John Compton manages Streetclub by B&Q (Kingfisher), which is the first social network aimed at getting neighbours at street level to talk, share and save together to build a stronger sense of community spirit.
B&Q is exploring models of collaborative consumption by creating social network sites such as Streetclub and is featured in WWF’s report, Green Game-Changers: Insights for mainstreaming business innovation PDF. Such initiatives sit within the context of Kingfisher’s Net Positive Plan, released October 2012, which features innovation as a significant strand.
“Every day, I read about the growth of the sharing economy. There are several motivations, from the need to save money, the sense that this is the ‘right’ thing to do in order to reduce our footprint and live more lightly, to a desire to create some income from spare capacity in tools, skills, and services.
And now, the web enables us to trade, swap, barter, lend, gift or share in a way we could only do by word of mouth before, and in doing so, enhance all aspects of our daily lives.
When B&Q started Streetclub.co.uk, we saw it as a way to bring neighbours and streets (and roads, closes, avenues, lanes…) together up and down the country.
Already, with over 1000 clubs set up, members are using Streetclub to talk, inform, swap and act around neighbourhood-related things – from local events, bin days, crime alerts and council problems, to organising a Jubilee party – whatever matters to their neighbourhood. And they tell us that it is rightly separate from other social networks – you want your friends on Facebook and Twitter, your colleagues on LinkedIn – and your neighbours on Streetclub.
Our principles were simple – always free to use, local, privacy for members, no direct marketing, able to control how much or little I get notified about, and make sure my data is secure.
We also saw that one area where we could use this to shape the new economy was in tools and DIY skill sharing. Neighbours told us that they didn’t have the time, money or know-how to complete many vital tasks. So, they just went undone.
For example, they might not buy the ladder to clear the guttering (too expensive, nowhere to store it…) and then what can happen is the gutter blocks up and damp is caused. Where there is an active neighbourhood club, they can put a request out to their neighbours, borrow a ladder and probably some advice and help, for the price of a coffee. Whilst you might think that this makes bad business sense for B&Q, that ladder was never going to be bought anyway. However, maybe that householder might now consider buying a tin of paint for the upstairs window now they know that help and tools are on hand.
So this is sharing what you own – and getting stuff done – but the logical conclusion is something that we are just beginning to explore – the idea of street level tool banks owned communally, locally and by the neighbours themselves. We’ve already got examples of these in place, and by having a store of tools that members may only use once or twice a year, more gets done, and often with more support and help. This also breaks down our natural ‘reserve’ and brings other social benefits such as cohesion and a real sense of belonging. Once the sharing starts, the more social aspects usually follow.
We see this as vital to be leading in this area – a business good as well as a social good. And that’s the kind of innovation and new business approach that contributes to a greener economy and brings future-proofing for B&Q.
Here’s what one of our members says about how Streetclub breaks down social barriers as well: ‘…this has had such a positive impact on our street. Holding a Street Party really brought people together and it made me think about where I live in a different more positive way…the Toolbank has really made a difference. Many of my neighbours are quite suspicious of any external agencies and they have to see the evidence that something will work before they will agree to it, so to have something tangible to share with them was a real boost. It’s a really good conversation starting point to have the Toolbank and the word is getting around that the tools are available to share for our neighbours.’”