A few weeks ago I visited London and, as my partner was busy with a volunteering experience, I decided to explore toy-related places in London. And I found this: a toy store that actually does recycling toys in a social perspective. The TOY Project is an eye-catching toy shop, with an incredibly rich showcase, organizing and funding social initiatives for the neighborhood community and not only.
All started in 2013 thanks to Jane Garfield and Angela Donovan. I am going to quote the history from the website as it is so well told.
“Jane could see how some children had more toys than others and how schools needed resources but had little funds for sourcing them”. She “began collecting unwanted toys that she could then distribute to those most in need. Angela wanted to provide toys and resources for bereaved children through supporting play therapists with toys to use in their sessions with children who had lost a parent, a sibling or a close friend.
The TOY Project started life as a part-time operation run out of Jane’s living room, but it soon outgrew the space and was moved to a small storage room in a community centre in Finsbury Park. In 2016 we opened a pop-up shop on Junction Road, Archway to raise money to keep the charity going. At the shop, local children and families could now donate their ‘old’ toys and buy ‘new’ ones.
Our shop was a big success, and we decided to make the ‘pop-up’ shop into a permanent feature of Archway. We thrived in our new home but quickly outgrew the space and a year later, we moved a few doors down into our new home at 81 Junction Road in Archway.
The larger shop provides more retail space and dedicated areas for sorting and storing toys, such as all the Lego required for our weekly Lego workshops we run at a community centre around the corner. We also rent a small warehouse nearby to store new toys we give as gifts for Christmas and birthday presents.”
Meeting this place and this people, in particular Jane, who welcomed me warmly, although without an appointment and in the middle of a constant work of sorting, displaying and managing the daily activity required to run the shop, was a breath for the hearth and changed my vision on recycling toys in a social perspective. It made me realize how toy waste has great social potential, beside its environmental impact, also very important.
Jane was so nice to tell me all the many pros and cons of managing successfully a place like that, with rent, electricity and employee costs. First of all passion has to be there, she told me “you could never run a place like this unless you are going to be here all the time”. I was in the shop for about half an hour in a morning of a week day and so much was happening: people coming with children to play and then to buy, other people coming and delivering a cardboard box full of (almost) new toys, talking to curious people like me, do the payments, etc, etc…. there were many things happening and all the time there was this sense of community flying around the shop.
Part of the toy turnover happens also thanks to the Amazon Wishlist and from receiving returns from toy companies, giving them the possibility to found the shop with brand new toys that can be re-sold for presents and birthdays, raising more money. Jane is an institution rather than a sole shop owner, it made me think at the role that the toy industry could play in promoting this reuse-reduce-recycle philosophy or circular economy. We have already talked about similar initiatives, for example the Mattel’s Playback program which has the big difference of actually recycling the plastic for the manufacturing of new toys, rather than managing the reuse. Jane told us that they have also been part of that program but somehow it didn’t work in the end. I guess recycling (Mattel’s) and reusing (the TOY Project) are quite different approaches and probably have diverging interests.