Cities Team Researcher
Waste is a climate issue due to the emissions caused in manufacturing products that are then thrown away, and due to the methane gases released at landfill sites.
Pembrokeshire County Council’s share, repair and reuse network cuts waste and benefits local communities. It was launched in March 2021 and has three key elements.
Eleven repair cafes spread across the county where volunteers fix broken items for free. Each cafe has its own specialism from bikes to textiles. This work is supported by Repair Cafe Wales, a community interest company expanding the repair cafe concept across the country.
A Library of Things in Haverfordwest, launched online in March 2021 and as a physical venue in November 2021. The service lets residents borrow a range of items at a low cost. People can browse what’s available online, from lawnmowers and children’s games to clothes for special occasions. The centre is supported by Benthyg Cymru, the Welsh Library of Things champion.
A series of re-manufacture workshops that takes unwanted broken or outdated objects that would otherwise go to landfill, repairs and upcycles them, then sells them to make money for local charities.
On top of this, Pembrokeshire has an impressive recycling rate of 72% for 2019/2020 – the highest in Wales – making for a truly comprehensive approach to reducing consumption and waste in the county.
The council’s work on reducing waste and promoting a culture of reuse and repair has been designed to create wide-ranging social benefits, particularly for vulnerable community members including those with disabilities, poor health or on low incomes.
Providing skills training
The reuse and repair network is led by Norman Industries, a supported business run by and part of Pembrokeshire County Council. Norman Industries offers paid work, training and work experience for people with physical, sensory or learning disabilities, mental ill health, and work-limiting health conditions. It employs more than 60 people. By delivering the various schemes through Norman Industries, the council is simultaneously promoting its green agenda and opportunities for people who face barriers to work.
The items upcycled by Norman Industries employees and volunteers in the workshops will be sold at Paul Sartori shops. Paul Sartori is a charity that offers free at-home nursing and medical care for people with life-limiting illnesses, and with whom the council has a close working relationship.
The council also has a thriving partnership with Pembrokeshire FRAME, a supported employment charity similar to Norman Industries. FRAME provides reuse and reduce operations, and helps disadvantaged people learn job skills, from collection of used furniture and household goods through to marketing and delivery services. FRAME is dedicated to easing poverty in rural communities.
The reuse and repair network was not fully active in its first months due to coronavirus restrictions in place in Wales from April to June, which stopped people from meeting physically. Despite this, as of November 2021:
Items repaired may otherwise have been thrown away and new items bought adding to waste and expense. The services provided through the network have been particularly important for residents living in deprived wards who are able to get items fixed without great expense.
Awareness of the circular economy has spread amongst the general public and partner organisations. Residents are very enthusiastic about the network, feeding back positively and offering their own ideas – for example, suggesting which items they would want to borrow from the library of things. The council’s reputation has already been boosted by the project, and it hopes to see this effect snowball as more people hear about the activities.
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Supportive national policies
The Welsh Government is aspiring to be a world leader on the circular economy, and a zero-waste nation by 2050. In 2019 it published its Towards Zero Waste strategy, which was followed by the Beyond Recycling strategy in March 2021.
Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the Welsh Government made £43m available for its circular economy fund. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 also provided a useful legislative framework for council officers to work within. Pembrokeshire’s efforts are part of a nationwide vision that is a source of Welsh civic pride.
Cross-party political support
On a very politically mixed council, officers have received collaborative, universal support from councillors who are all fully on board.
Making a comprehensive package of repair and reuse options available in Pembrokeshire has required the co-operation of many partners. Apart from those already mentioned, other partners include: Pembrokeshire College, Clynfyw Care Farm, TYF St Davids, Grwp Resilience and Scolton Manor.
Making this partnership community-led and not top-down has generated massive rewards. The council drew upon familiar and established relationships but did not limit itself to these default partners. At the outset it issued an open call, inviting any group to reach out about taking part.
Consequently, the eventual list of partners was more diverse. Each willingly engaged out of a genuine passion for the project, which elevated its ambition and creativity.
Freedom to experiment
The nature of the Welsh Government funding and attitude of councillors meant that there was little red tape or bureaucratic criteria to work around, giving council officers and their partners rare space to explore unusual ideas. This freedom has given partners a new confidence in their ability to deliver and has inspired a range of new work, with and beyond the council, that would not have occurred otherwise.
For example, Pembrokeshire College has established its own repair workshop as a result of its involvement in the network. The college is a long-time council partner, but the project has improved this relationship.
The share, repair and reuse network emerged out of Pembrokeshire County Council’s work around supported employment rather than the climate and environmental agenda, but the two have melded together smoothly.
Alone, the social care team or the waste and recycling team could not have delivered this multifaceted project. By avoiding departmental silos, the council has been able to leverage a single funding stream (circular economy funding) to achieve multiple objectives.
A proven business model
Joined-up thinking made the project financially viable. Pembrokeshire has a tried and tested model for all its supported employment work. Every project has an income generating main element, which is then paired with a non-income generating element run alongside it.
The Library of Things is a key example. As a standalone enterprise the library would not function, because the income it generates is not substantial. Instead, the library has been combined with a community cafe in one town centre shop unit. The cafe’s income covers the operational costs of the library that is housed in the same space.
The Pembrokeshire scheme has been financed by a £605k grant from the Welsh Government under its circular economy programme. This came with the challenge of a short-term deadline for launching the scheme, with funding having to be spent in a small space of time.
Initial discussions began in November 2020 and the network launched in March 2021. The condensed five-month timeline from conception to launch was the biggest challenge for Pembrokeshire. However, it was also a catalyst, forcing the team to focus and enabling them to make quick decisions without having to jump through the ordinary hoops associated with extended project timescales.
A group of 25 to 30 individuals, with varying levels of input, from the council and its partner organisations were closely involved in planning and delivery during this period. Within the council, multiple teams across leisure, regeneration, waste and recycling, education and social care have worked together.
The digital aspect
The share, repair and reuse network relies on a digital platform and a database to function, especially the online catalogue for the library of things. Pembrokeshire College set up the catalogue for the council, also receiving help from Benthyg Cymru and Repair Café Wales to manage the digital side of things.
Social media has been important in raising awareness. At the beginning, the council’s social media posts about the project were averaging 500 engagements per post. By November 2021, engagements had reached up to 6,000 per post, showing significant growth in interest. This is thanks to Pembrokeshire College students and members of the Norman Industries supported employment team, who have run the digital marketing on the council’s behalf.
To benefit as many people as possible, the council has ensured that all elements of the network are available in accessible locations. The library of things is located right next to the bus station in Haverfordwest, for instance. The repair cafes take place across the county so that the whole Pembrokeshire community can benefit.
There is no set end date for the network, but some elements of the Pembrokeshire project are more financially sustainable than others. Some third-sector partners will be dependent on successful funding applications to continue participating. The council has mitigated this by embedding the project within the council’s ongoing supported employment programme, extending its lifecycle. All three parts of the network are currently sustainable due to a combination of income-generation, volunteer time, and access-to-work funding. In future, the council will seek additional funding should it wish to expand the network.
To avoid the whims of short funding-cycles, other councils should think about tying community sharing projects to a bigger programme of council work to make them long-term instead of short-term.
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