Swap shops, Freeshops, give away shops, they all aim to go against the capitalist framework, and often people can’t quite get their heads around the idea, that, yes it is free and you can take it!
Illustrations by Thereza Rowe
When I dropped by the free shop near Brick Lane, I received firsthand experience of this when a woman asked the way to the ‘trendy’ Shoreditch area and when invited to look around the Freeshop declined with a shrug of the shoulders. It appears it just wasn’t hip enough, that or she couldn’t quite comprehend the idea of a piece of clothing for under 50 quid.
When speaking to some of the squatters, the Freeshop felt like an organic progression from the original squat in the building: “The idea of this Freeshop had come out from a series of workshops held in the squatted building last month. Originally, the building was opened up for a free school, and when that was over we realised we had this shop front on Commercial Street and felt it would be interesting to kind of undermine the shops down the road.” Donations from friends helped to get it off its feet and now they seem to be undated with more than enough.
With our ‘throw away society,’ Freeshops can form direct action and can engage people to think about the way they live and consume. They also see it as a chance to try and engage with the community, which means the squatters don’t get isolated in the neighborhood. They also feel the shop was an important medium of communication to people. It seems to be working well with most people having a chat or picking up leaflets when they come in to look around. The basic idea is that it should not just be about taking things, but sharing ideas too.
The squatters make efforts to engage with the community, with flyers sent out when they set up shop. Although the state has rigid bureaucratic rules to follow regarding squats they hope that support from the community will help their cause. The court date regarding an impending eviction is on 28th August, but they are hopefully looking to get it adjourned. Signatures and people giving support certainly can’t hinder their defense.
As well as offering clothes, shoes and household items, the Freeshop also has space for regular workshops and events where members of the community and network can get involved. A wind turbine course is in the pipeline so make sure you drop in to check when it’s happening.
I had a chat with one of the squatters to get a better insight into the ideas and experiences behind the Freeshop.
Have you had any experiences of Freeshops before you came here?
Berlin, Barcelona, Bristol all have set up freeshops and there are plenty more around the world. One time in Barcelona went down the main commercial road with a stall, loads of people came to pick up stuff, completely ignoring the chain stores. It was like people were just interested in consuming products wherever they came from. The cops were called of course.
Can you get moved on for that?
Maybe, I mean, but look at the number of people selling sausages in the centre of town – it depends on how big or moveable the stand is. We had the idea of maybe setting something up down in Hanbury Street, just at Spitalfields Market, but that’s just an idea so far.
What kind of people do you get coming in?
Some homeless people come in and others, how shall we say, are like the kind of people who go down Brick Lane on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. There’s a really broad range.
Can people get involved in the Freeshop?
Come along to say hello or to the meeting on Tuesdays, that’s a good place to start, talk about and organise things we want to make happen, maybe do a shift in the shop.
Do you look to publicise, and how do people find out about the Freeshop?
There’s a big difference between being on the net and Facebook/social networking, and just relying on old style traditional methods, just by being here, and it works like a shop that people can just come into. It’s good to see how far just traditional ways can get us, and if that works well, then maybe others will do the same. It’s not rocket science, there’s no big intellectual concept behind it, it’s just a free shop.
Located on Commercial Road at the end of Quaker Street, drop in to pick up some new stuff while it lasts and offer your support.