In the summer of 2003 Ben Moss and Nicola Padden met a great man with a great idea. Richard Mehmed had founded the Brighton and Hove Wood Recycling Project in 1998 – a self funded social and environmental project, working with volunteers, saving resources and generating its' own income. His great idea was to roll out his business model to other towns and cities around the country. Ben and Nicola leapt at the opportunity, knowing that Bristol was fertile growing ground for such environmentally and socially progressive ideas. Bristol Wood Recycling Project was born.
By the start of 2004 Nicola and Ben had chanced upon a potential site for the Project- a disused council building, with a small parking lot- 'needing a lick of paint, but rent free and available. All of a sudden ideas were turning in to reality and we needed to get serious about this. We made a logo. We registered the company. We blagged as much as we could- computer, fax, desk, sofa to make a little 'office'. We got some stationery and information sheets produced. We starting contacting businesses to see who we could collect wood from. We got some branded hooded tops locally produced. Then, to show we were serious, we got a van.
The engine seized on the maiden voyage, the repairs and MOT cost nearly two grand and nearly a month and all of a sudden this Bristol Wood Recycling Project idea was turning very serious! We had to make it work.... serious money (oh how naïve we were!) was at stake.
Nicola and Ben volunteered their time so there was always someone at the yard every day of the week. First collection contracts with building companies were secured. Volunteers were starting to come in and help with clearing, building, stacking, painting. Tools and machinery were being bought. Soon we started to pay our costs, and then created enough of a surplus to pay “i'm doing it for love not money” level wages.
We had a regular crew of volunteers, a yard full of sheds, filling up with loads of timber, and contracted collection clients committed to saving waste and reducing their waste disposal bills! An idea had grown from a seed, and was now definitely flowering!
Regular volunteers became employees- Nicola, Ben Foxwell, Hugh, Tashi. We went begging to the Council for more space and they doubled the size of our yard - Seeing the wonders we were doing for Bristol's economy, environment and society as a whole- how could they resist!?!
People left. New people came- Caroline, Ella, Tim. We bought another van. We turned three years old. We got on all sorts of local television- Points West, HTV News, and the local weather (?). Gary joined the throng; Ben went on a sabbatical, leaving Ella at the helm. The Big Issue did an article on us. Lisa and Beth became employed as other staff left to pastures new. Maff and Nath came in to stabilise the office situation; then Jon, a long term volunteer became employed as supplementary van driver.
In July 2008 the Project recycled it’s 1000th tonne of wood! By that stage we had given opportunities to over 100 volunteers, had 8 members of staff, a healthy order book and had a turnover of £135,000. What could go wrong?!
Despite an increasing accuracy in our budget forecasting, we failed to predict the collapse of late-stage capitalism in October 2008. Whilst on the surface this event would be a cause for celebration for an ecologically driven cause such as ours, the reality was much more painful. When the construction industry collapsed we nearly went with it, losing £15,000 in 2 months which wiped out all of our meagre reserves. We stayed solvent by the skin of our teeth, but still had to make 2 staff redundant, which was a horrible experience we hope never to repeat.
2009 was all about recovery. The contruction industry slowly got back on it's feet, and a rosy glow started to return to our cheeks as well. We fought to rebuild our reputation the same way we always have – by word of mouth and positive referrals by satisfied customers. We still made a loss but we stabilised, and (touch wood!) the worse was over.
By the time of our 6th Birthday bash in the summer of 2010, Change was in the air again. Lisa and Nath moved on to better things, as did Ella, who had to emigrate to Canada to get the project out of her system! She is currently doing a boffins course in Forestry, after which she will hopefully return to Blighty to save Britains' forest future!
New staff took their place – Ant arrived to shake us from our slumber , and in October 2010 spearheaded the building of our prized possession - “The Ark”, 160sqm of Douglas Fir temporary structure to make our stock easier to browse and keep out of the wind and rain. His legendary project management motto (“fire the cannon and then chase the cannonball”) gave us many sleepless nights but his limitless guts and gumption saw us through in the end. Then Tim replaced him to bring a bit of much-needed organisation and stability to the yard!
2011 has seen us rested and ready to move onwards and upwards. We secured a new lease with our new landlord, Kian Gwan Holdings, and have been working with them to imagine a new development for the whole 'old sorting office' area. By 2013 we hope to be part of a Social Enterprise Park that will showcase the best of the affordable, sustainable, ethical ethos that Bristol is rightly reknowned for, as well as bringing jobs and development to an area of Bristol that badly needs it.
To enable us to take our place as a part of that bright future, we have upped our game. We hired Jon as collections manager, alongside our driver Hugh, to get 2 vans on the road and recycling. We've got Mike in as Workshop Manager to start designing and building beautiful bespoke furniture out of reclaimed materials, whilst our keenly motivated youngster Neil has moved from collections driving to assist Mike in the workshop. And we've got Yasmine in as Volunteer Manager to make sure the Unsung Heroes of the project – the volunteers – get as much as we can give them in return for giving us their time.
At our December 2011 AGM, the BWRP Board agreed the legal changes necessary that see staff become a workers co-operative and members (directors) of the BWRP Board. We have plans to co-opt upto 3 supportive individuals onto the Board as 'voting' directors, along with a volunteer representative, and several non-voting 'Advisors' to the Board.
This will hopefully allow us to fill the 'Ben sized hole' created by the Founding Father, the man who's vision, vim and vigour started the whole project back in 2003, finally breaking his ties to BWRP and asending into the Social Enterprise stratosphere (after a bit of travelling and recharging of his batteries!).