Free swaps and services in London
From books and bikes to a bed for the night, getting great quality goods and services for nothing is surprisingly straightforward. You just have to know where to look. We reveal our sources
Posted: Tue May 8 2007
Everything and the kitchen sink!
Citizen’s Advice BureauProviding free, confidential and independent advice, CAB can offer guidance on debt, benefits, housing, discrimination, employment, immigration and other problems. Advice is available online but there are more than 3,000 places where CAB help can be sought, from dedicated bureaux to hospitals, GP’s surgeries, colleges, courts and prisons.(www.citizensadvice.org.uk)
Craig’s ListThis American-based website (it’s huge in New York) has been gaining credence in the UK. There are many weird and wonderful things you can claim for absolutely nothing on the Craig’s List London site (see the ‘For sale’ section). Currently on offer: ‘Big pile of old, knackered but mainly dry decking wood. No good for anything but burning. Please come and take it away.’ Or, for football fans: ‘Free to good home, a complete set of When Saturday Comes magazines since the summer of ’96. None missing that I’m aware of.’(www.london.craigslist.org)
FreecycleThough Freecycle doesn’t mean gratis bicycles, it’s perfectly possible to get one – we were generously given a lovely, if slightly bashed, Dawes Classic ladies bike within a day of posting our first (genuine) plea on the website. If the Freecycle revolution has so far passed you by, it’s essentially a gifting (and getting) forum, where members of a local group either offer possessions they no longer want, or ask if anyone has something they can take off their hands. No money must be exchanged. Membership is also free. Freecycle is not a trading or swapping forum – if you are given something you don’t have to offer anything in return but the hope is that everyone donates the things they no longer use to people who need them, and that nobody throws perfectly good stuff away. The Freecycle Network is a non-profit organisation which started in Tucson, Arizona in 2003 to reduce the growing number of landfill sites marring the desert landscape. Since then it has expanded rapidly and now has 3.5 million members in more than 4,000 groups or communities around the globe. In London alone there are 30 distinct borough groups and one London-wide group. The latter group boasts more than 37,000 members. There are etiquette rules, giving it much more of a community feel than other sites with freebie lists. It’s frowned upon to ask for valuable items no one is likely to be giving away and it’s very bad form to agree to pick something up and then not bother to show up. Each group’s moderator also sends new members a safety-advice email, with regards to visiting strangers, or having them visit you. Alcohol, drugs, weapons, anythingelse illegal and items that are considered inappropriate for all ages are strictly forbidden.It’s apparent from the messages posted in their thousands each month that nothing is too insignificant, pedestrian or worthless (in monetary terms) to offer – as members would no doubt say: ‘Someone will want it’. Regular Freecycle devotees will stick literally anything on there rather than consigning it to the bin. Boots’ £5 off fragrances vouchers, a single fence panel and old paperbacks are all to be had. At the more exciting end of the scale, it’s possible to get a TV (albeit frequently without its remote) or a freezer that might not fit into a new kitchen. Posters tend to be disarmingly honest, offering sofas the kids have drawn all over and printers that probably don’t work.(www.freecycle.org)
GumtreeThe popular listings website particularly beloved of Aussie Londoners has a freebie forum under its ‘Stuff for sale’ section. Recent posts are offering everything from sofas, crutches, monitor screens, exercise bikes and kitchen sinks. Free psychic readings are also being offered. Less appealing is the currently advertised ‘sofa bed, orange, a bit grubby, free to collector’. (www.gumtree.com)
Bulky goods collectionsResidents of Hackney, Haringey, Southwark and some other London boroughs should know that the council will collect your unwanted furniture, white and electrical goods for you absolutely free. In Hackney’s case, the better quality items are tarted up and sold on in used furniture shop Morph (see Check Out, p146). For serial declutterers, it’s worth noting that pick-up trucks will often only call a few times a year – in Hackney it’s four times per year per household, collecting no more than five items at a time (unless you’re disposing of higher-value items). Haringey offers something similar for white goods and some electrical equipment. After collection, items are taken away to be reconditioned or recycled. Most London councils, including Lambeth, will also remove dangerous substances – such as asbestos – from the home and take away unwanted vehicles free of charge.Hackney Council wasteline (020 8356 6688/www.hackney.gov.uk); Haringey Council bulky items collection service (020 88857700/www.haringey.gov.uk); Lambeth Council (020 7926 1000/ www.lambeth.gov.uk); Southwark Council (020 7525 5000/www.southwark.gov.uk)
SeedsIf you’d rather grow your own, you can diversify your crop by swapping seeds through one of the capital’s many exchanges. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LondonGardening/ to share gardening tips and link up with other seed swappers.
