Standing two metres tall and painted a bright sky-blue colour, the Community Cupboard is hard to miss against the cream-walled exterior of . “A zero-friction means of people donating to the less fortunate” is how designer described the project when I met him at . Ideally-timed for the forthcoming winter months, the cupboard enables people to donate what they can and take what they need.
Portsmouth Yoga founder Lucy Barlow, a gem in Portsmouth’s crowd of community-minded individuals, first placed a giving-and-taking clothes rail outside her studio in the winter of 2017. It didn’t fare well in the wet and windy weather, unfortunately, and within a week, the rail and all the clothes were stolen. “I realised there was a better way of doing it,” Tim told me. “A semi-permanent structure that could be placed outside Portsmouth Yoga on a 24/7 basis.”
With a background in web and brand design and a strong focus on usability, Tim, a student of Lucy’s, set about rethinking the Community Cupboard concept. Enter Ming Wu, industrial designer and co-founder of multidisciplinary creator’s space The Maker’s Guild. Ming helped Tim get savvy with the tools he needed to fabric a more sustainable street wardrobe, and thus, Lucy’s original idea was fully-realised. Ming also gave Tim free rein to use the Maker’s Guild’s facilities.
The Community Cupboard is also sustainable in a recycled sense, comprising a frame sourced from a University of Portsmouth art show and wooden cladding which, in a previous life, served as 70-year-old voting booths constructed just after World War II — something Tim was very excited about. “Upcycling is an everyday thing for some creatives, but to me, it seems amazing to take something and be like, ‘no no no, you’re gonna be something else!’
“The wood we came across was going to be burned, but the person who was supposed to do the burning just never got around to it. This was in January. It’s taken a while, because the materials are quite difficult to work with. Some of the beams were warped. A lot of the panelling wasn’t thick or long enough, so we made much of the cladding by layering wood. And, of course, we spent a lot of time treating it repeatedly so the whole thing wouldn’t rot.” , anyone?
Anyone can pop into any store, buy things people might need, and stick them in the Community Cupboard: non-perishable foods, sanitary products, items of clothing from charity shops or the dark depths of your own wardrobe, etc. The first donation dropped in while Tim was fitting the cupboard in place. “A little old lady gave us a bag of hazelnuts, which was awesome.” Several blankets have also been left inside in the short time the cupboard has been in situ.
During a recent Portsmouth Freelancers meetup, Tim met Jessa of , an artist who runs public and private painting’n’drinking events. Jessa volunteered to brighten the Community Cupboard up with a sky-blue and decoratively-floral veneer. During our chat, Tim expressed his hopes that the dash of aesthetic TLC will heighten people’s respect for the cupboard, minimising the chances of it falling prey to vandals. Fingers firmly crossed.
Lucy’s idea, Tim and Ming’s design and construction, and Jessa’s beautiful and vibrant artwork have combined to create a paragon of Portsmouth and Southsea’s inspiring community spirit. The Community Cupboard officially launches with a social at Portsmouth Yoga on September 1st, from 11:00am ’til 1:00pm. It’s a great opportunity to meet the minds behind the project, fill the cupboard, and support through a raffle.
Follow the #CommunityCupboard hashtag (/) for updates, and head along to donate whatever you can, whenever you can. Best of luck to everyone involved, and let’s hope this is just the first of many public giving-and-taking wardrobes in Portsmouth and other places!
Photos by Tim Ames