As decision makers across the globe try to come up with environmental initiatives, one pioneering Derry project has become a beacon of light in a world many fear is now drowning in waste.
For the past five years, the 4Rs project in Pennyburn has been taking unwanted and discarded rubbish and upcycling it before selling it on.
And the social enterprise initiative has also trained up hundreds of local people in the process, among them school leavers, those who can’t find work and those with disabilities.
They are doing this via both the 4Rs and Active Inclusion projects, with tailored and accredited programmes that maximise the participants’ chances of gaining employment and helping equip them with the confidence to excel in their work.
The workshops and New 2 You furniture shop, which is open to the public Monday to Friday, are located at the recently revamped Pennyburn Amenity site.
Describing how the initiative came about, Joe Brolly, Manager of the 4Rs project, said: “It was developed in 2013 as a partnership between the local council and the Resource Centre, Derry. The idea was developed by the council out of an EU Directive and the council came up with the idea that a social enterprise was the best way forward. Any money earned from the social enterprise is put back into the business to help develop it.
“We come under the heading of 4Rs and the project is based around the reduction of landfill and recycling and within that to develop training for people who are long term unemployed, people with disabilities and people who need to do work placement or volunteer for a variety of reasons.
“We would have Trust referrals, self-referrals, young people leaving school or the North West Regional College and also people hear about it by word of mouth.
“We are looking at the social needs of people and environmental needs of the area. We identify stuff that comes in through the Derry City & Strabane District Council Amenity sites Recycling Centres and we get a lot of donations, people ringing us up and we would collect the furniture.”
The first thing the team does is to weigh the item of furniture, which is normally being diverted from landfill. These records are then passed on to the NI Environment Agency, including serial numbers of white goods. “Then we assess the furniture, resell it, restore it, or recycle it, and we re-skill the people here so that’s where the four ‘R’s comes into it,” Joe said.
In fact the team has been so proactive they are recycling up to 200 tonnes of furniture a year, much of which may have ended in landfill. Projects undertaken can be anything from coffee tables to pianos, washing machines to bed frames.
And the project has proved so successful, other areas have been looking at establishing similar schemes. “We have had every council form Northern Ireland and a lot from southern Ireland visiting us to look at the concept of it all and how it works; how they can replicate it within their council areas,” Joe said.
Over the five years the project has been going, full-time staff numbers have grown from three in 2013 to 10 today, with around 90 people a year being upskilled for anything between six months and a year and even beyond.
“They come in and do an induction and we develop a personal plan. We look at a career path that suits their needs and then we design accredited training around their needs. We look at the skill set they have and what jobs are available, what they need to become employable and look at areas such as filling in applications, learning to drive, going on to do their essential skills,” Joe added.
Colette Coyle, Active Inclusion Programme Manager, said it was not just the practical skills that they were interested in developing.
“We look at other things too such as confidence building exercises.”
The Active Inclusion Programme is open to those who are not in full-time education or who work less than 16 hours, and who identify as having a disability, while the 4Rs programme is open to a wider range of people, including those who just want to volunteer for a day or weekly.
Joe said the project has proved beneficial for people, including those who lives by themselves or find themselves widowed, or who may have anxiety or depression.
The two projects are currently looking at other funding strands to look at more holistic initiatives which would allow for participants to address issues that may be affecting them, for example in relation to mental health and anxiety.
They also run a Cook IT! programme teaching people about nutrition and how to cook fresh food on a budget. The joiners at the centre have built a new shed/ greenhouse from scratch, and those enrolled are growing produce such as tomatoes, beetroot, onions and lettuce, which will eventually make it into the kitchens of the Cook IT! programme.
Colette has also developed a health and well being programme centred around walking, in conjunction with a programme the Western Trust runs. This involves a booklet the Trust have created for people with learning disabilities to help them get into walking. “Those taking part fill in the booklet, and we provide the pedometers.
“What we are doing is linking in with different organisations like the Trust and community groups, so that we can help provide for the participants on any issues they feel they have - whether they are on Active Inclusion programme or the 4Rs programme - any help they feel they could benefit from.
“People feel they can come and tell you what they need, whereas if it was somewhere a bit more pressurised they might not,” Joe added.
And the team at the helm of the project have noticed a marked improvement in the confidence levels and skills of those who have been through the project to date.
“We have had people who say even after they finish up on the programme that they like the environment, or the sense of routine, and it gives them a sense of self-worth as well,” Joe said.
The New 2 You shop at Pennyburn Industrial Estate is open to the public Monday to Thursday 9am to 4.30pm and Friday 9am to 4pm.