An Interview with Steve Jackson OBE

Steve Jackson OBE gives interview

Steve Jackson OBE, founder of Recycling Lives, Furniture Donation Network and

Since the recent launch of community dot-com projects, Bulky Waste and Furniture Donation Network, by Steve Jackson OBE of Recycling Lives, the company’s PR team has received numerous phone calls and emails from companies asking how they can get involved. These conversations have provided valuable feedback and an insight into the motivation of companies for whom national community dot-com projects present a unique opportunity.

In many cases, the questions raised have centred on the basis for community dot-com schemes and the reasons behind their development.

In order to give companies an insider look at these innovative new ventures, the Recycling Lives PR department has interviewed Steve

What gave you the inspiration to develop

When Recycling Lives started a collection service with the local authority in Preston, we expected to be collecting and processing almost 100% of the items we collected. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that more than 50% of the ‘waste’ was actually suitable to be redistributed to low-income households for reuse.

I was actually shocked by how much reusable furniture had just been sent to landfill in the past and I realised that, if this was happening in the Preston area, it was probably happening elsewhere, too. With my background being in recycling and internet development, creating an online platform that every household in the UK would be able to use was an ideal solution. We’d be able to intercept thousands of unwanted items a year before they got to landfill and help people on a lower income, as well as any number of charities across the country, at the same time.

It’s the question a lot of people are going to ask: what’s in it for you?

It’s quite strange that no one seems to question the highly paid employees of well known charities, housing associations and local authorities, whereas business owners and entrepreneurs are. The government and media have focused heavily on social responsibility and Big Society projects over the last year or so and yet, when a business is run in a socially responsible way, the immediate reaction is suspicion!

The answer’s quite simple. I’ve got the desire and the ability to develop new solutions to old problems and I strongly believe that it’s possible to create commercially viable projects with socially responsible outcomes. Recycling Lives has already established itself as a successful social welfare organisation and a strong business that wins commercial contracts with other companies, partly because of our excellent CSR agenda. Winning a Queen’s Award in our first year goes to show that we’re obviously doing something right.

In the current financial climate, we’ve not been able to build new centres as fast as I would have liked. These nationwide ventures are a way for us to develop a nationally recognised brand and develop relationships with other organisations that share our ethos. Bulky Waste and Furniture Donation Network are examples of how you can create opportunities for good causes while providing a cheaper solution to a problem facing many households across the UK.

When you say that this will help other charities, what do you mean?

There’s no way Recycling Lives can service every household in the country, and it shouldn’t try to. There are hundreds of great social enterprises and charities across the UK that already accept furniture donations, which they either sell for revenue or re-distribute to local people on low incomes. By working with these charities and encouraging them to pick up bulky waste items regardless of condition, we can actually help make these charities more sustainable.

What happens if one of these charities picks up an item that’s literally just rubbish?

That’s the good thing about because there’s a small collection charge, usually around £28.00 for the first three items, the charity making the collection will always receive enough money to cover their costs and will actually make a profit on the service it’s delivering. If it can reuse the bulky waste, then that’s a bonus.

But what about the cost to charities when they have to get rid of non-viable items?

That’s another great thing about the Bulky Waste project. Most charities aren’t charged by their local authorities to get rid of locally collected waste, so their waste disposal is completely free.

Some people are asking why householders should pay to get rid of their waste. What are your thoughts on that?

In the past, many UK local authorities were able to provide free bulky waste collections as part of their standard waste collection service. In recent years, most areas have had to start charging for bulky waste collections, particularly since government cuts started to take effect in 2011. Very few local authorities are actually able to make bulky waste collections without charging a fee to cover their costs.

The Bulky Waste community dot-com charges a small fee to cover costs and ensure that the service is viable for charity collection partners. Householders now have a choice between paying their council to collect their waste and in most cases, watching it get thrown in the back of a bin wagon and sent to the tip- or paying a local charity to collect it via the Bulky Waste scheme and help them to continue their good work.

You said that a large number of the items you collected in Preston were suitable for re-use. Is it fair to ask people to pay to get items like that removed?

The short answer to that is no, and that’s what prompted me to develop the Furniture Donation Network scheme to complement Bulky Waste. If customers have items of unwanted furniture that are in very good condition, they can donate them to Furniture Donation Network. This sister site uses the same charity collection partner network across the UK to remove furniture items from the customer’s home at no cost. The only thing we ask is that any items have the necessary fire safety labels and really are in a very good condition, so we can guarantee that they can be reused.

What’s to stop homeowners using Furniture Donation Network to get a free tip for their bulky waste?

Unfortunately, this is a problem faced by many charities across the UK – since councils have introduced charges for their waste collection services, some individuals have ‘donated’ their waste to charities to avoid having to dispose of it responsibly.

We protect charities who are members of Furniture Donation Network by charging a small refundable booking fee when a customer arranges a collection. If the items are in a very good condition, as stated by customer at the time of booking, then the fee is refunded within 24 hours. If the items are damaged or unsuitable for re-use, however, the fee is kept to cover the charity collection partner’s costs. We don’t want to have to charge for the service, but we do have a responsibility to protect our charity partners.

How do you make sure that the furniture you collect benefits the people who need it?

At the moment, Recycling Lives is busy developing a network of registered charity and social enterprise collection partners across the UK. These organisations objectives are either to redistribute furniture to low income households within their locality – as is the case with Gift 92 – or to sell the items that they collect in order to create revenue, like British Heart Foundation. Our interview and registration process ensures that we have a reliable network of partners who make sure that the furniture they receive has real and direct benefits for the people they help.

What other similar types of service have you come across?

We’ve not come across any services that provide an online booking platform in the same way that and do, but there are still some great examples of localised services across the UK. One of my favourites is Bulky Bob’s, who are part of the FRC Group. You only have to look at their main welcome message, which is “FRC Group runs businesses that create profits and opportunities to transform the lives of people living in poverty and unemployment” How fantastic! I couldn’t have described the Recycling Lives ethos better myself, so good luck to them.

You obviously like the service provided by Bulky Bob’s, so what makes them stand out to you?

It’s not that they stand out as such: there are lots of great examples of locally run services across the country. Bulky Bob’s just seem to share a lot of our core values when it comes to thinking commercially and being proactive to create a positive impact on social welfare.

What does the future hold for you and for your community dot-com projects?

I genuinely believe that these community dot-com schemes are the way forward, not just for Recycling Lives, but also for the many other charities and social enterprises that work with us. Corporate businesses do need to think commercially but they have to start enhancing their corporate social responsibility by becoming more charity-focused. Charities need to think about sustainability and become more commercially-minded. The two sectors have a lot to learn from each other.