‘MAKE do and mend’ - four words which became a mantra during wartime Britain - are taking on a new meaning post-recession.
And nowhere is that more evident than at the Revive re-use shop, based at East Leeds household waste recycling centre in Seacroft.
The shop is a virtual Aladdin’s Cave of second-hand.
It takes donations of furniture, clothes, books and other reusable household items from people who would otherwise dump them in the nearby giant skips, and sells them ultra-cheap to people in desperate need.
These could be, for example, struggling families, or a formerly homeless person who needs to kit out their new abode quickly and very cheaply.
All of Leeds’s recycling centres - previously known as civic tips - have drop-off points for re-usable items which charities can then collect.
But the Revive shop is thought to be the only dedicated on-site shop of its kind in the North of England.
Leeds’s Kirkstall Road recycling centre, due to open next year after redevelopment, will also feature a re-use shop,
The Revive shop is run by a co-operative of Leeds charities, Emmaus Leeds, SVP (St Vincent’s) and Slate, and is manned by volunteers.
The city’s recycling centres collect around 80,000 tonnes every year, and the shop is a huge help in lightening that load and performing the dual social goods of fighting poverty and helping the environment.
Its work has not gone unnoticed, and the team have - in their three years - picked up a clutch of awards including Best Start-Up for Yorkshire and the Humber and the Furniture Reuse Network ‘Rising Star’ award.
Andrew Zbos, manager at Revive for the past two years, says its aims are to help the needy, raise funds and raise awareness of re-use, which he believes could be a cure for our “disposable” society.
All profits go back into the business, which is run on a social enterprise model.
With 25 years experience in retail, Andrew was drafted in to turn the store into a viable shop and business, while keeping social conscience at its core.
“I had a life changing event. I wanted to give something back to society and this was a perfect opportunity,” Andrew says of his own journey to Revive.
When Andrew arrived, the shop was selling around 200 units of used clothing a week. Nowadays it sells between 1,000 and 1,600.
“We have to remember that we are not here purely to make profit, but to help people,” he said.
“With clothing for instance, the price has dropped from £3 or £4 to just 25p a unit.
“For families that are struggling, especially in this current climate, that’s a godsend.
“It helps a lot of families.”
Research has shown that local charities are experiencing an unprecedented surge in demand for furniture and electrical items as welfare cuts and the continuing aftermath of the recession continue to bite.
The cross section of material that comes into the Revive shop is immense, and for Andrew and his team, it’s rewarding to see that people are contributing and really starting to get the ‘re-use’ message.
The concept of ‘re-using’ has been gathering pace in the last few years, with web-based initiatives like Freecycle and Freegle leading the charge.
The online re-use revolution has also been a key factor in the growth of Revive.
The shop has its own eBay channel, selling £24,000 worth of items in the last six months alone.
The best thing, for Andrew, is being able to plough that cash back into the project, for example to help fund a new cafe area.
Online auctioning has even helped discover the shop’s biggest ever hidden treasure.
“We had a donation from a gentleman last year, two boxes which we thought just contained lathes and screwdrivers,” explains Andrew.
“We did some research and discovered that one of these was used for watchmaking.
“We decided to list it on eBay.
“One box went for £2,600, and one for £1,800. The buyer was a watchmaker from London and he would have been happy to pay two or three times that value.”
Andrew is keen to stress that Revive is about “re-use” rather than recycling.
And he says the project is very much blazing a trail in the region .
“We have people coming here from Huddersfield or Manchester who say ‘why haven’t we got one?’
“The re-use industry didn’t even exist a few years ago, and now you have graduates who want to come and work in it.
“Now it’s cool to recycle and to re-use.”
Liz Behrens, service manager for the waste team at Leeds council, oversees all the city’s recycling sites, as well as 450 ‘bring’ centres and bottle banks.
She believes re-use is actually higher than recycling on the environmental hierarchy.
“Re-using is giving somebody a t-shirt and they use it as a t-shirt - we wouldn’t need to recycle if everybody did that.
“As a city we are definitely leading the way in terms of working with the third sector on the reuse agenda.
“Revive is sustainable, it has proved itself, and it has gone from strength to strength.”
“It’s a nice focus for the community, even if they are not going to the tip.
“It’s good for the environment, and it makes sense.”
She says that as a society, “it’s about time” we started re-embracing concepts like make do and mend.
“There were some for whom it was unacceptable to take an old wardrobe that somebody had thrown out.
“But now, people think ‘I can grab a bargain and it won’t get wasted’.
“This shop is one of the first stepping points to a change of behaviour.
“It opened right in the midst of the recession.
“It was a just a throwaway society. But things have changed now. I think people are becoming more savvy about reusing things.”
A NEW LEASE OF LIFE FOR PRODUCTS - AND FOR PEOPLE
it’s not just items that undergo the Revive treatment.
It’s people too.
The shop is manned by an army of volunteers, many of whom may have been out of work long term or have come from troubled backgrounds.
Mags Ashman, volunteer development co-ordinator, explains: “We have got people who have not had a job for 20 years, people with learning difficulties, offenders on community payback.
“We have also started placements from local colleges and the work programme.
“We are giving the opportunity for the items to have a new lease of life.
“But it’s also a new lease of life for some of the volunteers.
“It does feel really good that we can help people, and they obviously tell other people about Revive as well.”
She says the regular letters of thanks are rewarding, as are repeat visits from people who bring along friends.
Asked if she believes Revive’s work is valuable, she says it is “incredibly” so, because it not only helps people in often dire financial circumstances, but is also helping educate and inform a generation.
“We are getting the next generation ready and thinking about these kinds of services,” she says.
“The next generation hopefully won’t even have to think about it.”
Manager Andrew adds that educating people, and giving others a purpose and a second chance in life, are key parts of the shop’s mission.
“It gives our volunteers the chance to work, learn a trade and they might even get sent on courses,” he says.
“Some of them would just have been sat at home watching TV. But they come out here, they work for nothing, some of them seven days a week.
“The change that you see in people is amazing.
“They gain the confidence to interact with people on a normal basis, rather than just being cocooned inside buildings.”