Category Archives: Royston Reducing Waste

Slow fashion

My work colleague is off to buy a prom dress with her daughter. If you know anything about my colleague and proms (I don’t mean the musicfest at the Albert Hall each year) you’ll know the dress is for her daughter.

I don’t know the history of the school prom in this country (it probably originates from the USA) but it’s a semi-formal post-exam celebration for secondary school students. Wikipedia says it’s a shortened version of Promenade Dance. For the girls or, more likely their parents, it can cost £££ for the prom dress and, as my colleague pointed out the other day,       ‘all the other stuff’.

I suspect most prom dresses are only worn once; an extreme example of the worst waste of the ‘fast fashion’ industry. (Incidentally, did you know the average DIY power drill is used for only 13 minutes of its life?) Given that the younger generation seem to be more in tune with the climate emergency than their parents, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any downturn in the (new) prom dress market in the coming years. I’d like to think that campaigns are slowing fashion, alongside the emerging range of alternatives to excessive spending on clothes – renting, sharing, upcycling, donating – making secondhand, pre-loved, vintage (chose your own adjective) clothes not only acceptable, but desirable.

At the high-end of the re-worn clothing market is Wardrobe HQ – a luxury fashion rental and resale website. I say ‘high-end’ and your rented designer coat could still set you back £295 for a week, and a sequinned bodycon (whatever that means!) mini could cost you a maxi £215.

Interviewed in the Guardian newspaper, Wardrobe HQ Chair Jane Shepherdson is quoted as saying the idea of clothing rental is particularly appropriate for luxury womenswear, with ski-wear, occasion wear, maternity wear and kids-wear other areas ripe for rental. Personally, I think she’s got that the wrong way around; maternity wear and kids-wear should come first as it affects so many more people. But then maybe I’m looking at this through an environmental/community lens rather than a commercial one.

A similar but much more affordable clothing option that’s geographically and conceptually much closer to my heart is Nuw. Based in Cambridge, Nuw describes itself as a clothes-sharing app and community; they’re all about sharing, not renting. I met the people behind Nuw at a Swish (clothing exchange event) in Cambridge and they seemed to have their hearts and heads in the right place.

In the west country, the fine folk of Frome in Somerset have taken the community clothes exchange concept a step further. The Frome Wardrobe Collective organise swapping events, but also have a small ‘community wardrobe’ in a converted public toilet (a case of deja loo?) alongside their community fridge and larder – the first such fridge in the UK when it was set up more than two years ago. From 8am to 8pm people can leave their ‘occasion clothes’ for others to borrow.

Closer to home, Circular Cambridge are promoting slow fashion through discussions and events, including a festival and Swishes. Swishes are volunteer-run and usually free and tend to feature women’s and children’s wear (the only man I know who’s into secondhand clothing does his shopping for designer items in charity shops in posh places). Circular Cambridge also organise Repair Cafes and more often than not these include sewing and mending facilities as part of their free offer – anyone for a bit of upcycling?

Not forgetting community exchange platforms such as Freegle (many localities also have Facebook groups for local exchange or sale of pre-loved items) and charity shops are another great source of affordable clothes.

I’m sure I won’t have to persuade my colleague about considering these alternatives to prom-dress-buying – a way to save money and the planet. I suspect that convincing her daughter might be somewhat harder…

https://www.mywardrobehq.com

https://www.thenuwardrobe.com

https://edventurefrome.org/enterprises-initiatives/frome-wardrobe-collective

http://circularcambridge.org/category/blog/fashion

http://www.getswishing.com

https://www.ilovefreegle.org

Now you have no excuse – review article

I’ve followed Jen Gale’s wise words on being green since, what I’ve recently learnt, was her first public-speaking engagement – a TEDx talk in Bedford in July 2013 which she describes as ‘terrifying’. I was part of the group organising the TEDx event and as well as introducing me to Jen, it also sparked an ongoing interest in TEDx events around the East of England (including speaking at one of them which, I can confirm, is terrifying!)

