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The economic downturn, allied to digital technology, has exposed the level of under-utilised skills and assets in our economy. Here's a Big Society play that could transform the situation

The Big Society may not have taken Britain by storm, but its legacy – of stronger neighbourhoods built around volunteerism – lives on. Indeed, it could yield some interesting commercial potential.

Streetbank is a not-for-profit website that gives neighbours the opportunity to lend, give away or offer time and skills to anyone living within one mile of their home.

The aim is to bring neighbours together - to foster community and generosity by encouraging people to share their things, skills and time.

Streetbank founder, Sam Stephens, became friends with his neighbours through lending. At first he borrowed some milk from them and later they borrowed some chairs for a party; eventually, through exchanges such as this they got to know each other and became good friends. A while later, Sam was cycling down his street and saw someone using a pair of hedge-cutters. Sam need some hedge-cutters but felt he couldn’t ask to borrow them as he had no relationship with the person who owned them. That’s when he came up with the idea of Streetbank – a place where neighbours could list items or skills they would be willing to lend or give away to their neighbours. Streetbank was then launched in April 2010 and has grown almost exclusively by word of mouth and now has more than 13,000 members sharing 20,000 items and is growing by nearly ten per cent a month.

So far there have been small acts of generosity – such as neighbours giving away strawberry plants and tomato cuttings – to much bigger acts such as sorting out an elderly neighbour's back garden, or giving away an unused piano. People have lent ladders, power hoses, guide books and fancy dress outfits. They’ve baked each other bread, made pies and given away old bottles of champagne that were unwanted after their owner went teetotal.

From small acorns do mighty acorns grow, and Streetbank is likely to be bringing the Big Society to the masses long after Prime Minister Cameron has been booted upstairs to the Lords.


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