Lewisham Toy Library – OR Why being Cheap made me richer

I’m cheap. Very cheap. Many of our food containers are former jam jars or takeaway containers. I have been known to wash paper plates for reuse. I love Lewisham markets for the sheer volume of food you can get for 10 quid.

And to give that some additional weight – I think my wife and I have spent less than 100 pounds on clothing and toys for our two year old son. Ever.

Which is why, when we first moved to Brockley, my wife Googled ‘Lewisham Toy Library’. I’m glad she did, because being a member has enriched our lives beyond the satisfaction of saving money.

Reduce Re-Use Recycle

I am a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant, which means that where possible I want to find options that encourage collaborative consumption. I’m a member of Zipcar, offer things on Streetbank with some regularity and use trains to travel around the UK. I don’t own a drill, because on average they get 8 minutes of use for their whole working lives and draw down on many resources that really could be better used elsewhere.

I also love this little gem of an idea which seems to be expanding across London – the Micro-Library in a phone box, the one below is on the corner of Tyrwhitt Road and Lewisham Way. We’ve exchanged so many books here I can hardly imagine what it would have cost us otherwise.

LTL1

So joining any kind of Library (almost the original architect of the ‘new’ sharing economy) was a personal joy and professional obligation. And the benefits to our planet are enormous. The amount of plastic that is used for toys (and disposed of as landfill) is truly disturbing.

Packaging. What’s with Toys and packaging?

And please don’t ask me about packaging – the wasted plastic and other materials often pale in significance when you look at the amount of ‘air’ (empty space) that is shipped multiple times around the globe creating a surprisingly large carbon footprint. Some experts claim that plastic has a higher carbon footprint than steel, mainly because of the way we use things like plastic in toys.

You can find out more about the plastic problem at the Plastic Disclosure Project.

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Other Benefits

But it’s the surprising other benefits that I find myself enjoying. Several examples from recent loans highlight the benefits of using the Toy Library:

  • Different Ability dolls – My son has barely enjoyed any toy more than the girl in a wheelchair that he zooms around at speed. Barriers be damned – I feel kinda sorry for the next person he meets actually in a wheelchair – suspect they are in for a fast ride!
  • Chinese Food sets – I would never have bought a set of plastic toys with pork buns, spring rolls and red-bean patties, but my son thinks they are normal food now!
  • Puzzles ‘Too Hard’ – I really like getting puzzles that are too difficult. Sometimes the boy steps up and can do them, other times they go back undone, but I know I’ve tried to keep ahead of his development. We have also maintained a stream of different kinds of puzzles which means he is always being stretched and having fun.
  • Costumes – I haven’t actually used this one yet, but the ability to get a Fire Officer costume (among many) for a party or other play at almost no cost seems like such a winning strategy.
  • Bells / Whistles Fire Truck – It made all sorts of noise and he loved it for a month. And then it went back. I would never buy it, but he gets to play with them at an age-relevant time and I don’t have to suffer the long term hatred of some of the most annoying noises known to humanity.

The toys also come with batteries, almost all of which are rechargeable. The Library decided that the landfill and other issues related to disposal and manufacture of batteries was simply too big a problem to ignore. (And I don’t have to buy batteries either!)

Being a member has also allowed us a good degree of sanity in terms of keeping our lounge room looking at least a little bit uncluttered and akin to an adult space.

I’m pretty relaxed about such things but yes, all toys are cleaned after each use!

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Party Stuff

The Toy Library will even hire out party equipment (like tables and chairs) and big party-focussed toys at super-cheap rates.

Access and Costs

The Lewisham Toy Library’s Opening Hours are two hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and for five hours every second Saturday.

Rates for annual membership are as follows:

  • Recipients of Income Support – Free
  • Families / Carers – £24
  • Childminders (with Certificate) – £15
  • Groups – £50

Groups can loan 12 toys (up to 4 ‘large’) while other members can loan 5, for up to 4 weeks with options to renew and reserve. Of course late fees apply, but no other charges are made for loaning toys.

You can Benefit Too!

The first thing you can do is join the Library. Use it and save money or supplement your toys with carefully selected age-specific ones.

The second thing you can do is help the Library to remain viable. Unfortunately, due to massive reduction in funding from Lewisham Council, who have been our primary and most wonderful supporter [i], we need to find new funding sources . Anyone who has any ideas, or would like to be part of reshaping the future of the Lewisham Toy Library, please contact me – dwayne.baraka@yahoo.co.uk.

When I say ideas, I mean:

  • venues with available space or space to share
  • possible partners (childcare centres and the like are an obvious possibility)
  • collaboration opportunities

We also need volunteers from time to time, including professionals to assist us with the management of the Library and its events.

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In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Trustee of the Lewisham Toy Library, and currently a Group member, at least in part as a way to provide financial support.

[i] Poor Lewisham Councillors – I’ve seen the scale of the cuts they have to make and it’s terrible for them too. I think they’d like to do more for the Lewisham Toy Library.