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Cambridge Free Shop

manos relaying | 05.09.2004 08:26 | Free Spaces | Cambridge

On Saturday 4th September, some people from the Cambridge Action Network set up a 'free shop' in Cambridge market square. Anyone could give or take stuff, yet the most important rule was: no money exchange.

What is a Free Shop?

“When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?” – Allen Ginsberg
Come along and get stuff for free
Bring things to give away
No money: this is not capitalism

We’re giving it all away. Books, food, music, clothes, furniture; things we no longer need or no longer want, recycled and circulated to any of you who need or want them. And don’t you have things you no longer want, which could be used by someone else? We hope so, and we hope you’ll bring them along to share at the free shop. Because we live in a world of great wealth and great waste: we throw out products when we get bored of them, and straight away go out and by new commodities; supermarkets dump unsold fruit and vegetables while they try and persuade us to buy more and more complicatedly processed foods. In this situation, a free shop shouldn’t be unusual, it should be normal.

In a world of surplus, why do we still spend all our time paying for things? Exchanging money for goods is not a natural necessity, nor is it simply an efficient method of distribution: it’s about power and control. Every time we go in to a shop and interact with someone as just a shop assistant or just a cashier, we reproduce a whole system in which people are not able to interact as people, but in roles determined by money: as buyer and seller, rich and poor, owner and worker. Consumption isn’t a private act, it’s an integral part of a system that controls our access to resources to control our actions and our lives. We can see this system all around us, in the smile that persuades us we’re buying more than just a cup of coffee or the ads that persuade us that we need to be healthier (eat more), more popular (wear more); more human (buy more). The economic relations that start in the shopping centre spread out to determine more and more of our lives.

This is what the free shop stands against. Distributing goods outside of the money system is a small act of social disobedience, a disruption of the image of inevitability that we see every time we walk into a shop and think we have to buy the things we want or need. Come to the free shop and take stuff, come and bring stuff, or just come and talk to us. And maybe, as you walk around the shopping centres of our city, you’ll think: shouldn’t these all be free shops?

manos relaying


Hide the following 9 comments

The Oldest Form of Trade - It Still Works!

05.09.2004 13:39

AS a participant in running the Free Shop for the afternoon, I would say it was a moderate success, meaning we had a constant trickle of interested people looking us up and asking what it was all about.

We managed to redristribute/recycle/trade about half of the things we took along, which can be counted as a success for any business I reckon!
The clothes seemed to 'move' the slowest, so, perhaps if we do this again we should take along a wider variety of items instead.

One of my personal favourite moments was the old boy who had travelled all the way from Wales for the day and was delighted when I told him that he could have a little leather briefcase for nothing - very sweet!

Also many of the toys and games that I took along found children to take them home, meaning that they've just had their useful lives extended, as well as bringing to some pleasure to someone new, also disproving the media myths about todays' kids only being interested in video games!!

We had the obligatory blaggers who only hung around for as long as the food and drink lasted, as well as the incredulous passers-by who are so conditioned into the money = exchange of goods mentality that when we approached them and said it was all free they didn't seem to understand -DOH!

Someone turned up and said to me that they had heard there was going to be an 'anti capitalist rally' - doncha just love Chinese Whispers!!
As well as all this, the stall soon became an informal social(ising) centre, as people would come and go, hang around and chat for a while and then go off, so, it was a nice, informal atmosphere over the course of the afternoon.

Some people got into the spirit of it and did actually trade items with us - one woman swapped a cap for a tie, someone else donated some picture frames in return for some clothes.
Most of the toys we just gave away, as we just wanted make a few kids happy...especially the brother and sister, whom timidly approached the stall then wandered off, coming back an hour or so later to claim their prize - a Mousetrap boardgame!

I think this is something we should definitely consider repeating, as, not only was it an interesting 'social experiment', but, it garnered a lot of interest from the public, and once a few people had grasped what we were up to, it all worked.

Ye Olde Shoppe Assisystante


05.09.2004 13:42

I should also draw your your attention to this, whihc is now long established in town:

LETS = Local Exchange Trading Scheme(s)

Ye Olde Shoppe Assisystante (agayne)

Free Shop Logo (Colour Version)

06.09.2004 15:58

No Cash Required!
No Cash Required!

