Within walking distance of Greenford station is the West London Re-Use Centre (WLRC), essentially a huge warehouse that contains items from the likes of old offices, waiting to be given a second lease of life. These will be repaired or re-purposed as needed before being found a new home. But the operation is about more than just re-use, it also about offering accredited training to provide skills to those in need and employment and support to local communities. This all fits neatly with the Social Value Act that came into force in January and requires public bodies to consider social value in procurement.
LRN managing director Charles Craft believes the Act is an opportunity that is there to be grasped and the third sector needs to be able to prove itself. It is the only reuse organisation that has been selected on to the iESE framework, which involved proving its processes, systems, health and safety and so on. “I believe getting on the iESE framework was the manifestation of where we have moved from and where we are moving to,” he says.
He believes organisations such as LRN need to explain to the marketplace what value they offer. “By demonstrating what London Re-use Network is about and what our members bring to the party we have gained contracts with 12 local authorities and we are in final negotiations with another four local authorities, so nearly half the boroughs of London, whereby we provide services to those boroughs and residents. Those can run from £40,000 a year contracts to potentially £500,000 a year contracts,” he says.
LRN has been able to tap into the localisation of the Social Fund, where residents in genuine hardship can approach the borough for help and there is a statutory duty and pot of money for that borough to help. By partnering with LRN, such residents who are given funds to get them back on their feet and buy basic white goods and furniture, are essentially able to get more for their money than if they were buying on the high street.
“What LRN has been able to demonstrate is the value we can give to the resident, to the borough in terms of, broadly speaking, the products, they can choose from and will be delivered. It obviously represents good value for money, allows the resident to have more product than they would normally get and it supports what we call the local economy in that the products that are supplied will have come from one of our schemes, so local product will have been taken into that scheme, and local residents will have been trained or volunteered in that scheme. So there is a whole closed loop and value added economy within it,” Craft explains.
In order to position itself in this space, Craft says LRN has been “strategically engaging with local authorities so that we can help them understand this closed loop economy and how their boroughs can benefit, not just through Social Fund fulfilment, but all the services we offer”.
Part of its future offering will be public-facing re-use marketing campaigns, which it is working on with LWARB and local boroughs, to highlight what re-use is, something it wants to be seen as an integral part of borough services and solutions to borough problems.
LRN’s main funder is the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), who it has entered into a contract with. It has clear tonnage and social targets under the terms of its contract: it must divert 40,000 tonnes of waste from landfill in its first five years of operation and must by year five, have trained to accreditation, 3,000 individuals, created 1,200 employment opportunities, and be helping 70,000 households per annum. Half of the money has been allocated so far and LWARB operates a review process with milestones to have been met, which will determine the release of future funds. But due to LWARB’s budget cuts, money to LRN has been cut, so Craft says a main priority is looking for other forms of investment. In addition, one of the aims with its investment from LWARB is to ensure that London Reuse and its investing partners become self-sustaining social enterprises.
“They do that by expanding their capacity and effectively competing in the marketplace for jobs and services,” explains Craft. “Whilst I am never going to compete in the marketplace with a Veolia, what I can do is add value. So generally speaking our services cost no more than anybody else’s do, but our value in the community and down the supply chain, is, we believe, measurably better.”
Its WLRC operation is one the network hopes to replicate elsewhere. It is a joint venture between London Reuse and the Shepherds Bush Housing Group, who each put in about £500,000 into the scheme. London Reuse generally brokers the commercial deals for the depot, by securing feedstock from corporate organisations, for example, and the depot offers the physical service. Feedstock comes in from commercial businesses, local authorities and housing associations as well as the bulky waste service it operates for five local authorities. Craft explains that like any other sales organisation, it has a sales pipeline and actively targets senior levels in organisations and responds to tenders in order to secure feedstock.
Having spent two years implementing its plans, bringing partners on board and convincing investors it is running the business in an effective manner, Craft believes the organisation is now in a position to engage “at a strategic level” where it can sell and offer its combined services because it has the ability and capacity, and grow the operation.
“We are very keen on talking to anyone on any aspects of the waste stream as well. Our inclusion on the iESE framework has clearly identified there is much more opportunity for us all in cooperation than in competition,” he says.
“I would say that in getting myself prepared for market I have concentrated on the areas I have talked to because I think that actually opens the marketplace but I now need to turn my attention to some of the waste companies, so that we can grow the feedstock. It is like a spiral, so as soon as I get some of the waste guys on board, I have to find some more people to take the stock. There are working examples and there is a desire for us to move in that direction. In terms of social value if local authorities are paying attention to it, it adds value to the waste contractor as well,” he says.
London re-use network
The London Re-use Network is a project set up to provide an integrated network of public and commercial reuse and repair facilities across London in partnership with local and regional reuse groups.
It is made up of reuse projects, including charities, that work together to collect, repair and sell unwanted furniture, appliances and household items, giving them new homes across London. In addition, it arranges and provides employment, skills development, training and volunteer opportunities.
It has been awarded £4.3m of funding through the London Waste and Recycling Board, which will be managed through London Re-use Ltd (LRL). This will provide network members with support and investment to grow, as well as advice and guidance on collaborative working.