Sheffield hosts a multi coloured swap shop

Togswap for Link magazine: Rebekah Basran and daughter Miriam (1) looking at a wooden toy
Togswap for Link magazine: Rebekah Basran and daughter Miriam (1) looking at a wooden toy

Anyone remember baby bouncers? Postman Pat? Times change quickly in the world of toddlerware.

“There’s a big resale value in Bumbos,” said Emma Farrell, assessing the surplus Togswap goods at last Saturday’s sale at St Augustine’s Church at Endcliffe.

If you’ve visited a Togswap over recent years, you may be familiar with the Bumbo: a plastic baby chair launched 14 years ago in South Africa and subsequently passed on to several waves of south-west Sheffield parents keen to take advantage of the latest infant support products.

“Coming here when you’re little is like going into lots of Santa’s grottos,” said 14-year-old Hannah Massey, who’s been visiting and helping mum Sarah at Togswap since before she can remember.

This year sees the 35th anniversary of the city’s Link magazine, for which Togswap has been raising funds, twice a year, since 1986. Last Saturday more than 100 buyers spent over £2,000 on secondhand clothes and assorted baby goods: a mixture of traditional wooden rocking horses, cuddly toys, fireguards, balance bikes, lego and Bumbos, but no Teletubbies this time, and only one plaintive Postman Pat.

Potential buyers register and get their ‘sellers pack’ including coloured tickets to mark their seller number and price, bring down their wares for the team to display, and pick up a cheque for their cut two weeks later (25 per cent of the proceeds go to fund the magazine). Unsold goods are returned to sellers or donated to local charities.

“When the sale starts it’s frantic,” said Rachel Dickens. “It can be a bit of a bun fight, with a lot of sharp elbows.”

Togswap is about reusing and recycling as well as fundraising, and it provides welcome funds for families too: Rachel made £70 towards her Christmas presents last year. “An example is a wooden castle I’ve got to sell - I bought it off a friend at Togswap for £8, who’d bought it herself for £8, and I’ll probably put it in for £8 too. You get your wear out of things.”

There are now 2,500 copies of Link distributed free from libraries, schools, GP surgeries, shops and cafes around Southern Sheffield. The full colour, highly professional magazine is a contrast to the first 150 copies hand printed on a Gestetner machine by Link founders Anne Rogers and Vivien Moon 35 years ago, but the ethos still remains: to provide information about local services for parents of babies and young children, and to help new mums (and increasingly dads and grandparents) make contact with others living nearby.

“We’re here to make sure parents and mums of young children feel good about themselves, because you don’t aways,” said Rachel. “For me, getting involved in Link has really helped.”

Anne Rogers was very clear when she started Link that it was about helping busy professional mothers who often felt isolated as they brought up their babies.

“Many readers are financially independent women holding positions of responsibility, then all of a sudden you’re a mum at home and you’ve got this bundle that’s out of your control,” said Rachel. “It can be incredibly lonely. I’d find myself walking to the shops just to buy a banana and get out of the house.”

The magazine contains pages of play groups and other meeting points for new parents, and the ever-changing voluntary team of over a dozen provides its own social opportunities alongside the fellow teachers, businesswomen and marketing executives who keep Link running.

A recent project by Link archivist Sarah Massey is to digitise the whole run of the magazine, and she asks former readers to scour their attics for any 1980-2004 issues to help complete the archive: email s.j.massey@sheffield.ac.uk to help.

Over the years Link has also raised funds for Endcliffe Park playground, Jessops hospital, and an orphanage in the Philippines, amongst other good causes. The team have advised other groups, and inspired similar magazines in Crookes and elsewhere, and still insist that the Link and Togswap models could work around the city.

“We see ourselves as guardians of Togswap,” said Rachel. “We’re looking after it, ready to hand it on.” Just like a Bumbo.

Visit www.linkmagsheff.org for more information.