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Annual Reports

Page history last edited by Paul Crosland 11 years, 9 months ago

Annual Reports

Year 1 for Freelending CIC (Year to 30th November 2009)


The Directors present their report and financial statements for the period ended 30th November 2009.


Principle Activity

The Company's principle activity during the period was that of developing and providing ways for people to offer to lend (and ask to borrow) a wide range of items, enabling individuals to be more resourceful and connected in relationships of trust. Setting up a database for people's items, providing advice and stories of lending/borrowing, as well as continually seeking more effective ways for people to work together are all part of Freelending CIC's activity.


Business Review


a) Website Development

Freelending CIC designed, developed, tested, deployed and maintained a sophisticated website, www.freelender.org, which allows users to lend and borrow online. The core functions of the website include user registration, addition of items which are being offered, and search and request functions to allow a user to find out what is being offered in their area, and to ask for it. The lending of each item is tracked from the request stage onwards until the item is returned, with the lender and borrower able to send messages to each other via the website. After the item is returned, both lender and borrower can leave public feedback about the other, which is used to generate "trust stats". This encourages respectful behaviour and helps other users decide who they wish to engage with.


Categorisation of items is flexible enough that any possible item can be added with no further modification to the site, while categories already exist for the most commonly added items. Users have control over which of their items are visible to other users, and can value their items prior to lending them, to limit confusion over value in the event of loss or damage etc. (We believe that this is more valuable than just setting a Deposit Level). Clubs can be allocated a special code which allows items to be lent only amongst members of the club.


Other functions include the creation of a wishlist of items wanted, help pages which include tips on how to avoid conflict, and a "Contact us" page.


In keeping with Freelending CIC's ethos, the website has been developed using only open-source tools and products. The site is written in Ruby on Rails, an easy-to-learn yet powerful framework which allows rapid development of robust applications, and uses a MySQL database which is backed up daily. An open-source web-based bug tracking system is used, which allows any member of the community to report an issue with the website.


Freelending CIC have decided to make all of the code behind the freelender site open source, and are planning collaborative ways to share this code over the web, so that anyone can join the development team and contribute to improvements to the site.



b) Website Usage

As described in 'Website Development', the freelender.org website has now gone live and has its first members, from a wide range of areas across the South of England (e.g. Bristol, Plymouth, Northampton, London and Kent). The value of the personal possessions being offered, as recorded by their owners, is just under £30,000.


We at Freelending CIC have determined that for many people, the steepness of the trust-building curve is eased by being able to lend and borrow within a closed pool of known members. We have therefore introduced the concept of 'clubs', in which the items belonging to a member of a club can be seen only by other members in that club. We have piloted this concept by providing freelender.org to a film club, with DVDs being borrowed between the monthly film nights. We believe that this has deepened the level of connection between the members of that club.


c) Launch of Freelender.org at a summer 2009 festival


For an account of the launch of freelender.org and our promotion of associated resource-efficient and trust-building activities, in this report we copy a piece from a book published in June 2010. The author is Mark Boyle, the founder of the Freeconomy Community who has lived moneyless since November 2009

His book, The Moneyless Man, published by Oneworld, Oxford accurately reports on the freelender launch as follows:

"Paul Crosland and Edmund Johnson asked me to help them promote their new project, Freelender, at the Buddhafield Festival. In return for helping them, I'd get into the festival for free. I am pretty fussy about what projects I'll support but Freelender (www.freelender.org) fitted the bill perfectly. Its aim was to maximise use of resources in local communities, through a website where people could borrow and lend stuff (from books to bicycles) to and from those who may not otherwise be able to afford them. Not only does it save people money, it makes better use of limited resources and helps build resilient communities through acts of kindness and trust. Very similar ideals to the Freeconomy Community and a good example of an organisation springing up to fill another part of the 'gift economy'; a social movement in which goods and services are regularly given without an explicit exchange agreement, relying on informal custom and the culture and spirit of giving.I wasn't sure if Buddhafield would be my type of festival. Much as I wanted to help Freelender get off the ground, I was concerned there might be too much Chai Tea and Tai Chi for my taste. But Paul and Edmund offered to get me in and make sure I didn't run out of food for the five days, so I decided to go. During the day I worked in a tent handing out leaflets and questioning people about their attitudes towards borrowing and lending. We ran a Freeshop from which people could take things they needed for free and leave things they didn't want any more, set up a borrowing and lending service for things like blankets, wellies and so on and organised liftsharing so that people could get home from the festival for free." (p144-145) 


d) Attracting funding from benefactors


The launch of freelender was undertaken with a loan from Mediation Support Ltd, a company owned by one of the directors. Beneficiaries, having heard of our launch appeared shortly afterwards and have put the organisation on a footing whereby further developments are being financed. The role of freelender.org as the principle activity of Freelending CIC is being assessed in the context of a number of other emerging organisations in what might be termed the 'sharing and gift economy', with whom we will seek to develop resource-efficient working relationships and share our experience so far.


