Freecycling and abandoning unwanted goods on the street with a “please take me” sign are common Brighton and Hove pastimes, but these seemingly simple acts of sharing and gifting have the potential to grow into a billion-pound economy.
Benita Matofska is the founder of The People Who Share, a Brighton-based social enterprise set up to promote sharing in all its many guises and, she says, is also the beginnings of a movement.
The emerging “sharing sector” includes many different forms of giving and taking, such as car-sharing (predicted to be worth £7.8 billion by 2015), time-banking, freecycling, knowledge-sharing or coworking.
Benita says the whole concept is based on an economic model called collaborative consumption, whereby ownership comes secondary to sharing, swapping or trading.
“It’s about looking for a new, sustainable economy, and heaven knows we need one of those. We have produced all this stuff – products, knowledge, skills – that there is a surplus in the system. We need to redistribute the surplus to those who need it. Redistribution markets are already worth £310 billion worldwide. It’s not about asking people to give up the stuff they use on a daily basis, just the stuff that’s lying around they don’t use any more, something someone else could use.”
The People Who Share exist both on and offline.
Their digital presence involves an eBay-style market place, different from other swapping sites in that people can share not only goods but also services, knowledge and resources.
Their real-life manifestation involves putting on events to demonstrate that sharing is not only easy but enjoyable, creating community links where currently they may be sorely lacking. Their first event, Crowdshare at the Brighton Festival Fringe, saw 200 people participating in clothes swapping, book sharing, and skills exchange, while artists and musicians shared their time and talents to entertain the crowds. A second Crowdshare is taking place this Sunday at the Brighton Youth Centre, this time with some 1,000 attendees joining in.
True to their ethos of collaboration, The People Who Share is currently partnering with a number of different organisations in order to create products and services to make sharing easy and safe, from the WWF examining food and sustainability, to the Finance Innovation Lab looking at economic sustainability, to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce exploring how the sharing economy can be used as a blueprint for a sustainable future.
There are, of course, those resistant to the idea. As a society we tend to be very focused on individual ownership and excess accumulation of things. Sharing these treasured possessions requires trust.
Benita says: “We’re developing a certification called Sharetrade to provide some of the assurances and insurances people need to feel safe. Structure is crucial to it working. Aside from questions on safety and security, it also reassures people this is going to be a pleasurable experience and everyone is clear what the parameters are.”
Culture change is also a vital area to tackle. “We don’t think about ourselves as part of a community,” Benita says.
“We think about ourselves, not others. It’s a big shift to suggest we do otherwise and people struggle. But innately we are born to share, we’ve just forgotten.”
* Crowdshare, Sunday, November 20, Brighton Youth Centre, Edward Street