Borrow, don’t buy

Need to borrow a tent to go to a festival? How about a ladder for some DIY or even a carpet cleaner for the office? Then you need Leeds Library of Things

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It’s a busy Saturday afternoon in the Leeds suburb of Headingley. Along the high street groups of scantily clad young men dressed as referees blow whistles and give each other piggy-backs, and girls wearing capes and wings link arms as they crawl from bar to bar on the infamous Otley run.

In Headingley Methodist Church, there are quieter scenes. Jed Aitchison and his volunteer James Murphy are waiting for potential browsers and borrowers to come and use the Library of Things. “A library of things? What on earth is that?” you might ask. Let me explain.

Well, it’s a library, of sorts, but instead of a space crammed with books it’s a room full of the things you might only use once a year, but still need. Camping equipment, muffin tins, power tools, lawn mowers, ladders, juicers, work benches, pasta makers, snorkels and ski helmets are just some of the things that make up the catalogue of items on the library’s shelves, and Aitchison wants it to keep growing.

“We’ve got nearly 700 items in the library, and around 90 per cent of the items have been donated or lent to us,” he says. “A lot of people have things they don’t use very often so they’re willing to part with them because they know they can get them back.”

The Leeds Library of Things is run on a pay-as-you-feel basis. It currently has more than 450 members, with around a quarter paying a donation of between £5 and £20 a month to use as many items as they need, loaned out for one week, with others paying as much as they can afford, as and when they need to borrow. There are similar projects in other cities including London, Edinburgh and Oxford, and Manchester is due to get its own version this year, scheduled to open at Levenshulme Old Library in the summer.

Aitchison gives me a tour of the library. A 50 square metre space nestled at the back of the church, its shelves are bursting with carefully organised items arranged into sections. There’s a section for garden equipment, a section for power tools, board games, fancy dress costumes, kitchen goods and outdoor equipment, and more. Every item in the library has been cleaned, mended if necessary, valued for insurance purposes, photographed, itemised, recorded and uploaded onto the library’s website, where borrowers can browse the inventory before making the trip to Headingley to pick up what they need.

Aitchison points out a box of screws with a sign above instructing visitors to “take a screw, leave a screw”.

“We’ve taken this concept from the ‘take a penny, leave a penny’ idea used in shops in North America,” he says. “It means if you have a bit of change left over, you’d leave it in case another customer fell short. We’re doing the same with screws, washers, nails and drill bits, for example.”

We walk around to the shelves stacked with camping equipment. Aitchison and his team of volunteers went to Leeds Festival last year to collect tents and other items left behind, with Aitchison estimating they collected around £500-£1,000 worth of camping gear.

“There was a mountain of stuff left on the site,” he says. “We were there for around two hours and collected what we could to save it from landfill, but there was just so much.”

Last year the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) launched the Take Your Tent Home initiative, estimating that around 250,000 tents are left at music festivals across the UK, with the average tent weighing around 3.5kg and making up the equivalent in plastic as 250 pint cups.

It is this throwaway culture Aitchison hopes the library will counter. He is passionate about working towards changing people’s mindsets from buy to borrow, but in an era of Amazon, buy now pay later, click and collect and all too easy next day delivery, he admits it’s going to be a challenge.

“First of all we’re only open two days a week, so people have to plan ahead and come and pick items up on the days we’re open. And they have to come to Headingley to pick it up. But I hope in future we might be able to offer a delivery service to make it easier.”

The library has only been open for a few months but Aitchison has done some impressive sums on the positive impact it has already had on the community’s pockets – and the planet.

“In the time we’ve been open we’ve done around 250 borrows,” he says. “It equates to around £5,000 of money saved, because the average item here is worth £20.

“And there’s another extrapolation you can do, which is if you then assume that every £100 of goods you lend is 100kg of carbon, we have saved five tonnes of carbon.

“Everything that isn’t bought is a thing that doesn’t need to exist. We have stopped things existing by borrowing instead, and that’s why it’s exciting.”

Aitchison has a list of items he’d like to add to the collection, among them a projector and a pizza oven so that the community can arrange events that bring people together. But even more than donated items, Aitchison is looking for more people to come and use the library. He’s not sure if it’s because it’s January when we meet, or because ongoing concern over high numbers of Covid cases is keeping people at home, but the library of things has been quieter than he’d hoped it would be when it opened last October.

As we chat, a couple come in to browse the shelves after stumbling upon the library while out in Headingley. They’ve never heard of it before, they say, and they will definitely come back, but for now they don’t really need anything.

Tess and Paul Elliot come in and borrow a chainsaw. They’re building a shed in their back garden, and say the library has proven handy.

Leeds University student James Murphy is one of the library’s volunteers. He’s been here since the early days, helping Aitchison with everything from putting up shelves to photographing and recording items for the website.

“I really love working in small organisations and seeing how they grow, and this has been a real education,” says Murphy. “It’s been an amazing opportunity. It’s fun trying to convince people of why we are better than the average shop.”

Lee Ingleby comes in with a ukulele and a handful of Ordnance Survey maps. He’s a founding member of the Leeds Library of Things and a follower of the Buy Nothing movement – a project that started in the US to encourage people to share belongings and form connections with other people through sustainability. Ingham is keen to see the library growing into a valued community asset.

“Anyone lending stuff here gets the pleasure of making something available, and those who are borrowing get the benefit. We’re hoping people meet one another,” says Ingham. “That’s the drive behind it really – it’s a community development project based around the gift economy.”

Aitchison wants the library of things to become an institution where students come when they need to do a deep clean of their houses before they hand back keys to their landlords. He wants first-time buyers to come and borrow hammers and ladders when they renovate their homes. He wants families throwing parties to come and borrow ice cream makers, disco balls, and gazebos, and he wants festival goers to borrow tents, camping stoves and sleeping bags. He’s also keen for fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs to borrow a carpet cleaner as part of their cleaning service or borrow tools and get paid to do DIY or gardening.

“We want more people to know we’re here, and that the library of things is accessible to all,” says Aitchison. “We’re addressing the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis all in one beautiful, single activity.”

The Library of Things is at the Methodist Church, Chapel Street, Headingley, Leeds from 4-6pm on Fridays and 1-4pm on Saturdays (

The gift that keeps on giving

Leeds Library of Things is just one example of organisations and individuals working to encourage more people to borrow not buy.

Mobile phone apps and websites make it easier than ever for communities to come together to loan and share items with their neighbours.

One website, Streetbank ( founded in 2010, allows people to give things they no longer need away to neighbours in their area, as well as loaning items out in a similar vein. Streetbank also aims to bring people together to share skills such as DIY, languages, and gardening.

For parents who are fed up with toys their kids have outgrown cluttering up their living room, but haven’t quite got the heart to give them away for good, Whirli ( allows users to pay a subscription and swap toys with other children in their area.

The impact of fast fashion on the climate crisis has been well documented, and there are a number of apps that allow fashion lovers to swap clothes and accessories such as handbags to save clothes from going to landfill. Check out Hurr ( and By Rotation ( for sustainable women’s clothing for hire, and Graceful Changes ( and Bundlee ( for baby and children’s clothes.

And for those who love canine company but cannot commit to caring for a dog full time, Borrow My Doggy ( links dog owners up with potential borrowers who can offer dog walking and dog sitting services.

 Photo: James Murphy and Jed Aitchinson (Rebecca Lupton)

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