Really Useful-Community

How to Set Up a Free Shop in Your Community

I’m so excited to have Anna Smart join us, to share her experiences of setting up a fabulous Make Do and Mend project in Swindon!

We all have things we don’t need any more lying around our houses.
Maybe it is that book you have no interest in now you know the ending, or that pair of jeans that no longer do up properly, or that toy that has been dismissed as ‘for babies’ a mere six months after it was bought.
You don’t need them any more – but somebody does (yes, even that strange Christmas present from Auntie Nelly that you still haven’t quite figured out).
But how do you get it to them?

Well maybe a Free Shop is the answer.

Banner image-Free Shop

On the first Saturday of every month, between 12 and 2pm, over 150 people come through the doors of Savernake Street Social Hall in Swindon for Free Shop.
They bring with them items including books, games, toys, clothes, bric-a-brac and small items of furniture. They can then take away anything they find – but no money changes hands.

Free shop 7

BLE-free shop

Items are recycled instead of going to landfill and are shared by the local community.
Plus it is a great opportunity to catch up with friends and neighbours over a cuppa. (Because let’s face it, a social event without tea or coffee isn’t really social is it?)

Free Shop at Savernake Street Social Hall was started by two local residents nearly two years ago – and the idea has already spread.
Swindon Borough Council have since shown great interest in the idea and with their support additional Free Shops have been springing up all over town – there is now one nearly every Saturday.

Photo Credit: Swindon Advertiser

Photo Credit: Swindon Advertiser

Want to set up a Free Shop yourself?
Here’s what you need to get started.

Who will run it?
You – and your friends!
Ideally you need at least 3-4 people to run each session, plus a few extras who can help out if someone can’t make it.

Where and when?
Obviously you will need a venue – and storage is essential.
Savernake Street Social Hall is a community centre managed by Eastcott Community Organisation (made up of local residents). We have supported Free Shop from day one.
But any large hall with a storage cupboard would do – so look around in your community and see what is available.
You can hold it outside – but you are weather dependent and in the UK that is not exactly ideal.
All the Free Shops in Swindon are held on Saturdays, but if your community would be more interested in another day then go for it.

How to pay for it?
Sadly Free Shop is not entirely free to run.
You may have to pay for the hall or for storage. Even if you are lucky enough to get this for free, we would strongly recommend investing in items such as clothes rails and good quality storage boxes – we love the wheeled ones!
Local authority grant funding is a good place to start (here is a link to the government site where you can find out more about grant funding in your area), or you can seek sponsorship from local businesses.
You may want to sell your tea and coffee as well in order to offset your costs.

Rules and Guidelines
This is entirely up to you and your community – but this is what we do:
We don’t accept the following (mainly because people won’t take them away again): VHS videos, underwear, sleepwear or electronics.
We do ask that all items are in good condition (they are handed to us so we check them before they go on a table).
We also suggest that people take ‘around 5 items’ a time – it is not a hard and fast rule but it does help keep things fair.

Publicity and Promotion
You will need to do lots of this – so find somebody who enjoys it!
Facebook, Twitter and other social media are fantastic, as well as posters and flyers. We publish a community newsletter which goes out to around 2500 homes, so if you have something like that then make sure you are in it (and if you don’t then why not start one?)
We have always had amazing support from our local newspaper, the Swindon Advertiser, and word-of-mouth is of course the most important of all – so tell all your friends, work colleagues, children’s teachers, people you see on the bus everyday – you might be surprised how many welcome the idea …

Insurance and Risk Assessments
Dull but necessary. Your venue should be able to tell you what you need.

What if things don’t get taken?
You will always find there are things that just don’t go.
If there are other Free Shops in the area you can try and share things around, or you can donate things to other local charities – your local women’s refuge, homeless charities, food banks and those supporting asylum seekers have all accepted donations from us in the past.

If you still need more information then here are some links that may help – including some of the press coverage we have received.
Savernake Street Social Hall Facebook page
Free Shop at Savernake Street Social Hall Facebook Page
Great coverage in the Swindon Advertiser here and here.

If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch – use the Facebook page above. We are always happy to hear from anyone!

I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this project! And how inspiring it is. The fact that two local residents got together and started up something that has been adopted by the local council, and is spreading all over the town.
Thankyou so much Anna for this brilliant post, and for the inspiration-I have a feeling a whole lot more free shops may be starting up very soon..!

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  • Reply Christine Sefton January 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    This is an excellent blog – really sensible advice and your enthusiasm is evident. Thank You.

    • Reply Jen January 30, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      Thank you for your lovely comments!

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