Bristol Wood Recycling Project has for the last 13 years – by the good grace of bad planning and also by the generosity of Bristol City Council- been underneath the edifice of the old sorting office on Cattle Market Road.
But the development of the site by the University of Bristol leads us with the problem of where do we go next?
As a social enterprise we don’t really turn over enough of a surplus to be competing in the commercial renting sector. We are without dividends or shareholders; our value is in people and planet.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find space and so we have put out an appeal for help. We need about 10,000 square feet of hardstanding. Ideally somewhere fairly local to the centre of Bristol, and if not, with good transport links for our volunteers.
Our many volunteers help us make furniture to order. We train them in the workshop and they help us to collect the timber which we then sell on. So we’ve got a sustainable, self-financing business model, through which we collect waste timber. All of the stuff in our yard was collected and our volunteers help us with this.
They clean it up and enable us to sell the timber on, for maybe half the cost of new timber, maybe a third less. So that’s one of our business objectives, to provide affordable timber to the community of Bristol, and ultimately we then train the volunteers in the workshops.
Back to the question at hand though, where are we going to go next? It’s not at all clear at the moment, I’ve been working with Bristol City Council and they have offered us various options, none of which have been really suitable for our volunteers to be able to get to, that’s the crucial thing.
It doesn’t matter so much where we are, so long as we can continue to attract such a diverse group of volunteers in by our strength. As a self-financing model it’s really important that we have that breadth of experience and backgrounds so that we just just continue to give as much as possible to the community, and just give our volunteers such a rich experience.
There are masses of unused plots within central Bristol. The city has, like everywhere, fallen victim to property speculation, which makes it increasingly difficult to find even meanwhile uses of marginal land.
Social enterprises across the city, like the Bristol Bike Project within Hamilton House, who contribute in ways other than financial to our city, are being squeezed out.
One option is for a group of community enterprises to come together, form a trust, and then they’d be able to leverage their collective value, financial, social and environmental for funding and investment and maybe purchase a site.
But these things take time, and we’ve got a few months here to try and figure it out.
Bristol is known worldwide as an alternative city. We contribute globally to new possible economies, cultures, all sorts of things.
It’s got a global reputation as a ‘brandist’ city, and that is because, in part, of the work of alternative economies within the city.
A social enterprise focuses on outcomes other than merely the financial ones, and you start to get this organic diversity and this richness and this resilience as public services are stripped back.
As our communities become increasingly individualised, it’s all the more important that we have inclusive spaces which can build genuine community and give people genuine empowerment and acceptance.
Kaleb Debbage is the workshop manager and co-director at Bristol Wood Recycling Project. If you can help them find a new home, please call Kaleb or Ben on 0117 972 3219.