Recycling Lives is proof it is possible to run a successful and profitable business while playing a bigger part in society. The ethos of our company is straightforward: greater growth will create greater social good. The company is in the midst of acquiring businesses within its supply chains and developing its digital platforms and technology-led processing.
This rapid growth of our commercial operations – managing and recycling waste for national businesses and householders via online platforms such as Scrap Car Network – is having a significantly positive effect on communities, not just through the creation of skilled, sustainable jobs but also through the associated social and charitable programmes.
New sites have been opened in the past 12 months in Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the Midlands, and this increased capacity means more jobs. Crucial to its ethos is the increase leading to more social impact.
The board has committed to creating a social value equal to or greater than 10% of the company’s annual sales. We do this through our residential charity for homeless men, our social enterprises which rehabilitate offenders in prisons and food redistribution to divert surpluses from landfill to charitable groups.
This commitment to creating social value alongside the contracts we win and turnover, benefit individuals, communities and society at large. It is all done while focusing on the company’s bottom line, and our ability to win contracts is enhanced by the element of social good engendered by the process.
Emerging alongside the company during the past 10 years have been two social enterprises, HMP Academies and the Food Redistribution Centre. The surplus earned by these two enterprises supports the charity Recycling Lives UK, which runs residential facilities that offer a six-stage programme of support for men over the age of 25 who would otherwise have been homeless to regain their independence.
Every year, UK households throw away seven million tonnes of food while it is estimated that 4.7 million people are going hungry. At the same time, charitable organisations working to support vulnerable groups face increased demand and stretched resources.
It was against this backdrop that Recycling Lives partnered with national charity FareShare in late 2015 to establish the Food Redistribution Centre (FareShare Lancashire and Cumbria). Working with food producers, suppliers and supermarkets, the centre redistributes surplus goods destined for landfill to Community Food members, charitable organisations such as homeless shelters, children’s centres and hospices.
In its first two years of operation, the award-winning centre has delivered more than one million meals to these groups, fulfilling a huge need within the two counties.
The centre also offers work experience placements to individuals on day release from prison along with residents of the residential charity. Dozens of people who have volunteered with the centre have moved into full-time work with Recycling Lives or its partners.
The other social enterprise arm, the HMP Academies programme, operates processing workshops within nine UK prisons where workers carry out recycling or fabrication work while earning an enhanced wage. Recycling Lives offers people who want to change their lives for the better a chance to do just that.
HMP Academies allow offenders to develop new skills, raise their aspirations and create opportunities for them to have a real chance at a prosperous life on release.
Rehabilitation and reoffending are commonly identified as key issues facing the UK’s overcrowded prison system. Statistics are bleak, with 45% of adults being reconvicted within one year of release, costing the UK between £9.5bn and £13bn every year.
Meaningful employment is one of the strongest factors in keeping people from re-offending, but almost half of prisoners have no qualifications and employers are frank about their reluctance to take a chance on someone with criminal convictions.
By equipping offenders with self-confidence, work experience and qualifications, the HMP Academies help people to break the cycle of repeat offending, enabling men and women to become active members of society. Mother-of-one Tina told us that taking part in the scheme was the most positive thing that had happened to her in years.
She worked in an Academy for six months of her four-year sentence in HMP Styal. After earning her fork lift truck licence, Tina set herself the goal of becoming a crane driver at one of Recycling Lives’ sites. On release, she volunteered with the company and was offered a role as a yard operative. She then trained to be a crane driver, passing her test with full marks.
She is now living in her own home and, with structured support from the social enterprise and charity teams, has regained custody of her daughter. She told me: “I’ve been given amazing personal support by Recycling Lives.”
In autumn 2015, Recycling Lives launched its Food Redistribution Centre (FRC). Two years on, the centre was working with 88 community groups across four counties, and had diverted 331 tonnes of surplus food from landfill.
The initiative wowed the judges at the 2017 National Recycling Awards when they made it the Public/Third Sector Team of the Year.
The judges commented: “Recycling Lives has developed a successful and replicable model. Each member of the team has a sense of ownership over the work they do, its contribution to the rest of the team and to the communities they serve. The team is clearly dedicated to the values of the charity to bring about positive social and environmental impact.”
The judges noted that its success was due to the hard work, commitment and passion of the team, a unique mix of people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities. Some team members work on a voluntary basis, giving between one and four days a week. These include a retired teacher, a trained counsellor, two ex-armed forces personnel and offenders released on temporary licence to learn life and work skills ahead of release.
Before the FRC was set up, there was no joined-up approach to food redistribution across the north-west region. It bridged the gap between suppliers/supermarkets and community groups/charities. It was intended to be a centre for Lancashire, with a long-term aim of moving into Cumbria. But it has also attracted Community Food Members from South Yorkshire, Merseyside and South Cumbria.
As a result, ambitions for Cumbria have been expanded to a second centre, partly funded by a new contract to remove metal from the Sellafield nuclear site.
William Fletcher is managing director of Recycling Lives