As well as an interest in TEDx Talks and sustainable living, I also have a passion for real books (for details check out a blog post in the ‘My love affair with…’ series). This interest includes 15 years in book marketing and sales and explains my addiction to buying printed books, some of which end up in the Little Library outside our house. So, when I saw that Jen Gale had written The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide I couldn’t resist being consumer(ish) and I bought a copy.

Being a grumpy old pedant, I notice it’s not printed on recycled paper, but it’s ‘responsibly sourced’ and, since I refuse to read e-books, that has to be good enough. If you don’t know already, you’ll soon learn that trying to ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to behaving sustainably it’s often not straight forward. Try looking at the relevant carbon footprints of plastic, paper and cotton bags.

What I like about the Sustainable(ish) Living Guide is that it doesn’t pretend there are easy answers, but it does address the common concerns that I suspect many of us share. To quote from the book’s introduction… ‘This is for you if you’re worried about the state of the planet, but you’re just not sure where to start or what to do… It’s for you if you feel a kind of low-level guilt about the things you do every day, knowing that there is a better way, but you’re up to your eyes in work and family and life stuff, and it doesn’t feel like there’s the time or energy to make big changes.’

But here’s the good news – all effort, however small, is worthwhile and Jen Gale’s guide provides an abundance of (jargon alert) quick-wins that won’t involve a radical change to the way you live nor having to find more hours in the day to make an impact.

And she doesn’t just cover day-to-day living. My love of books attracted me to one idea for an alternative advent calendar – involving books – and, similarly, Jen’s ideas for more ethical Valentine’s Day presents reminded me about the idea of giving family and friends ‘a blind date with a book’, bought from a charity shop and wrapped (in newspaper of course).

Charity shops cropped up again in a section about how many donations, however well-intentioned, end up in landfill because clothes are unwearable or toys and equipment are broken. This got me thinking… could volunteer repairers in Repair Cafes (also commended in the book) team up with local charity shops to fix donated items – increasing income to those charities and, of course, saving stuff from landfill. So, the book has already helped me make connections!

If this book does nothing else, I think it gives the reader hope, and ideas, and some answers. What is comes down to is that each one of us is personally more powerful than we might imagine. And it’s not all about costing more; many of the actions to save the planet can actually save us money. When we do have to spend, we have choices about where and how we do this. We have no local bookshop where I live, but by buying The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide online from Hive Books, I support a company that pays it’s taxes and gives a share of the purchase price to my nominated independent bookshop.

My make do and mend year – Jen Gale TEDx Talk  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCm7aBM7EeY

Buy the book https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jen-Gale/The-Sustainableish-Living-Guide–Everything-You-Need-to-K/23879824

Visit the website https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk

Sharing, repairing, re-using in Royston*

There really is no planet B, so now is the time to join millions of others locally, nationally and internationally helping to tackle our climate emergency by cutting waste. The scale of the problem is mind-boggling; every week in the UK 11 million items of clothing go to landfill; that’s an annual total equal to the weight of New York’s Empire State Building. The average household owns £4,000 worth of clothing, 30% of which has not been worn in the past year. Estimates put the value of this unused clothing at around £30 billion. Time to get swishing!

Think global, act local

For many, a barrier to taking that first step to conserve resources and reduce waste is a sense of helplessness – not knowing where to start and, perhaps, feeling the problems are too immense for individuals to make a real difference. But there are ‘quick wins’ to be made (see link at the bottom of this piece) and you are not alone; a number of local initiatives are already demonstrating practical, creative (and fun!) ways to consume less and keep items out of landfill, not just in Royston but around the world.

Say yes to less – share

For nearly 15 years, and without spending a penny, the Royston Recycle online platform promoted and enabled the free exchange (freecycling) of unwanted items – from children’s toys and equipment, to household items, garden tools and musical instruments.  Between December 2004 and December 2019, over 7500 members in and around Royston posted 97,000 ‘offers’ and ‘wants’ keeping an estimated 45,000 items in use for longer.

Don’t despair – repair! 

