How did the Sharehood begin and what does it aim to do?
The Sharehood began in 2008 when it occurred to web developer Theo Kitchener that he probably didn’t need to walk all the way to the Laundromat – there were many washing machines lying in wait much closer to his house. He just needed to know their owners. And, of course, it wasn’t just washing machines that we could share.
So, together with other volunteers, he developed The Sharehood, a social-networking website that helps neighbours share skills, things and time. When you sign up, you see the hundred members who live nearest to you, and the things they’re happy to lend and borrow. You also see a local noticeboard, where people within walking distance can post events and questions.
People can share anything: veggies, tools, books or washing machines; gardening help, bike fixing, languages or childminding. Often, neighbours get the most out of spending time together – be that at a picnic, swap party, movie night, or with a simple hello in the street.
Tell us about a Sharehood activity which was particularly satisfying.
I’m very fortunate to live in a street with a park in it. In the summer, on warm evenings, we put on free moonlight cinema screenings for all the neighbours. I promote it using the website. Usually, just before it’s scheduled to begin, I knock on doors to gather what we need: extension cords, speakers, rope and so on.
Everyone loves those evenings – they’re easy, free and open to all comers. The movie screenings bring the street to life. They also feel a little wicked in a good way, because we’re gently breaking the normal rules of behaviour (and copyright and council requirements!) that keep us stuck indoors, apart from one another.
There are a number of local initiatives working towards a more sustainable future at the local level. What is it about this particular initiative that attracts you? What do you value most about it?
I particularly like The Sharehood, because to me, it gets as close as possible to the heart of the problem, and it does so in a fun, welcoming and generous way that improves people’s wellbeing. It not only challenges our pattern of over-consumption and saves money, but it brings people together. Once people get to know one another in a neighbourhood, a street begins to feel like a community: people are more likely to take an interest in their local issues and – I hope – also become more engaged citizens on a larger scale.
In Australian cities, it has become awkward to say hello to people on the street. My experience has been that most of us are thrilled to have an excuse or a reason to connect with one another – and The Sharehood helps give us the icebreaker we need.
Tell us a little about the worldview that informs your life choices.
I have a very strong sense of gratitude for the life I’ve been born into. But I recognise that my circumstances are a matter of chance. Given my good fortune, I would like not only to strive for personal contentment, but also to share that with others, in whatever way I can. To my eternal wonder, all my experiences have convinced me that these two purposes are inextricably entwined.
When you imagine life in 20 or 30 years time what do you see?
There are so many possibilities, but in one of them, The Sharehood (or something similar) has spread throughout our cities and towns, as one element of strong, engaged local communities – places where we provide for many of our needs while assisting others to do the same. I see a society where improving everyone’s quality of life is the priority, rather than improving material welfare.
How might interested readers connect to the Sharehood or similar initiatives which reduce consumption and increase local community connectedness?
The Sharehood website has all the information you need. It just takes a moment to sign on, and then you can start sharing! If you want to get your neighbours in on the act, we’ve written up a sample letter you can drop in their letterboxes, inviting them to join.