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When wood does good

I worked as an IT project manager in investment banks in the City for 12 years. But I became increasingly tired of the daily grind and commute, and eventually took voluntary redundancy.

Then I started noticing skips full of wood outside people’s houses and thought there could be a business in using it. After researching the idea, I found someone in Brighton doing exactly that - running a wood recycling business and helping others to do the same.

There was so much useable wood being discarded and I wanted to see it being reused rather than chipped or landfilled. And I have been interested in social enterprise for a long time, so realised that wood recycling was an ideal opportunity to offer work, learning and training to people facing barriers to gaining paid employment.

After getting a feel for the work as a volunteer at wood recycling businesses in Bristol and Manchester, I decided to set up my own, initially through the St Albans homeless charity Emmaus in 2008.

St Albans Wood Recycling was established as an independent organisation in 2010 at its current site on Pickford Road.

Not having a background in recycling or having run a social enterprise before, I had to learn quickly. It took a lot of hard work to build up my knowledge and skills to ensure that we had a successful business at the heart of our social enterprise, particularly as we are self-financing and do not rely on grants.

The business operates by collecting waste wood from the construction industry and other producers of such waste to help reduce the amount needlessly going to landfill. The materials are sorted and anything reusable is sold to the community at affordable prices.

The wood is also made into simple furniture, planters, ornaments and other products that are sold in the onsite wood shop and at Scallydogs on the Hatfield Road. Timber that cannot be reused is sold as firewood or gets chipped for use as biofuel.

We also offer work, learning and training opportunities to those facing barriers to gaining paid employment and for people who enjoy working with wood.

The business works with local agencies such as the Community Voluntary Service, job centre restart schemes and the probation service to provide work experience, learning and training opportunities.

Coming to us is sometimes the only constructive thing that volunteers do, and we welcome people from all backgrounds.

From this I can give them references to help with their future.

But we are not yet where we need to be. We need to find more businesses looking for cost- effective solutions to get their waste wood recycled and reused, and to introduce more people to the benefits of using reclaimed wood for the 1,001 uses that existing customers already find for it.

What has kept this business going is me not giving up - I’m the director and the dogsbody - and also that so many people think it is a great idea.

How it works

St Albans Wood Recycling is a not-for-profit social enterprise registered as a community interest company and part of the National Community Wood Recycling Project. Income is derived from charges made for the waste wood collection service and from sales of the wood and its products.

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