An offspring of the Royston freecycling initiative is Royston Repair Cafe – a series of free community repair events held every three months to keep items in use for longer. Owners of broken items have discovered ‘the joy of fix’ and, since February 2014, volunteer repairers have mended over 50% of the 640 items brought in for free assessment. Everything from clothes and books to bikes and electrical equipment have been given a new lease of life to the delight of their owners – saving their money and the planet.

Creative ways to re-use materials

When it comes to crafting someone else’s waste materials into one-off additions to homes and gardens, the new kid on the block (although the two guys behind it could hardly be described as ‘new kids’!) is Green & Grey. Using mainly pallet wood (but not averse to working with driftwood, wellington boots and bike parts) the pair are using their interest in ‘making stuff’ from reclaimed materials to promote the value of original hand-made items in our increasingly mass-produced consumer society.

An even newer kid on the ‘zero waste’ block is a Royston resident’s Anahata initiative promoting and selling planet-friendly plastic-free produced and packaged products. I can recommend the shaving soap.

From sharing, repairing and reusing, to recycling. Terracycle – an international recycling company – have teamed up with residents in and around Royston to support their efforts to recycle ‘difficult materials’ – including soft plastics, toothbrushes and crisp packets. A growing number of collections points around town help raise money for charities when you make the extra effort to protect our planet for generations to come

Contacts and further information

Sustainable living https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk (Including quick wins to sustainability https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk/12-quick-sustainable-wins)

Royston Repair Café www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Green & Grey https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/about

Anahata www.facebook.com/Anahata.Planet

Terracycle  https://www.royston-crow.co.uk/news/new-recycling-options-for-royston-residents-1-6194192

Circular Cambridge http://circularcambridge.org

Swishing http://www.getswishing.com

*This blog post is adapted from one which first appeared on The Listing magazine website in September 2019  in the ‘Hidden Royston’ series  http://www.thelistingmagazine.co.uk/category/community-news/hiddenroyston

RIP – Re-use In Practice

On 14 December 2019, almost 15 years to the day since  starting it, we closed Royston Recycle – our local freecycling group*. The reason for this was quite simple – hosts Yahoo reduced their functionality, so our online group couldn’t, er…function. GDPR considerations notwithstanding, it was not feasible to ‘migrate’ (to coin a dreaded Universal Credit phrase) our members to a new site and, anyway, there are now alternative local free-exchange platforms to join.

The aim of freecycle/freegle** is simple – the free exchange of unwanted items to keep them out of landfill and in use for longer. That core objective directed our moderation of the site for the 15 years – set up with techy support from Dermot for many years; a role continued by Andy until this month’s close-down. But it did so much more than just reducing waste; locally it spawned a new initiative – Royston Repair Café – and it inspired personal friendships between people with a common cause.

Ultimately, the success of the site in meeting its aim has been down to the active and responsible  participation of its members. Co-founder Dermot was keen that the site should, as far as possible, be self-moderating, with few rules beyond ensuring items on offer and requests were ‘legal decent and honest’. We had to intervene once or twice over live animals (discouraged but not actually banned, and I learnt that re-homing frog spawn is discouraged by wildlife groups). The lack of rules was a problem for some. We knew that some members would get stuff free online and then sell it on via boot sales or selling sites. While people would complain about this apparent abuse of people’s goodwill, it wasn’t, in fact, against the rules. The big thing was that giving and taking had to be free of any exchange of money (‘the clue’s in the name’ we’d say ‘free-cycle’) but sometimes people would try to make a charge for delivery or ask for a donation to charity – both, however reasonable, against the rules.

Trust and mutual respect were an important part of the relationship between members of the group – we only rarely ‘advised’ particular people about the rules (this usually amounted to a verbal warning or putting them on moderation) when evidence had built up. More often than not the problem resolved itself; friendly reminders to the whole group were usually enough to get things back on track.

I always describe Royston Recycle as the most sustainable community initiative I’ve ever been part of. We spent no money on it, we never had a planning meeting, we attracted 7500 members through word-of-mouth. Since 2004 those members have posted 97,000 ‘offers’ and ‘wants’ keeping an estimated 45,000 items out of landfill.

