Job done without paying
Perfect for recessionary times, and for building new communities, the fashion for bartering has now extended from 'stuff' to skills. Grace Wynne-Jonesfinds out how to make things happen without cash
THE ANCIENT practice of bartering is staging a comeback with the help of the credit crunch and the internet. For example, if you log on to swapaskill.com youll find dozens of people who want to swap "favours" with each other in "the spirit of community giving and sharing".
Gerard, in Co Galway, will teach you how to drive for free in return for Latin lessons, while Paul, in Co Dublin, is offering "programming" in return for building.
Another Dubliner, Ciaran, will make music videos for up-and-coming artists though his "swap" is a bit more challenging. In return for his skills he'd like "eternal peace". Meanwhile, Arie, in Co Down, will swap French tuition for piano lessons. He would also like to learn Russian. And in Co Clare, theres a mural artist and designer called Annie who is keen to swap skills with a tiler or carpenter.
Heaven knows what other wondrous or wacky swaps will find their way on to the Irish section of the website in months to come. Swapaskill only extended its services to Ireland this November, though its been popular in the UK since it was launched there in 2006. Now it's gone worldwide, and it's free.
All you need to know about joining and creating your swap "profile" is on the site. And as well as saving money, it can sometimes lead to friendships too. For example, Yuri, from London, has become great pals with the woman who taught him how to sew.
The favours are not solely formal business arrangements, points out the site's founder, Nicole Wehden, a 51-year-old business and personal coach. She says that she founded Swapaskill partly to encourage community spirit.
Wehden explains that one woman of 70 even contacted the site because she wanted to learn lap-dancing for her husband. It was an unusual request, but the lady found an expert lap-dancer who was happy to teach her in exchange for a hand-knitted jumper.
Wehden herself was able to save £600 (€665) on getting her bathroom tiled, and even found someone to design a website for her in exchange for some business coaching. She says that skills such as internet marketing, web design and translating, can be swapped on the internet. Swapaskill members can also swap items and post pictures and video clips of their swaps on the site.
Swapaskill is an example of a growing online social phenomenon, with the idea of "cashless" transactions becoming increasingly popular. Given the times we live in, saving money is attractive, but there is more to it than that: for some, the fostering of community spirit is just as important.
"Back in the 1960s, I lived in a small community where people in the street used to use their skills and hobbies to do favours for each other as a natural part of community life," Wehden explains. "Recently we have lived in a society where materialism and consumerism have ruled and people have judged their self-worth according to how much they own and earn. Scientists have learned that this is not what makes people happy. Happiness includes helping others, which adds to our own sense of purpose and personal fulfilment. The internet is bringing people together in a way that could never have happened before.
LYNDA COOKSON IS an artist and writer who is keen on "trading up" with her swaps. Her approach was inspired by the book, One Red Paperclip, in which Kyle MacDonald describes how he bartered his way from a paperclip to a house. Cookson now hopes that a metal dinosaur made out of "spare parts" may ultimately help her to acquire a motor home.
"I want to go painting and writing around Europe," she explains.
Originally from South Africa, Cookson, who now lives in Connemara, got the dinosaur from an adventurous swapper called Andrew Henderson, whose swaps you can read about on his website, tradingnothing.com.
Henderson contacted Cookson when she used to run her own swap website. She gave him 10 paintings for the dinosaur and now she'd like to swap the sculpture for "anything" (she can be contacted at lyndacookson@ eircom.net). Henderson has already exchanged most of the paintings, and Cookson says the swap was good for "promotional purposes", adding that this type of cutting-edge swap appeals to people who "enjoy doing something different" and that "it's loads of fun".
You can also trade down through swapping. Dublin photographer Rachel Fox recently swapped her BMW for a Mercedes plus cash on gumtree.ie.
"The whole reason was to free up money for my business," she explains. Now she'd love some gardening done in return for some photography.
Noel, a 35-year-old butcher, is also happy, having secured a Hyundai Coupe for a Land Rover.
"The way things are at the moment, not many people are buying second-hand cars. It was easier to swap. I would use Gumtree again," he says.
ANOTHER ASPECT OF this barter system is inter- generational skill-swapping. Students in the XL Club of Pontypridd High School in Wales are taking part in a programme with retired people, exchanging information and skills. Pupils get to know the senior volunteers while learning skills from them, such as knitting, bird-box building and French-lace making.
In return, the pupils show the volunteers how to use mobile phones, surf the internet and play computer games.
Online swap shops: some sites to see
Swapping skills and items, sharing resources and giving away unwanted "stuff", is a growing trend. Here is a sample of some of the sites on offer.
freecycle.orgdescribes itself as "an entirely non-profit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills".
liftshare.comis the free website to go to if you are looking for a lift somewhere or can offer one to someone else.
bookcrossing.com- 'release' tagged books in public places for others to pick up, then chart their progress and the lives they touch. Bookcrossing wants to turn the world 'into a library'.
dublinwaste.ieis a place to pass on or pick up unwanted items for free.
swapz.co.ukis a place to swap anything with anyone.
readitswapit.co.ukis the site to surf and swap books.
bikebudi.comhelps you to find cycling buddies.
letslink.orgis the place to find out about Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes (Lets), which are described as "local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money".
For further surfing, search for "Dublin Barter Club" and "Swap Shop" on gumtree.ieor go to u-exchange.com, bartercard.com, swapthing.com, jumbletown.ieor craigslist.org.