Written by the Gregson Arts and Community Centre team, who got support from the Pots of Possibility fund to run a series of ‘Give & Take’ days. 

What part can the Gregson Arts and Community Centre play in the circular economy? How can we bring people and things together, and keep unwanted items out of landfill? As always at the “Greggie”, the answer lies in people coming together. In this case, by running a series of ‘Give & Take’ days.

This is the story of how hundreds of unwanted homeware items have been redistributed in our community, and our storage facility (a large cupboard) has had to take on Tardis-like qualities.

The Gregson is an Arts and Community Centre, based in the heart of Lancaster. It’s a thriving hub, home to over 60 creative and community groups, and boasts an exciting events programme. We are truly community owned and led; everything that happens here is because local people make it happen. People are involved in all kinds of ways, as group leaders, music promoters, room hirers, artists, teachers, punters and of course as volunteers. We have more than 110 volunteers. 

A small group of volunteers came up with the idea of Give & Take days, based on the traditional Bring & Buy events but with the significant added bonus of Everything Is Free

We have run four of these events in the last few months with support from the Closing Loops project through the Pots of Possibility fund, and we have learned plenty on the way. 

‘What a great way to recycle and reuse. It was a pleasure to help out.’

Mel, volunteer

It’s a simple model: people donate items they no longer want or need, a sturdy group of brilliant volunteers sort the donations, set it all out on the day of the event and then facilitate the ‘Great Taking’. The events run from 10am to 1pm, and a steady stream of people come and see what treasures they can find. And they find plenty. It’s a delight when a small child spies a robo-dinosaur-monster toy and realises that they can have it. Or when a student finds a vintage tea set. Or when a keen crafter finds a set of modelling tools. (Or indeed when the Gregson itself nabs a unique wooden owl table lamp for the Olive Bar!)

We chose to focus on homeware, so we collect donations of kitchenalia, crockery and glassware, cushions, pictures, mirrors, ornaments, jewellery, bags, plants, games, books and toys. After the first one we decided that we wouldn’t also take clothes (partly for the sake of our creaking storage area, and partly because they didn’t go so well – we have a thriving charity shop sector in Lancaster so we redirect clothes donations there). 

We don’t take duvets and pillows, knives or electrical items. Having said that, we get electrical items donated sometimes, and we put them out with the warning that they have not been PAT tested, and if you take them, it’s at your own risk. ‘Homeware’ has been quite broadly defined, so we’ve had tools, buckets, seeds, baskets – all kinds of everything. 

We have been delighted at how successful our Give and Take days have been, and how many fantastic items have been donated for others to find and take. We’ve had everything from shower curtains and dog bowls, dolls houses to suitcases, casserole pots to sunglasses and candlesticks and much more besides. 

‘It was a pleasure to help out with the Give & Take day. It was a very successful community event. I think it benefited the community greatly in these times of high living costs. Members of the community found useful pieces of clothing and household items. It’s great to see items reused again!’

Imogen, volunteer

The amazing Gregson volunteers make all this happen, not just the practical side, but welcoming all comers, chatting, wrapping, encouraging and thanking. (People keep bringing things in all morning!) If visitors haven’t been into the Gregson before, we’re able to tell them a bit about what goes on and how they could get involved if they’d like to. These chats form new connections and inspirations, and crucially they tell us that folk think this is a great idea. 

After our next event, we have another smaller and more specific one planned which will focus on fabric, art and craft materials. Volunteers really enjoy these events, the buzz and busy-ness of it all; and they even help us tidy up at the end. 

Watch out for the next Give & Take Days at www.gregson.co.uk.

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