“It’s not waste, it’s just stuff in the wrong place”
This is the motto of Peterborough Reuse, an upcycling impact venture based in one of the workshops at Allia Future Business Centre Peterborough, whose team turn unwanted items into a wide range of environmental, functional and fashionable products.
Pav Patel set up the impact venture in 2014, driven by a desire to give back to the city that has been his home since he arrived in Peterborough as a Ugandan Asian refugee in 1972. ‘I want to help make the city greener and better for everyone, to help others’ said Pav, who also runs his own successful IT Communications business One Source Communications.
In order to achieve its goals, Peterborough Reuse support and are supported by, a number of other businesses, charities, organisations and good causes in Peterborough, including Allia Future Business Centre and Opportunity Peterborough.
The first part of the process is collecting and cleaning the recycled materials, Pav estimates that around 30,000 coffee sacks have been saved from landfill, cleaned and processed already. They are then sent out to be cut. In order to process so many bags, Pav knew he needed help. He runs the enterprise in his spare time, and needed to keep the overheads low.
That’s when he came into contact with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Probation Trust. The probation service help offenders and ex-offenders to complete their community service & under supervision work, but it’s not always easy to find suitable work which meets the criteria.
‘The probation service needed to source community work and we needed help. We take the sacks to them, they cut the patterns for us, and then we can use the cut materials to continue the recycling process, and to help train and employ our team of seamstresses.’ Says Pav.
That team of seamsters and seamstresses is made up predominantly of recent migrants, stay-at-home parents and long-term unemployed.
‘We work with the job centre and college, and run free in the community to teach sewing to long-term unemployed. We help them learn new skills and then we offer them a chance to work for us, part-time, in their own homes.’
‘It’s about engagement. It gives them confidence, it gives them some control over their lives, and it gives them some money in their pockets.’
The team help to turn coffee sacks into useful items, like handbags, coasters and seasonal items.
‘The aim is to leave as little waste as possible, so we are always trying to think of new things to do with the off-cuts. Last Easter we made bunnies which can be filled with chocolates or treats and given as gifts, and they’re reusable so you can keep them for next year’
So far, Pav estimates that around 48 people have been taught to sew, or helped to improve their abilities through Peterborough Reuse’s classes, of those who have completed the class, 14 are currently employed to create the products. Long-term, Pav hopes to support more organisations and help more vulnerable people into employment, and wants to grow his workshop at Allia Future Business Centre, which he says has been a godsend.
‘The space here has allowed us to keep everything in one place, we used to have one type of sack in one building, another kind somewhere else, we spent so much time driving around, it’s not good for the environment either. Now it’s all together, it’s central, it’s so much easier. We can even print custom designs on the bags in the Innovation Lab.’
Pav dreams of turning his workshop at Allia Future Business Centre into a space that people in Peterborough can come to with their old, broken or worn items, to see them upcycled by a skilled set of seamsters, seamstresses and technicians while they enjoy a coffee in the centre’s café. There are also long term goals to teach the courses from this central base, so that the team can develop better knowledge and new skills.
‘We want to teach more and more skills, and if one of the students gets to a point where he or she wants to go off and set up their own shop, well that’s great!’
The whole venture is very personal with each finished product receiving its own tag, signed by the seamstress who put it together, and even that is recyclable, with a ‘please tear here’ line and instructions to keep it as a bookmark. Emblazoned on the tag is the Peterborough Reuse logo, a cog.
‘There are so many fantastic people and organisations in Peterborough, who want to help people, who want to protect the environment, who want to do good. But it’s hard to do it on your own, you might have a great idea, but without the means or support to do it, it never comes off. Or maybe something comes up in your own life and whatever your cause, it sort of goes on the back burner. It’s not a bad thing, but we wanted to help. We decided that if we were going to do this, we would have to be the cog, we would try to hold everything together, link up organisations and people that were trying to do something good, but needed a bit of help. We reuse all sorts of items, from shop fittings to the coffee sacks, and we’re always looking for organisations who need projects or want to help the environment.’
The enterprise has won two awards, a The Peterborough Environment City Trust Green Award and a highly commended in the Peterborough Telegraph Environmental Achievement Award category.
More recently Peterborough Reuse has expanded into selling products on the TV channel Hochanda, channel 663 on SKY, dedicated to crafters. It sells a range of products as flat pack items for crafters to purchase and make the bags themselves; the packs include instructions and all the material all cut out. Peterborough Reuse has sold over 3,000 items and the channel are loving the story of rescuing old coffee sacks from landfill.
Peterborough Reuse have partnered with HMP Lowdham Grange Prison near Nottingham, a category B training prison for male adults. Pav said: “We supply the Prison with pallet loads of cleaned coffee sacks and then send us back beautiful cushions! Two sizes are available, these have been an amazing product; we simply cannot get them out fast enough.”