Homeaid – for Reusing, not Just Recycling

“We got duvets and blankets from a hotel in Edinburgh when they were being kitted out. And we got discontinued wallpaper and ex exhibition carpeting from the SECC.”

This Aladdin’s cave of goodies for the house, that West Lothian’s Homeaid’s manager Jackie Agnew has on display, would be the envy of many a young couple who are starting to furnish their first home. And that is exactly what it’s for.

Homeaid began twenty years ago in Bathgate, the brainchild of Alison Hosack, who wanted to reuse furniture that was no longer wanted but perfectly serviceable. There are all sorts of reasons why people have to start a new home with next to nothing, be they people escaping violent partners, or someone whose house has burnt to the ground and who had no insurance. Whatever the reason, these people are in urgent need of basic furniture items and Alison’s plan was to pass on surplus items which would otherwise have gone to the tip.

Over the years, the project has mushroomed, as more and more people want to take part. Back in the good old days, the Social Work service provided a van and Community Service would collect items and pass them on immediately. They had nowhere to store and inspect the goods until premises became available in the basement of the flats in Marjoribanks Street. Today, the project is classed as a Social Enterprise and has seven full-time employees and six working volunteers, run by a Management Committee.

Homeaid goods

JackieFunding Boost
Jackie Agnew has seen the project grow from its hopeful beginnings. “I started out as a volunteer in the Toy Shop when my own children were small,” Jackie says. “When I came, it was to help people who needed help.” Jackie became more involved and recalls when news of the first tranch of funding came through originally. “Who’s going to run it?” she wondered. The answer was obvious. “You, Jackie!” With administrative back-up from Voluntary Action, Jackie jumped at the chance.

In 1999, the project received another boost with lottery funding which paid for three more staff, including an electrician who could check and certify

electrical equipment, a driver and a van porter. This funding was only to last for three years and Jackie wanted to ensure that the project would not collapse when the money ran out. She began to sell surplus items from the store and, as hoped, the profits were enough to cover the wages when the money ran out.

Those who can, are asked if they can pay something towards the cost of the goods they receive. It might be just £5 or £20, but it all helps. Meanwhile, householders who simply want to replace furniture, are also using the service, but paying a more generous amount. “We are very happy for anyone to come and buy here,” Jackie says. “The money is always useful.”

As well as providing a service for homeless people, the Homeaid project plays an enormous role in recycling and keeping perfectly good equipment out of landfill. In today’s time of concerns about disposable fashion items and the dumping problems they create, re-using (as opposed to recycling, when items are broken down and made into something else) has never been less practised but more important.

Homeaid Van

But some items are old-fashioned and too big and bulky for today’s neat, modern houses. Others are too old to have fire certificates and these can not be sold or passed on. Enter the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Oregon. This international charity has long been involved in recycling clothes and furniture to the poor and in 2000, Jackie met Terry McDonald, who works for an American branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Eugene, Oregon. The town is only sixty years old and many of the inhabitants actually want ‘old-fashioned’ furniture to give them a sense of history. Furniture in America does not (yet) have to pass such stringent fire standards and so, despite the £3000 cost of shipping, Jackie is able to send a container every month. The profit is split and Jackie receives a cheque for between £500 and £1500 each time. Not only is the work lucrative, it keeps tonnes of items out of landfill.

Recently, Homeaid received another tranche of lottery money under the ‘transforming waste’ scheme and used this to move into and modernise the former Chieftain Forge premises in Gideon Street, Bathgate.

Jackie in the Homeaid showroom

The statistics speak for themselves. In the last 10 years, Homeaid has diverted 6500 tonnes of furniture from landfill. They have processed 7725 referrals from over 50 referring agencies and their furniture has helped 10,700 people. In the last 2 years, Homeaid has collected 754 tonnes of furniture from 6014 households. Of this, 166 tonnes has gone to St Vincent de Paul Society in Oregon, 220 tonnes has been recycled to the Sustain project, 222 tonnes has been provided to those in need and 101 tonnes have been recycled as chippings or rags.

The balance of 45 tonnes has been sold through the shop or through the Council’s Thrift Shop, which they hire for one week every month. “The things we always need are electrical equipment,” Jackie says. “We can’t afford to repair items that aren’t working, although we can sometimes cannibalise them for repairs.”

West Lothian’s Homeaid is part of the Community Recycling Network for Scotland. Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian all have similar schemes.

But beggars can, it seems be choosers and some items can’t sell or be given away. A dining table without matching chairs, for example, will be turned away by both Homeaid and the numerous charity shops in Bathgate. In this case, if you have something to get rid of and you want to keep it out of landfill, you can try Freecycle. This organisation is an internet based web site which was set up specifically to keep things out of landfill. Members can post items they wish to get rid of and also items they would like. There are groups all over the country and no one knows how much tonnage they rescue.

freecycle logo

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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