As requested, here is the latest version of the Free Shop logo for potential future use.

In the C.A.N.

Another Version

06.09.2004 16:23

Still no cash required!
Still no cash required!

Another Version of the logo, in which the background has been made a bit more interesting.

Free Love? I don't think so!

Pedantic, perhaps but..

08.09.2004 14:02

The concept of a 'Free Shop' was launched by members of the Dutch Eurodusnie collective in Leiden, a couple of years back. The original Dutch for 'Free Shop' is Weggeefwinkel, which translates literally into Give Away Shop.

The phrase Free Shop came into common use (amidst circles that use phrases such as Free Shop) in 2002, when the Second Peoples' Global Action conference was hosted by the Eurodusnie collective. It appeared in a translated pamflet about the collective and its activities, which went to press before various linguistic corrections had been made.

The point about the phrase Give Away Shop, is that it emphasises not the 'getting something for nothing' bit, but instead the 'sharing stuff together' aspect of the project.

Anyhow, there's some history for you. Christ, this reads like part of a Wikipedia entry. ; )


Capitalism Works

24.11.2005 16:35

I would like to make you aware that while your idea is not new, it is a great way for the homeless and others in society to gain sustenance. I agree whole-heartily that we need to stop wasting in society and make these items available to others that are not so fortunate. However, capitalism works, we have seen that communism does not work take Russia for instance during their social collaspe. Furthermore, how would you get your products from a Communistic society since there is no rich or poor or excess waste to collect. You are more controlled by a Communist society that does not allow you to reap rewards by giving you freedom of choice, freedom to speak (like you are doing now) and freedom to assemble where you display your items for free.

Capitalism is definitive in its approach by allowing people to buy things they need or want while at the same time allowing those that work for a living to earn a wage. If there are no wages there is no economy! By buying things you are stimulating the economy and creating more jobs and services. Under your scheme everyone would be reliant on the government for all goods and services. You would not be able to dumpster dive anymore because no one would have excess for you to gain. The best thing that you could do is move to a country where "Capitalism" does not exist. Take China for instance, with the avian flu and other such deadly diseases from waste that has been consumed but disgarded into the street. China does not have a treated water system, nor does China have waste/garbage collection methods like the USA. The US government does well with surpluses and makes other things available to the general public like grants and loans for college tuition. Which by the way, if you have a college degree and received government assistance, you have just used capitalism. You have used capitalism from the tax money that is paid by "working " and "coporate" america to fund your education.

While you make great points in refurbishing items such as bicycles and other materials that end up in landfills and destroy the environment. You make no great point about a money free society. I applaude your efforts in taking waste items and making use of them again, like so many others do in certain situations, but that does not mean we should go back to the middle ages where food and other items are bartered with other items. I would hate to think of going through the black plague again! How many died 75 million roughly!


Sure - capitalism works - but for what?

27.11.2005 14:43

Sure Brian - capitalism works, so does extortion, violence or rape - it depends what you mean by 'works'. A narrow soundbite can be used to validate anything. Just as legitimate would be to say 'capitalism sucks'. It seems that your world view is a little bit black and white, though, matey. Capitalism works fine for me, but I am against it because it could just as easily turn against me, as it already has for many of the worlds population - at home and overseas. Ask an Ethiopian coffee grower if the high principle you espouse, of working for its just rewards, has any relevance to his circumstances. All it takes to see the problem is a bit of imagination. Equally, imagination will show you that communism, while not entirely bad, is nevertheless not the only alternative.


Communism Brian?

04.06.2006 09:44

I wasn't aware that CAN was a communist group.
I'm not from Cambridge but I've met some of these fine people and i'm pretty sure they are not. I agree that state socialism is not the way to go, not just for economic reasons but that one form of tyranny would be simply replaced by another.
I think this free shop looks very nice and the abundance of signs is certainly something we should have in norwich! Lots of people look at us all funny from a distance and probably think its a jumble sale or something.



24.11.2007 23:43

Free shops are the sort of things that belay anarchism, not communism. No one is ordering anyone to work. This is just free exchange without greed or exploitation.

Dan E.
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