Clothes-swapping partiesMany websites offer clothes-swapping services, but it’s much more fun to swap clothes in person. Swap-A-Rama Razzmatazz is a monthly night at east London bar Favela Chic, where you are guaranteed to leave wearing something completely different to the outfit you arrived in. Designer fashion can be swapped at Y.Swap Shop parties if you are happy to pay the £20 entry fee.Favela Chic, 91-93 Great Eastern St, EC2 (020 7613 5228/www.favelachic.com); Y.Swap (www.y-shop.co.uk)
Garden waste collectionIf you are a resident and don’t have an organic waste recycling bin, Brent council will collect your garden waste for free and make it into compost. Note: they will not take large branches, tree trunks, soil, stones or gravel.Garden Waste Recycling (020 8937 firstname.lastname@example.org)
www.swapxchangeislington.orgIslington Council’s handy exchange forum encourages local residents to barter anything from bikes to cars to fridges. People with something to offer will specify what they are willing to exchange items for – usually a token such as a chocolate bar or a bottle of wine – though many are happy to part with their items for free to anyone willing to collect.
Online swapping forumsYou can swap almost anything on the internet these days, from computer games to iPods to cars. Swapitshop is specifically for under-18s.(www.swapitshop.com; www.iswap.co.uk; www.swapshop.co.uk)
LETSLocal Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) are increasingly common. Most of them work on the basic principle of trading goods and services instead of using money. Camden LETS, for instance, calls its currency ‘locks’. North London has ‘pledges’. Each member has an account in which they accrue locks or pledges or similar, which can then be exchanged for goods or skills. Some LETS charge a small annual subscription fee to members. The north London LETS, for instance, costs £8-£16 a year depending on income.For a list of local LETS (020 7607 7852/www.letslink.org); Camden LETS (020 7794 4509/www.camdenlets.org); North London LETS (020 7281 0919)
www.londonforfree.netIf you’re looking for inspiration this site has plenty of ideas, such as applying for tickets to see the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London – the nightly ritual performed by the Yeoman Warders when they lock the palace gates for the night. The site also offers tips on where to find free food. The Hare Krishna Temple (10 Soho Street), for example, serves up free Indian vegetarian meals Monday-Saturday from 12.30-1pm and Sunday from around 3pm. For dinner you could try Sweet and Spicy on Brick Lane; rather than throwing leftovers in the bin they give away free curry and rice at 10.30pm.
www.tvrecordings.comCheck out this website and you could be in for a night of free comedy watching shows such as ‘Al Murray’s Happy Hour’ and ‘Edinburgh & Beyond 2007’ being recorded.
www.londonfreelist.comThis site really gets under the skin of the city and is packed with thousands of things to do, from self-help meetings to clubs and bars, theatre to sports and everything in between, including an extensive listings of London’s best car-boot sales.
Promotion samplesThere’s a surfeit of sites offering free product and sample promotions and discount offers – we’ve listed three of the best. (www.londonfreebies.co.uk; www.freestuffjunction.co.uk; www.freebielist.com)
BooksThe London Bookcrossing Meetup Group coordinates book exchanges across the capital. Members meet in local pubs to swap books and share reading recommendations. The group promotes the three Rs – Read, Register and Release! (www.bookcrossing.com)
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