The Swap Box: The sustainable project extending the life of used running gear

Words & Photography: Conan Marshall

A community project based in Cornwall is giving runners an opportunity to extend the life of their old running clothes and equipment.

 
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In the UK, around 57% of all discarded clothing ends up in landfills. This is estimated to be worth £140 million a year. With the spotlight now on the environmental impacts of consumers, there has been an increased effort to re-use and re-cycle clothing. This can be seen in the running community with more and more runners doing their bit for sustainability.

I caught up with Will Harper-Penrose, a trail runner based in Cornwall and co-founder of The Swap Box. This is what he had to say about the project:

“The Swap Box was born after the awe-inspiring Arc of Attrition weekend in February 2019. We’d just had an epic snowstorm and the county had virtually ground to a halt. The fact that the race went on despite the adverse conditions is a testament to the grit and passion that Andrew Ferguson and the other RDs at Mudcrew have for the sport. 

One of the runners in the Arc50 was Dan Lawson, Team GB 24hr runner and holder of many records, including some local ones, namely The Plague (100km) and Black RAT (50km) ultra-marathons. 

Co-founder of the Swap Box and my most knowledgeable training partner, Trystan Lambert, ran the Arc50 with Dan and got talking to him about his company, ReRun. Dan and his partner Charlotte set up ReRun to get runners thinking about the amount of clothing we burn through in this sport, usually buying new kit long before we really need it.

ReRun take donations and rebrand them, selling them on at a fraction of what you would pay for new kit, to extend the life of all this gear and cut down on material waste. 

 
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We loved the idea and were soon rummaging through our respective drawers for clothes and trainers we could send up to them. It became clear pretty quickly that between us we had the makings of an entire shop.

Instead of sending up our stuff, we sent Dan and Charlotte an email, asking for their blessing (and their advice) to set up a similar initiative, locally. With ReRun’s seal of approval, The Swap Box was born. We emailed our local Parkruns and race directors, commissioned a sign from my talented sister-in-law and before long were set up at our first race, spreading the message of getting the most out of our gear before condemning it to a life in darkness at the bottom of a drawer. 

We took inspiration from ReRun but operate slightly differently. Instead of up-cycling and rebranding we simply provide a place for people to bring and take clothes, shoes, kit and talk about sustainability in running culture.

It’s really taken off since February and instead of us reaching out to races and places to pedal our wares, we’re being invited by environmentally conscious event organisers to help them make their events more sustainable.

Will, co-founder of The Swap Box wearing a Re-run shirt

Will, co-founder of The Swap Box wearing a Re-run shirt

Swap Box also gives away old running and fitness magazines

Swap Box also gives away old running and fitness magazines

We have found our home at Penrose parkrun, where you can find us every third Saturday, but we make it out to local races too. We’ve just been up at Mudcrew’s RAT weekend, where we teamed up with ReRun (a good excuse to hang out with an ultra-running legend). Our next event is the Truro Half Marathon.

We are lucky in Cornwall and the South West to have forward thinking race organisers such as Mudcrew, Bys Vyken Events and Pure Trail who have stopped handing out T-shirt’s to finishers unless they order them separately.

There’s nothing wrong with a race T-shirt if you actually want it, but the number we’ve been given that are still in their plastic wrappers suggests that a lot of people would turn them down if given the choice at race entry. 

We’re continuing to grow and learn how to develop the Swap Box so that the community can get the most out of it. In fact, it’s not just us doing that. Karen, one of our Swap Box heroes, made the most amazing bunting for us out of some old race tees.

You can see them flying above our setup. It’s a lot of fun, and quite a bit of work (the entirety of our stock, signs, rails and table lives in my car)... but we always go for a run afterwards so the work and play find a balance.”

#worninnotwornout 

If you’re based in Cornwall, you can find the Swap Box at Penrose Parkrun every third Saturday morning. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook too.