December 21, 2023
Benthyg in the Big City
Spotlight on - Cardiff
There are currently two Benthyg Libraries of Things in the capital city: one in Splott and one in Ely and Caerau.
The Splott Benthyg is unique in that it is a local LoT that Benthyg Cymru itself runs, while Ely and Caerau is run by the development trust Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE).
In Splott we recently celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of our premises at the Railway Gardens community hub.
Based in a converted shipping container – one of several at Railway Gardens housing creatives, offices, and a café – our Library of Things is open between 10 and 2 every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and our membership has steadily grown in the course of that year as our profile as grown.
We are nearing the 400 member mark which works out, more or less, as anew member joining daily since the opening.
We convened a small steering group of local people to guide how we engage with the local community and to provide ideas and challenge to how we’re running things.
This is important because, as one can see below in relation to ACE, each Benthyg in our network must tailor itself to its host location. There’s no one size that fits all.
The Benthyg serving Ely and Caerau in the west of the city opened in June 2021 and has approximately 350 members. As part of a wider ‘suite’ of community projects that ACE delivers from its headquarters at The Dusty Forge the Benthyg here is at the heart of ACE’s work addressing the socio-economic and wellbeing priorities of the area.
This Benthyg is and Thursdays (10am-2pm) as well as the final Saturday of every month when it opens alongside the Dusty Forge’s monthly Repair Cafe, run by Repair Café Wales with whom we work in partnership across large parts of our network
At Benthyg Cymru our vision is to have a Library of Things in all communities making borrowing as easy as popping out for a loaf of bread, i.e., relatively cheap, within walking distance, and open at times it’s needed.
This will take time to achieve and will require large-scale behaviour change in society. Many of us have almost become ‘hardwired’ to replace domestic appliances, for instance, when they break rather than repair them; to replace our mobile phones at the earliest opportunity our contract allows; to buy cheap, throwaway fancy dress costumes at the supermarket for Halloween or World Book Day.
Behaviour and culture change can take time however, but key elements in achieving it are removing barriers and impediments to change, incentivising it, making it as easy as possible for people, and making clear the benefits to them.
Like most LoTs, both Benthygs in Cardiff saw an increase in loans during the summer months. It is the time of year when people want to potter in the garden, go on camping trips, and host outdoor picnics and events. By having items such as the following available to borrow at a small cost, and which can be delivered from either Splott or ACE to anywhere in the city via our mobile service removes, we think, the barriers to ease-of-access and affordability.
· a Coleman 8 person tent is only £10
· a 3m x 3 gazebo: £7
· a battery garden strimmer: £2.50
And though loans reduce during the winter months, in Cardiff the data suggests as we go into 2024 that loans are slightly up on the equivalent time of year 12 months ago. This is the sort of growth we are aiming for.
As well as growing the membership and number of loans, we want our opening hours across the city to increase too. The funding received from Welsh Government and the National Lottery helps hugely here but so does our input from volunteers. Without the likes of Mari, Christina, Chris and Joan at ACE, and Sas and Paula at Splott we wouldn’t be able to open as often as we do from week to week.
But it is not just about being open more often. It is about being accessible at different times of the day and week. Currently, we are not open of an evening at either ACE or Splott; and on a Saturday only at Splott. Expansion in such ways brings with it considerations related to security, health and safety, and greater reliance on volunteers, but we don’t see any of these as insurmountable barriers to achieving our vision.
As well as continuing to grow our operations at Splott and at ACE, Benthyg Cymru is currently investing time and resources into exploring the appetite and potential for a Library of Things in the Llandaff North and Gabalfa area.
Each Tuesday in December in the run-up to Christmas we have been at the local library/hub with a ‘pop-up’ LoT that gives people a flavour of how one gets involved, what sort of items are available, and what opportunities there are to work in partnership with local groups.
The response to date has been brilliant, with locations for a shipping container already being suggested and faith groups like the Polish Catholic chaplaincy and Emmanuel Baptist Church helping tell their congregations about the concept of a Library of Things.
Emmanuel have already joined and arranged their first borrow! We’re thrilled to be lending them a gazebo for their open-air Christmas Carol concerti n Gabalfa on Sunday 17 December (5pm start)