A converted van billed as the world’s first mobile ‘library of things’ is blazing a trail in South Hams, thanks to a fast-growing membership.

Members pay between £5 and £50 a year to borrow anything from a list of more than 400 useful items, such as garden tools and other household appliances. Those with more singular tastes can also hire chocolate fountains, candy-floss makers and even the odd musical instrument.

The Share Shed project was started in Totnes six years ago by co-founder Mirella Ferraz after receiving £5,000 of lottery money.

The team subsequently came up with the idea of using a converted van as a mobile ‘library of things’ after obtaining a second National Lottery grant of £50,000. The vehicle was built during lockdown in Dartington by a small team of craftsmen whose design brief was to make the vehicle look like a wooden shed.

By having a van, Share Shed can offer a service throughout the district, and as the items are only used occasionally, people save space and money, thereby living up to the scheme’s adage of ‘borrow-don’t-buy’. All items were also donated to the team prior to being refurbished as part of the project’s environmentally-friendly credentials.

The project has been so successful that membership has now ballooned to more than 2,400 members, spreading to six other towns in Devon, including South Brent, Dartington, Kingsbridge and Ivybridge – the last two being the latest additions, thanks to funding from South Hams District Council.

Manager Mark Jefferys explained the reasons for the project’s success. “The cost-of-living crisis is obviously hitting people hard, but it’s accessible for everybody as we have a sliding membership scale. It’s a feel-good project,” he said.

One of the star items has been a metal detector, which was recently borrowed by someone who lost his mother’s eternity ring in a hedge.

The same device was also used to find a mobile phone that was lost on a beach and to search for a valuable arrow given to its owner by African bushmen.

“Their kid had a bow and they lost the arrow in long grass – I’m still waiting to hear if they found it!” Mr Jefferys said.

Share Shed relies on grant funding as it is unable to cover wages, fuel and maintenance costs from income alone, but it has proved so popular that a ‘library of things’ conference was recently held in London.

The concept has also inspired more than 80 similar projects throughout the rest of the country.

Current plans include tendering a bid for another lottery funding round to take the project to the next level, including building a mobile repair cafe where people can mend their broken tools.

This could involve having older people teaching younger members how to repair older appliances, and doing the reverse with mobile phones and iPads.

Mr Jefferys said: “When I retire I will probably carry on doing it – I absolutely love it. I love meeting all the people in all the different towns and love hearing all the different stories about what they’re going to do with the tools.”