4. May 9, 2012 10:34 pm

    Good point well made! Charity shops are great, and perhaps might work for knitting needles if there happened to be some in one near you, but there are plenty of other items that are bigger or more expensive that you only want for the occasional or individual use, so StreetBank works better for that. Also, I think with StreetBank, both parties are interested in making a social connection, whereas in a charity shop, you might not find the person working there particularly wants to come over for a cup of tea next week. You might, of course – it’s just more likely with StreetBank. Finally, I didn’t find the sign up process particularly arduous or invasive; I just needed to think for a few minutes about what I felt I could offer, which is a useful thought process in itself.

    Thanks for commenting!

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