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21st Century Bristol: Sharing Economy

At one time, the most you’d borrow from a neighbour would probably be the classic cup of sugar, but now making use of everything from under-utilised local parking spaces and cute camper vans to property, practical skills and surplus foodie produce is becoming the norm, thanks to the modern economic model that is the private asset sharing system

Peer-to-peer platforms – part of the sharing economy phenomenon – are popping up left, right and centre; creating seemingly win-win situations that offer decent value. It involves using internet technologies to connect groups of people and organisations to make better use of goods, skills, services, capital and spaces. There are still creases to be ironed out here and there – the system is, of course, based on trusting other human beings which can always prove problematic, especially when dealing with prized possessions such as your own home. Still it’s a fast-growing trend and plenty of people in plenty of places have plenty of faith in its economically, socially and environmentally beneficial potential and continued place in society.

It seems there’s a sharing angle or opportunity to almost every aspect of our lives, and whether its idle items and places in question; skills exchanges or keeping fit while helping the community; more regulations and codes of conduct are being put in place to protect consumers traversing this relatively unknown territory, as well as hosts and suppliers.

Here’s a look at a few of the many platforms out there – some you may well know about and some you may be keen to try for the first time.

1. For: The Parking Problem

We reckon most Bristolians would agree that traffic and parking make up one of the biggest bugbears when it comes to living in this covetable, top-of-the-polls city.

To combat the parking part – one of the most difficult and dysfunctional aspects of modern city life, with lack of availability, high prices and increasing restrictions adding to daily frustration – the likes of Park On My Drive, Just Park and Your Parking Space have provided places to seek out spare private spots to borrow when in need. Uber-like Bristol business Slide is also helping those who’d rather not negotiate parking in any way whatsoever, with a very affordable shared ride-to-work service that we, personally, use a heck of a lot!Combating the city’s parking problem are services such as Slide and sites like Park On My Drive

2. For: pupless individuals

It’s the introduction of ideas like Borrow My Doggy to the mainstream that, to us, demonstrate the very best side of the internet. It’s a trusted online community where Bristol dog owners can find volunteer dog sitters who are local, flexible and want to walk and help take care of dogs just because they love them, rather than for payment. Affordable and safe, it vets (pun intended) and verifies before connecting but essentially the only qualification volunteers need is a love of man’s best friend. If you have a dog, you create an owner profile; if you want to borrow one, you create a borrower profile. Simples.

Based on your location and preferences (e.g. availability) the site will throw up furry friends and humans near you to get in touch with. All that’s left to do is connect, meet up and make doggy-related dreams come true…

3. For: A Change of Scene

While Airbnb has transformed the way people holiday and become a worldwide go-to for home-sharing (though there are plenty of similar sites including Homestay, backpacker fave Couchsurfing and Culture Go Go – which connects those who want to travel with those who want to practise English.

We’ve loved the idea of an actual home swap since Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet’s characters exchanged lives in The Holiday – which you can do via the like of Love Home Swap, for example, and The Guardian even has its own platform for it.

Alternatively, if you want a change of scene professionally – need a place to host a meeting, interview or exhibition for example? – workspaces are even being shared now via the likes of Headbox and Vrumi.Airbnb has changed the way we holiday, and plenty of similar sites have sprung up since – you can even hire a workspace now if you fancy a change of scene professionally

4. For: Roadtripping aspirations

On average, the purchase of a motorhome costs £50,000 – a big investment that not everyone can afford. To enable van owners to benefit from the boom in camping tourism, camper hire sites such as Yescapa and Bristol-born outfit Quirky Campers have popped up to offer van owners – whose vehicle may end up sitting on the driveway or in the garage for a fair bit of the year – a simple and trusted opportunity to make the most of their motorhome when it would otherwise be standing idle. It’s also a way for those considering a campervan to try out the lifestyle and roadtrip holiday format and see whether it’s for them before taking the plunge and buying one outright. Bristol-born Quirky Campers hooks up those who fancy a road trip with van owners who aren’t using their mobile accommodation

5. For: Skill-sharing

San Franciscan service sharing platform and on-demand workforce company TaskRabbit has launched in Bristol, connecting consumers with skilled ‘Taskers’ to handle services including assembling furniture, moving and delivering items, home improvements and deep cleaning – backed up by a ‘happiness guarantee’. In return, the Taskers – independent contractors who task when they want, where they want and at rates they set – find meaningful economic opportunities for income. “When I have free time I can accept jobs I feel I’m suitable for, earning extra money on top of my existing work which is great,” says Darren Keene, Tasker since July 2015. “I have a wide skill set so can upsell my services to the lovely clients and often end up completing additional jobs that are outside of the original task.”

Helpfulpeeps – on a mission to bring back community spirit in the digital age – is slightly different in that there’s no transaction required, it’s just good old-fashioned community help in exchange for, well, good karma basically. A community of over 10,000 people – helping each other, as well as local charities, on a daily basis – has been built up in Bristol. Then there’s GoodGym, which offers Bristol a philanthropy-meets-fitness channel, allocating members a running route that includes an errand along the way. From hanging curtains for Mr H because he can’t manage it on his own, to visiting isolated individuals or shovelling compost for the food growers group so they can grow vegetables, every GoodGym run is different, except for the continued thread of positive impact.Helfulpeeps’ Saf and Simon

6. For: The Food-waste conscious

Bristol-born Olio is a free app connecting neighbours with each other and with local shops and cafés to share surplus food instead of throwing it away. It can be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables or eggs from those with a brood of chickens out back, bread from the baker, or the groceries left in your fridge when you go away – and the app can be used for non-food household items too.

While it launched in London’s Crouch End, where co-founder Saasha Celestial-One already had a strong network, the app was developed here by Simpleweb. “As Olio was made in Bristol, we were incredibly excited to launch here,” said Olio’s other co-founder, Tessa Cook. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive support we’ve had from Bristolians. Using Olio is fun, easy and for everyone, and together we can solve the terrible problem of good food being thrown away. Collectively – one rescued cupcake, carrot or bottle of lotion at a time – we can build a more sustainable future where our most precious resources are shared.”

To make an item available, you open the app, add a photo, description and when and where the item is available for pick-up; while to access items, browse listings available near you, request what takes your fancy and arrange a pick-up via private messaging.

7. For: The Fashionistas

The sharing economy is theatening fast fashion in favour of the idea of garments that live a little longer – meaning, basically, some folk are forgoing ownership in the interest of the more environmentally friendly lending and borrowing of threads. It’s also an affordable way to refesh their ‘look’ on a regular basis.

Some sites such as Fashion Bloodhound, born in nearby Bath, specialise in selling pre-loved designer items, while the likes of fashion rental sites Girl Meets Dress, Chic by Choice, Dream Wardrobe and Hire the Catwalk take on the role of the owner in the basic sharing economy model and offer shoppers the chance to wear attire they might normally struggle to afford or justify financially, with their post-out hire services. Peer-to-peer platform Rentez-Vous links fashionistas so they can borrow from each other – and now also takes a security deposit and offers a free dry cleaning option in reponse to initial feedback and teething problems after it launched.

Closer to home, Bristol Textile Recyclers has ‘salvage’ events which see visitors rummage through its tonnes of discarded textiles; and venues like The Greenbank and Hamilton House have hosted clothes swap evenings in the past. We hear of private groups that run them regularly too – everyone brings wine! – so have a hunt on social media for ‘sharewear’ opportunities. As New York’s Rent the Runway says; “access is the new ownership”… 

Featured image: Rupert the cockatoo is one of many happy canine customers at Borrow My Doggy