Web Stories Friday, February 23

Umbrellas provided for free communal use have been done before and the outcomes are almost always the same: Ungracious users taking away the items without returning them.  

For people starting up ground-up initiatives to share common resources, the risk of these ending prematurely is there.

In April last year, Little Libraries Singapore had to close because people were not doing their part to share the books and take care of the space.

It was an open library set up at the void deck of a public housing block along Boon Lay Avenue.

The person behind this, who goes by the name “Hengster Kor” on Facebook, said that a few hours after the library was set up, the shelves holding the books went missing.

Then, all the books were gone on the same day, though he later updated on Facebook to say that the books were returned after some media coverage.

In October, he decided to call it quits and close the library permanently even though the library had slowly gained more cooperative users, because there was still a lack of community effort to maintain the library and keep the space tidy. 

Successful initiatives that rely on the public to co-share items for free appear to be few and far between.

Yishun Superhero Library, located along Yishun Avenue, is just one example. It is a thriving community space where passers-by drop off books, toys and clothes, with an equal number taking away things with them for use.

It started in 2019 and has since grown from a lone shoe rack of shared items to a colourful space of fully stocked shelves, tables and adornments that take up half of the entire void deck at a public housing block.

The space is well-maintained by volunteers and the surrounding community.

TODAY has reached out to Siglap South Community Centre for more details about how ShareLah, which operates paid umbrella sharing schemes elsewhere, assisted in implementing Joo Chiat Sharella.

WHAT USERS SAY

Responding to the news that the Joo Chiat Sharella initiative would be stopping, Ms Vanessa Liu’s reaction was, “What a shame”. 

The 37-year-old who works in retail noted how having the umbrellas around was “very helpful”.

Agreeing, Ms Maria Regina, 31, a housewife, said that it was convenient to have an umbrella readily available, seeing that the weather can be quite unpredictable. “Sometimes, when it’s just cloudy, it’s okay. Then suddenly, it will rain and we need to use an umbrella.”

She and her husband Stefanus Ferdian, 32, a software engineer, appreciate the kiosks, though they have managed to use the shared umbrellas just a grand total of two times and there was once when they needed an umbrella and could not find one.

“We’re disappointed,” the couple said on hearing that this initiative will soon stop. Even though they have been diligent about returning the umbrellas, they realised that not everyone has done the same.

TODAY visited a number of these kiosks in Siglap and found them to be mostly empty or have just one umbrella.

Even for people who do not live in the area, the free umbrellas have been useful.

Mr Bernard, who wanted to be known only by his first name, often visits his friends in Siglap. The 50-year-old who works at the airport said: “That time, it was raining when I got off the bus. Then, I realised there was this umbrella service and I took one.

“It’s convenient, that’s for sure, but umbrellas go and don’t come back.”

A resident of Siglap, who wanted to be known as just Mel, 40, said that this service was helpful even when it does not rain. She used an umbrella to shelter herself on a particularly sunny and sweltering day.

“When they first introduced it, it was quite well-stocked and then it all disappeared,” the copywriter said.

There was one resident who gave her name as just Lisa and she said that this service was “a waste of time”, because she did not think a sharing scheme like this can work in Singapore and it would not last.

“Don’t do it,” the 70-year-old said, “because anything that’s free, Singaporeans will take it.”

WHAT ORGANISERS SAY

The organisers behind Joo Chiat Sharella were optimistic and hopeful about the initiative at first, but the “poor and anti-social behaviour” of some users made it difficult to continue. 

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