In our increasingly materialistic and seemingly divided world, it’s been heartening to see people willing to give without expecting anything in return. I’ll never forget when, following a post from someone who’d been thrown out of their house, members piled in with offers of bedding, small pieces of furniture, and even a tabletop cooker.  I was always delighted when items, particularly for children – toys, clothes, pushchairs – circulated many times around the group, multiplying value for so many and saving the planet for the benefit of all.

I often quote a memorable experience from my own use of the Royston Recycle group. One Sunday morning my daughter asked if I’d buy her a clarinet on e-Bay. ‘No’ I said, ‘but I’ll post a request on freecycle’. The post went up at midday and by 6pm that same Sunday, my daughter had gratefully collected a clarinet from a local member and had an offer of a free lesson!

Although my other half always reminds me we need to get rid of stuff not acquire it, I have rarely been disappointed when posting requests for ‘odd items’ to do with my re-purposing/ upcycling projects – mirrors, brush heads, and clock mechanisms being just three examples.

Talking of odd requests’, one stands out above all others. The woman posting the ‘want’ later reflected that she might have asked the moderation team before she posted the request. And we agreed – it did generate a lot of complaints. Whether she fancied herself as a second Damian Hirst, I don’t know, but her request for a dead horse didn’t go down well. I think it was for an art project, and we never found out whether she got one!

So farewell Royston Recycle – you have served us and the planet well. Long live re-use!

*Royston Recycle would have been called Royston Freecycle but for an error at the registration stage. This mistake proved to be fortuitous when, some years later, the founder of Freecycle in the USA tried to ‘stake a claim’ in each local group. We refused his demands and simply had to remove any freecycle branding without needing to change our name.

**Freegle is the UK version of freecycle – started in response to the attempted north American takeover.

Also reducing waste in Royston area…

Royston Repair Cafe http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Royston Free and For Sale Facebook Group  – https://www.facebook.com/groups/roystonfreeorforsale  [The local moderators of this group points out they allows things to be both given away for free and sold. Items given away may be later resold]

Royston Freegle group – https://www.ilovefreegle.org/explore/Royston-Freegle [The moderation team for this group are based in Stevenage. This group is only for rehoming items without any money changing hands]

Trash Nothing – Not so much a group but an easy way of interacting with a number of different freecycling/recycling groups https://trashnothing.com

My top tips for starting a Repair Café

I helped start the Royston Repair Café back in February 2014 which, at that time, was one of only 12 in the country. Since then we’ve organised 22 quarterly community repair events in Royston (in north Herts) and inspired a whole host of others in and around Cambridge. I’m pleased to say that interest in repair is spreading like wildfire, reflected in pieces on mainstream TV and radio. These days I get so many calls about starting Repair Cafes, I thought I’d put together my personal tips in case you’d like to start one in your area.

