It’s a web app that helps people share things with their neighbours. But Streetbank’s not just helping build communities, it’s also saving a London council money through stopping items from going to landfill.
Streetbank, which launched across the UK in 2010, was founded by Londoner Sam Stephens, who found that through sharing things with his neighbours, he was getting to know them as friends too. He teamed up with a web developer, and now 55,000 people are signed up to the site.
While people have used the web to give away unwanted items before, Streetbank allows people to borrow items or give their time to somebody who needs help.
“As well as giving away something, you can share things – not everyone needs to own things that only get used once or twice a year,” says Streetbank’s Kate Groves.
“You can share skills, too – so you can walk the dog, mow the lawn or give someone advice on marketing or communications.
“We want people to start talking to each other, to become friends or build a sense of community.”
To sign up, you don’t need to offer something straight away – you just enter your name and postcode. You can then see what’s on offer in the square mile around your home – a neighbourhood you can expand to up to 10 miles.
Then when you offer something, your 250 nearest neighbours are told by email. The site also allows users to post notices about local events and public meetings.
Groves is a keen user herself. “I have it set at 10 miles, so I can talk to more people. I got a cot for my sister’s baby and got a massage in exchange for doing some administrative task. I’ve had aloe vera plants and jam jars through Streetbank.”
Streetbank gained funding from Nesta and the Cabinet Office in 2012 through their Innovation in Giving fund, which backed ideas for increasing volunteering and charitable giving.
It’s having real results in north London, where Camden Council’s sustainability team commissioned Streetbank to deliver a targeted campaign in the borough.
The project has seen Streetbank’s users in the borough treble to nearly 1,000, generating 150 meetings each month to share goods and services.
As well as the community benefit, the scheme helped divert nine tons of rubbish away from landfill. In the past month, Camden residents have given away a digital TV box, a futon and base, a desk and chair, touch-typing skills and spiritual healing classes.
“It’s buzzing,” Groves says. Part of the Camden campaign has seen Streetbank host offline “give and take” events as well (pictured right). “I remember meeting a woman who simply couldn’t believe that everything was free,” she recalls. “A couple of people wanted to donate money.”
Now Hounslow Council is giving Streetbank a grant to run campaigns in west London – this time the money’s coming from its community cohesion team.
One Streetbank user, Richard MacKenzie, took it upon himself to promote it in his home town of from Witney, Oxfordshire. He managed to build user numbers up to the level where when he asked if anyone had a guitar, he had one in his hands within an hour.
He explains how it helped him cope with mental health issues. “You get to know and you get that connection with people in your community. You feel good about doing something for your community. For me, a year and a bit ago, I was feeling completely suicidal and didn’t want to live, feeling completely isolated from the community,” he says.
“Now I can walk from my house into town, less than a mile away, and on every occasion I can bump into someone and feel comfortable. It was a very comfortable way of growing my community.”