With over 47,000 members and averaging at about 120 posts a day, Edinburgh’s largest community Facebook group, The Meadows Share, has become a part of the daily lives of many who live in Scotland’s capital. Whether you have some items of furniture you no longer need, you’re looking to borrow a kitchen utensil, or you need some advice, the Meadows Share is many people’s first port of call – but this wasn’t always the case.
The group was founded in 2012 by Daniel Connell, who sat down with The Student this week to share some more about what goes on behind the scenes of what has become a city-wide ‘freecycling’ page. While now it is not unusual to see people offering up items from all over the city, the original idea for the group was on a much smaller scale.
Connell, who had used other Facebook groups and sharing apps before, believed there was a gap in the market for a community sharing group which was founded on the premise that you would be able to walk or cycle to wherever you needed to be. When you find yourself needing a drill for a last-minute DIY project or to fix a wardrobe in your rented flat, if the person sharing it was too far away you’d probably just buy a new one for yourself. Apart from the geographical convenience of this, Connell explains that the purpose of the Share was to emphasise how collective consumption can massively benefit the community and the planet. He describes the feeling that I am sure anyone who has ever shared something in the group can relate to: the sense of “I want this community to do well because it’s my community.” In a way, this sentiment embodies that of the old phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ In Edinburgh, it takes The Share to help a struggling student fix their wardrobe.
Originally, the page operated as a sort of “circle of trust,” as Connell invited his friends and they invited theirs. Although Connell says he “never made the mistake of anticipating too much success,” he certainly couldn’t have predicted that the page would be close to hitting 50,000 less than 10 years after it had been founded. But with these extra people come extra challenges, and he tells us that “around the 5,000 member mark was the first time I started having to put any sort of active administration into the group.” As the group has been growing exponentially since its founding, so has the amount of administrative involvement he has had to exercise within the group.
With recent events such as the pandemic influencing the way we are viewing our communities and also our online spaces, Connell tells us that “being able to weigh in on all of the community support around Covid” made the Share feel like a useful tool amidst the crisis. However, as with all social media sites, “the amount of peer policing and shouting at each other” for the first month or so each time the country has gone into lockdown was highly “toxic.” Although it is only a small minority of people who engage in this, Connell emphasises the need to curtail these negative discussions as him and the vast majority of the group want it to remain the positive community sharing group it currently is.
Many of us, including myself, have never considered who the voice behind the admin posts on the group is, but Connell himself is aware that his role in the smooth sailing continuation of The Meadows Share is vital. “The culture of a place needs to speak with a voice, and if that voice is splintered and multifaceted then it dilutes the culture,” he says, explaining why he hasn’t yet hired multiple other admins, or at least not any that play the same role as him. He describes himself as a “hands on” person, having devised a sort of strike system where your first breach of the regulations could get you muted for a certain number of days, and further rule breaking can result in a ban from the page. Although he admits that he tries not to wield too much power over the group, he emphasises that the group has real impacts for real lives, and that he doesn’t want the community values of the group to be tarnished.
It is clear that he has an interest in observing the group from an anthropological perspective, pointing out that The Meadows Share was always an experiment to see how a community hub in Edinburgh would work. From his perspective, the group has remained largely the same, even if its membership has changed over time. So, even if not everyone in the group knows each other by name, the group remains a largely positive and useful online space for the residents of Edinburgh.
As the owner of multiple Facebook groups, he has experience dealing with online communities such as this, and Connell tells us that “it’s always a nice happy feeling to have the page tick along and for people to do what the group is for, which is look after each other.” After all, the aim of the group was purely to create a sharing site which was entirely community-based.
Additionally, Connell tells us, “it’s been good to be able to help small local businesses and artists to promote themselves during lockdown as their usual revenue streams dry up.”
Although he is wary of predicting anything for the future of the page, Connell is looking forward to hopefully having a large-scale picnic (lockdowns permitting of course) on the Meadows when the page hits 50,000, hopefully involving some good music and good local food.
Image is a picture of Daniel Connell