  1. Visit a couple of established Repair Cafes and ideally take along a broken item; there’s no better way to get a grasp of what it’s all about. Before planning the Royston Repair Cafe, I visited two very different ones – in London and Malvern. Organisers are usually happy to explain what’s going on, but it’s best to let them know in advance that you’re coming. Also look online for tips so you can ask useful questions when you meet organisers.
  2. Don’t get hung up on health and safety and insurance. Of course taking care is important, but people always imagine the worst possible scenario – someone taking a faulty item home after a ‘bad repair’ and then it (the item) burns the house down! It’s not a legal requirement to have insurance cover (but some venues require it) and the repair work at a public event is likely to be safer than a DIY job at home. Common sense is the best way to keep safe:
  • Make sure repairers work within the limits of their skills and, if necessary, get help from other repairers. We buddy up new repairers with more experienced ones to make sure everyone is happy about capabilities
  • Explain to owners that you are enthusiastic amateurs not paid professionals (also use a disclaimer – see below)
  • Don’t take on a major repair if you’re not happy to do so for any reason. We always say we’re a clinic not a hospital.
  1. Get advance bookings (we use Eventbrite for free online registrations) so you can let your repairers know what’s coming in (meaning your bike or clothing repairers don’t need to attend if no bikes or clothes are booked in). It also allows you to advise owners if any repair needs are unsuitable (for example, welding).
  2. Don’t offer appointment times as you never know whether a fix will take 5, 15 or 25 minutes. We are open for 3 hours and suggest that people don’t all come at the start nor 15 minutes before the end time. Depending on the items arriving and the repairers available with relevant skills, owners may need to wait – so tea and coffee, and tables and chairs are needed.
  3. Try to make sure your venue allows you to have repairs and waiting area in the same space. This means waiting owners can see what’s going on – that there’s a queue – and don’t feel they are being ignored. It also avoids any sense of ‘them and us’ – we’re not promoting ourselves as ‘experts’.
  4. If you’re having trouble recruiting repairers with relevant skills try contacting organisations that attract older members. Organisations like the University of the Third Age have members from a ‘make-do-and-mend’ generation – and skills to match – and they also may have more time on their hands. We recruited repairers through our local freecycle group (which we also run…)
  5. Encourage repairers to give a running commentary Owners are expected to stay with their items and the repairers while s/he assesses the problem and talks through any repairs undertaken. The idea is that the owner leaves knowing more about his/her item than when they arrived. Some Repair Cafes offer ‘skillshare’ sessions to teach DIY repair work.
  6. Encourage repairers to be honest about their abilities We aim to repair over 50% of items brought in for assessment. It’s disheartening to have a personal low fix rate, so make sure that repairers are, as far as possible, matched with broken items they are happy to work on. At our events the person booking in items on the day has a list of repairers with their skills listed to help the matching process.
  7. Make friends with your local professional repairers We want to stress that we are not about putting repairers (bike shops, shoe repairers etc) out of business. We produce a list of local repairers and their contact details and recommend them to Repair Café attenders as necessary.
  8. Talk to bookers in advance if there are things they need to bring/ do in advance Getting bookings in advance means that you can alert owners if they need to prepare for their visit eg by also bringing a monitor with their broken DVD player to test it if/when it’s fixed.
  9. Get owners to sign a ‘disclaimer’ when they arrive. We have a set of ‘rules’ that clarifies the relationship between owner and repairer. We ask the owners to read and sign this – it will not stand up in court but helps establish the amateur nature of our (voluntary) work.
  10. Do some market research You can test out the best times and days for running your events – with would-be attenders and potential repairers. We run four a year on Sunday mornings because that’s about the right frequency for our available repairers and people seem to be less busy on Sunday mornings. But many run on Saturdays…
  11. Get feedback We ask attenders to filling in a short series of questions when they leave and also record the success (or otherwise) of assessment and repair. This is useful for publicity, for reporting back to repairers, and useful if you ever need to make a grant application for running costs
  12. Invite donations We alert people in advance to the fact that the event is free, but we appreciate donations to cover insurance, venue hire, refreshments, consumables such as glues and fuses, publicity materials etc. We leave a clearly marked donations pot on the registration desk and often get very generous donations. If you build up a good pot of money you can develop a Repair Café Toolkit (but repairers tend to bring their own tools and seem happy to do so). Some Repair Cafes charge for teas, coffees and cakes as another way to raise funds.
  13. Don’t forget to include past attenders in your future publicity distribution Our Eventbrite online booking form (which goes live about 4 weeks before the event) captures e-mails but we ask people if they want to be mailed about future events when they register on the day. We mail past attenders about two weeks before the event and get a significant number of returning owners (when they’ve discovered how informal, fun and money-saving attendance can be!)

Saturday 19 October is International Repair Day – your chance to put repair on the map in your area https://openrepair.org/international-repair-day

For further information (including photos) go to www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe and for a guide to setting up a Repair Café (and repair events in and around Cambridge) go to www.circularcambridge.org (click on ‘resources’) Other blog posts on repair theme are at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/repairing-the-world