Year 2 for Freelending CIC (Year to 30th November 2010)


Freelending CIC developed it's role as a think-tank and networking organisation for what we call the “sharing & gift economy”, looking for innovations we value and blogging about them on www.freelenders.blogspot.com. We met up with those behind letsallshare.com and discussed risks to our sector and the timeliness or otherwise of generating a consortium of those caring for community resources for our sector. Then we both brought together and met key players at the UK Aware 2010 Ethical Living Exhibition. An annual dinner for those in our sector has been initiated. Of the new organisations arriving on the scene, we were particularly impressed with ecomodo.com as a rentals site that enabled freelending too. At the UK Aware event we also shared our developing products that interface between the on-line sharing community and those lending/borrowing transactions which take place off-line, yet for which trust-building still requires records being kept, refundable deposits taken etc.

A benefactor to support a couple of thousand pounds of development work was found and we were pleased to complete our commitment of making all the freelender.org code open source.

A project to promote both freelender.org and mediation services in a seaside resort of poor socio-economic status was developed, with one of the directors of Freelending CIC (in his capacity as director of another organisation) having previously co-written (with The Mediation Service) a funding bid for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission which succeeded in getting stage one approval against tough competition. Whilst the stage two bid (with Freelending CIC officially on-board) was not successful (for various reasons), there was clearly scope that a well-enough developed sharing platform could attract grant funding and make a difference in a place of high levels of socio-economic marginality.

The need to develop a database for shared items in a way that integrated better with social media such as facebook was identified and ideas developed in relation to this whole field of work, beyond our current capacity to deliver. We look forward to some creative partnerships in relation to these possibilities.


Year 3 (to November 30th 2011)


Amongst the updates to the freelenders blog made in the year were director aspirations to:

engage with people who link lending up to a bigger vision for society and want to plan what comes beyond the current incarnations of lending sites such as the .coms: streetbank, ecomodo, ecobees, letsallshare and the .orgs: freelender, justfortheloveofit etc”


Much networking was done -including with the newly emerged “Borrowers” site at the March 2011 UK Aware Ethical Fair & “sharing and gift economy” workers shared a dinner out, as has become an annual event co-ordinated by Freelending CIC.


In June Freelending CIC opened the first Streetbank Depot, located within an urban renewal district of a town that is officially the 19th most deprived in the UK – Hastings & St Leonards. Over 1,000 items were made available in this large ground floor Community Centre space by St Leonards Warrior Square train station, and newly met members of the public contributed to the depot by giving time & items as well as borrowing and linking up with others with similar interests eg to undertake gardening work.


In setting a new direction and responsibility for Freelending CIC, September 2011 was the busiest month of the year; the directors' inviting the director of newly formed national organisation “Action for Happiness” to see how Freelending/Streetbank work (which is advertised on their website) is being promoted within St Leonards on Sea as part of the activities of the “Hastings & St Leonards Action for Happiness” group, which one of the Freelending CIC directors' leads. Freelending CIC took on the role of host organisation for the newly formed “St Leonards Sharing Consortium” and bids were put in for funding from the local council as well as the Nat West Community Force fund; the latter attracting approximately 100 votes. In a teleconference with Streetbank.com Freelending CIC directors proposed a joint bid to the Big Society Innovators fund (managed by NESTA) – who went on to secure the funding on their own. 21 people (mostly from Hastings & St Leonards) spent a day in training as the launch event of St Leonards Sharing Consortium, which is likely to remain one of the focal activities of Freelending CIC.


The other core activity of Freelending CIC is, of course, the provision of the website freelender.org, which underwent a series of improvements in how it runs for its small clientelle; still providing some functionality (Trust Stats) which we have not seen on other sites, though Streetbank asked us to provide more details of how we run this, so that they could consider implementation of something similar.


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