Repairing in Retirement. Reflections from a Library of Things Volunteer

Rom Gregory has been volunteering with us for a year and kindly put together these thoughts on her experience at the Library of Things. Thank you for all your help over the last year, Rom!

One of the most surprising things about volunteering at the SHARE Oxford Library of Things is how automatic it’s become for me to buy, sell and give away my own things via Gumtree, Freecycle, Olio and neighbourhood WhatsApp groups. My elderly Mum wants a mobility scooter?  No worries – I source one in hours. I want to pass on some barely worn shoes to someone with less fussy feet?  A day later they are gone.  I need a water container to take camping?  No problem, I can borrow it from the Library of Things for free as a volunteer.

I got interested in the Library of Things when I went with a friend to check out the SHARE Oxford Repair CafĂ© a few years ago.  There was Maurice, sitting in a chair it looked like he spent his life in, entirely surrounded by a weird and wonderful collection of strange items.  A unicycle was hanging from the ceiling, a guitar hung at a jaunty angle on the wall, along with tools, tents, mysterious boxes and gardening equipment that could do serious harm in the wrong hands. So, when I retired last year, I got in touch and asked about volunteering.

I’ve been going weekly for a year, doing anything from oiling chainsaws to patching gazebos.  I’ve especially enjoyed persuading a leaky carpet cleaner to stop leaking, finding out how to use a thermal imaging camera (and getting some great photos of colleagues in mysterious shades of red and green), and finding a replacement mirror that just fitted snugly in the bottom of a Microscope. I’ve been on training as an electrical safety (PAT) tester so now I poke around with the test probe trying to find the best spot to make a circuit and check the safety of all sorts of electrical equipment.  I poked at the (rather terrifying) garden shredder in about 5 places before finding just the right nut that exposed a clean metal surface.

I arrived just as Ben was starting and Maurice was moving on.  Ben, and an excellent volunteer, Ye, were very welcoming.  We worked together masked and with the windows open through the later stages of the pandemic.  Ben was busy ensuring a new level of organisation, tying maintenance of items to the library database, overseeing Genevieve carefully labelling all the items with their IDs.  It is not that things were disorganised before, it just seemed that a lot was in Maurice’s head, and it could be very tricky for newbies to locate items.

Since Christine joined in Autumn ’22 the atmosphere has changed again.  We now have a wildflower seed bank, neat and tidy drawers and a new focus on items that are fun and family friendly as well as the big ticket items.  The candy floss maker, chocolate fountain and glitter ball are all popular for  parties.  Her mark 2 labelling system means we can be sure the thing we are loaning to a customer is actually what they asked for.  In the early days Christine and I would quietly converse about some unidentifiable object (to us), such as a Frame Saw. Was this collection of unpromising bits of metal actually it, how did it fit together, and how did it work?

I think my proudest moment was riding off on the courier bike across Oxford to make a delivery. I haven’t done it again.  Reflecting why not, I think it’s because the bike is pretty heavy and it was doubtful who was in charge on some of the tighter corners, me or the bike.  My worst moments have been when yet again something doesn’t work for me, then Ben takes one look at it, and it works perfectly!  So annoying (but handy).

I love the ethos and role of the library – providing a service to help us all adjust to a reduce, reuse, repair, recycle economy. Even as a little girl I’d always loved fixing things and understanding how they worked.  In another life and at another time I might have become an engineer.  I also love being involved in the early stages of positive changes.  I’ve gone from: working for Women’s Aid in the 80s – the early days of women having a real alternative to staying in violent relationships; working as one of the relatively few women in IT from the late 80s onward, and then retraining as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist in my 50s, at a time the NHS was first rolling out talking therapies. So the Library of Things really appealed to me as a movement at this time of ever more pressing Climate Crisis.  It’s part of a movement that is trying to build a ‘new normal’ for us all.  It’s done a great job so far for me, and I expect for all our customers, staff and volunteers.

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