The Greatest Gift for People and Planet?

We were delighted to catch up with Maeve Brisk, from NIRN member organisation, Banbridge Toy Library, to learn about the multiple benefits the project offers.


Tell us about Banbridge Toy Library

Banbridge Toy Library: Certainly! We now have two locations. The first is a click-and-collect service at Laurencetown Community Centre, open fortnightly on Saturdays from 10:30 am to 11:30 am. Members can book toys for collection through our website. The second location is a new ‘browse and borrow’ service at Grace Generation Church in Banbridge, open on Thursdays from 10 am to 12 pm. Here, members can view and borrow toys displayed each week. This service is conveniently situated beside our local food bank and social supermarket, catering to a wide audience, including lower-income families.

Could you give us a brief explanation of what a Toy Library is?

Banbridge Toy Library: Absolutely! A toy library is similar to a book library, but it’s for toys. Currently, we primarily cater to children aged 0-5 years, with hopes of extending our age range in the future.

Why should parents and carers consider using a Toy Library?

Banbridge Toy Library: There are numerous benefits! Firstly, it’s a great way for parents to save money. Some of our toys have a retail value of £200 or more, but members can borrow them for just £5 a month. Additionally, there are significant environmental advantages, as we strive to stock high-quality, responsibly made wooden toys, contributing to a reduction in plastic usage. Using a toy library also helps in minimizing clutter at home, allowing children to have more focused play. The excitement children experience when choosing ‘new’ toys and the community aspect of teaching them about sharing and being less materialistic are also noteworthy.

Tell us more about Banbridge Toy Library, its history, and any notable impacts.

Banbridge Toy Library: We started in May 2021, initially loaning themed toy boxes with a start-up grant of £500 from the local council. Afterward, we moved to Laurencetown Community Centre, where loans to date are in the hundreds, with approximately 200 toys loaned out in the last year alone. Claire, the centre manager, has been a tremendous supporter of our work, and we’ve established links with the local food bank and social supermarket.

Do you use an online lending library platform, and if so, what advantages does it offer?

Banbridge Toy Library: Yes, we use LendEngine. It streamlines the administrative side of things, allowing me to easily track weekly bookings. As a cost-effective option, it aligns well with our limited budget.

Are there any partnerships with other organisations or community groups?

Banbridge Toy Library: Laurencetown Community Centre has been a significant supporter. Recently, we’ve also formed links with our local food bank and social supermarket, expanding our outreach.

Is the Toy Library volunteer-led, and have you faced any obstacles with this model?

Banbridge Toy Library: Yes, it’s entirely volunteer-led. One challenge is recruiting passionate and committed individuals, given that it’s essentially my brainchild. Balancing volunteer commitments with busy lives, work, and children can be demanding, but any help and time offered by volunteers are highly appreciated.

How do you envision the future development of Banbridge Toy Library, and are there any plans in the pipeline?

Banbridge Toy Library: I have numerous dreams for the future, such as extending our toy range for older children, offering sensory toys for children with additional needs, and providing party equipment for more affordable birthday celebrations. Ultimately, I’d love to see us have a permanent base or hub to enhance the community aspect of the toy library. My bigger dream is for toy libraries to become commonplace for families, with more popping up across Northern Ireland.

What support would you like to see Toy Libraries receive to become more mainstream?

Banbridge Toy Library: Changing mindsets is always a challenge. Any support from the local council or media would greatly help. I’ve also been in contact with Jill, who runs Carrickmacross Toy Library in Monaghan, a member of Community Resuources network Ireland, CRNI. We’ve been exchanging experiences and encouraging each other. Jill aims to form a toy library federation in Ireland, inspired by models in New Zealand and Australia, where borrowing toys is the norm. We both hope to see Ireland follow suit in embracing the concept of toy libraries.