SHARE Oxford is a community action group in the CAG Oxfordshire Network. See parts of our early story below, from when we emerged from the Oxford Circular Collective to set up the Library of Things and run the Repair Cafés, and explore these pages to learn more about who we are, what drives us, and how we run our organisation.
We have links with many other Libraries of Things and Tool Libraries across the UK – and there are more and more being started. Our latest venture in collaboration is to ‘twin’ with Libraries in other countries. First there was Zero, la bibilioteca delle cose, in Palermo, Sicily
and more recently Circle Centre in Lund, Sweden.
The story so far
The first meetings about setting up a Library of Things were in late 2017, and in early 2018 we found a place among the first residents of Makespace Oxford. We started gathering ‘things’ and setting up simple systems to enable us to lend out those things to people in Oxford. In September 2018 we put out a call for people to come to an ‘open meeting’ to help us launch the Library. The people who came to that meeting, and the following one, helped us test and greatly improve the systems, and became the group of volunteers who not only helped run the Library but ran the website, did social media work, supported the Repair Cafés, and even build the shed that we needed to accommodate the ever larger number of ‘things’.
We finally had a public launch of the Library on the 16th of February 2019. Since when the number of members of the Library grew steadily, although not all of them borrowed – which led us to do a small survey in 2020 to find out why. Meanwhile we had some great coverage in an article in the Guardian in April 2019 which boosted our membership and loans, and then we appeared on The One Show between Covid lockdowns in 2020.
In April 2019 we moved into a larger space in Makespace, a space that rapidly filled up and looks like a cave of wonders.
In September that year we had a Zero Waste Extravaganza – clothes swaps, refills, and promotion of the Library. Around Black Friday and christmas we made a fuss about pointless consumerism, offered free borrowing for a week, and trialled a voucher scheme as presents.
Covid of course stopped us lending for a while and we had to take measures to reduce contact with ‘things’, and also between people, which stopped us being able to have people into the office to chat as we always had enjoyed doing – a chance to build relationships, get ideas, and promote our own vision beyond the practicality of lending out items. During this period our links with other Libraries of Things and Tool Libraries provided some much appreciated moral support, and we also shared techniques for coping with Covid.
In November 2019 we had taken part in what we called Share Fest, a meeting in London of the then dozen or so Libraries of Things and Tool Libraries. Most of us found ourselves being asked to help people wanting to set up Libraries with advice, so some of us ran online sessions for groups of people all over the country. We obviously had been at the start of a wave because by mid-2021 there were over 50 Libraries country-wide and more all the time.
After our second AGM, in mid-2020, we finally formalised ourselves as a Community Interest Company. At that point we also began seriously talking about gathering a group of people to act as trustees / directors / advisors. By the end of 2021 that ‘Board’ had met a small number of times.
All of this activity was run by volunteers, as we were reluctant to risk the sustainability of SHARE by taking funding that would not necessarily to repeated; we also wanted to prove that the Library could work in Oxford, and that aim was achieved. However we were given a grant for ‘business development’ by the Network for Social Change in late 2019. And Covid brought us enough government and Council grant funding (compensation for not being able to trade) to enable us pay for a part-time Coordinator, and to allow Maurice to hand over that responsibility.