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Recycling reaches out

The concept is simple. Give people who are struggling to find work and a home, employment and a place to stay, at the same time and on the same site. Offer them training, community and support while they make big life changes and, when they are ready to move forward, offer them a job within the community and help if they need it.

Recycling Lives Preston, the pilot for a planned 50 residential recycling centres, comprises a commercial recycling area, a training college for workers, volunteers and the wider community, and housing for the homeless and unemployed, under one roof.

The project takes more than a leaf from homeless charity Emmaus, which has six centres in the north west, including one in Preston. But while Emmaus offers work in restoring unwanted furniture and a home for life, Recycling Lives emphasises preparing residents for independent living and offers a much wider range of work opportunities.

Its commercial arm processes vehicles, electrical goods, metal, glass, plastic and more. It employs more than 200 people across four sites, offering thousands of opportunities for blue, white and green collar work. Such breadth of opportunity means residents are likely to remain part of the community while they develop skills and experience. Purpose-built in red brick, steel and glass, the centre’s shiny smartness reflects its ambitions. Inside is a bay reminiscent of a tyre retailer, selling second-hand tyres at a price that suits the local market.

Beyond the containers of metal at the back of the bay, where members of the public can sell their scrap, is a door leading into a maze of corridors, offices, classrooms and the beginnings of a community cafe. Deeper into the labyrinth on the upper floors are residential quarters, with 20 en-suite rooms and a spacious living area. There is a wide-screen TV, games console, games room and gym.

Like the building, the Recycling Lives organisation blends a commercial recycler - formerly Preston Recycling - with a social welfare charity. The charity, based in the residential part of the centre, offers support to homeless and vulnerable people who are ready to change.

“New residents make a commitment to move from isolation and unemployment to become a skilled, experienced, capable and confident person”

“Residents look after the cleanliness of the living quarters and the charity office,” says community manager Eddy Archer, whose CV includes work for the Church Army Youth Centre and as a local authority housing officer. “It’s the first step.”

The second step is social enterprise and education. The company and the charity offer residents as many career options as possible, including access to Recycling Lives’ business incubation and warehousing facilities, its mentoring project and a Dragon’s Den-style innovation fund.

Archer says: “It’s about what the resident wants. When people arrive we draw up a personal develop-ment plan with short-, medium- and long-term goals, looking at their hopes, their aspirations, their dreams. It’s up to us to facilitate their development. Sometimes the next step isn’t necessarily within Recycling Lives, but they can always come back for a chat.”

Recycling Lives founder and chairman Steve Jackson adds: “Residents choose to come here and we choose them back. To come here to you have be ready to seriously develop a work ethic. Everyone understands that. New residents make a commitment to move from isolation and unemployment, perhaps crime and homelessness, to become a skilled, experienced, capable and confident person.”

The aim is to find a full-time, paid job opportunity within six months, and draw up an exit strategy for independent living. If the resident cannot find what they want within the organisation, they can go to a partner or another company.

Jackson adds: “Our biggest growth area is working with corporate partners to create additional work placements and more options.” Companies are, he says, often delighted by how Recycling Lives can help them develop in terms of corporate responsibility.

So far, 12 individuals have successfully completed the Recycling Lives programme, achieving full-time employment and independent living.

The centre cost £4m, including £750,000 from the Hostels Capital Improvement Programme, the predecessor to the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) Places of Change programme. The NW Development Agency contributed £400,000 towards training and business incubation facilities and the Duke of Westminster Foundation approached with an extra £20,000. The rest has been shouldered by Recycling Lives’ commercial wing and Jackson himself.

The company aims to open 50 centres across the UK in the next five years, with 10 of these earmarked in the north west during the next two years. But since the coalition Government took power in May, the HCA has declined to fund a centre in Wigan. Its decision on Hyndburn, near Accrington, is pending.

In the meantime, the team is looking at private finance options, including equity-share models and special-purpose vehicles, and is also continuing discussions about public sector funding at home and through the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund. According to a Recycling Lives spokeswoman, councils are keen to attract a centre to their area: “We’re having positive discussions with more than 15 local authorities in the north west.”

Jackson wants to improve on the Preston site next time. “This is built for purpose but it’s not fit for purpose. We’ve proved that it works. The next one will be much bigger.”



Mick Barrowclough, 24, was thrown out by his Mum two years ago, following a series of scrapes that landed him in prison. He moved in with his Dad, but after a while there was no longer room for him there. This left Barrowclough homeless and with a criminal record, but ready to work.

He came to Recycling Lives through Preston City Council’s housing team. Other referral partners include the National Probation Service, registered social landlords and hostels, or people themselves, although the centre is currently restricted to low- and medium-risk residents.

“The first few days were weird,” Barrowclough says. “At tea time, for example, everyone had their own little thing going - washing, drying, putting away - but I got into it. Everybody chips in and we all help each other.”

Now his housemates are among his best friends, and he has teamed up with one of them to find a new home. He is leaving imminently for his own flat in Preston, having landed a job on the Recycling Lives Bulky Waste Service restoring furniture (pictured).

Barrowclough’s first placement was recycling cathode ray tubes. After that he volunteered as a driver’s mate in the bulky waste scheme, and enjoyed exploring previously unknown parts of Preston. In four months he managed to gain qualifications in forklift truck driving and health and safety.

During his residency at Recycling Lives, Barrowclough has become a key member of the community. His mentors say he has natural leadership skills. “I never realised it until I came here,” he says. “If I’m able to guide somebody correctly it would be good. If I’d not come here I wouldn’t have got any help. It’s coming together.”

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