Gorbals Recycles logo

Gorbals Recycles

Gorbals Recycles is a community-led social enterprise with an environmental focus. It is made up of local people and provides meaningful and worthwhile volunteering opportunities, work experience and access to free training courses for adults. The project is based in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. 

Gorbals Recycles

What are the aims and objectives?

The aims of the project are to raise awareness about environmental issues by providing opportunities for people to reuse, reduce and recycle their domestic waste. The project does so by providing a range of services and creating training and volunteering opportunities for local residents. 

Additionally the project aims to divert as much domestic waste from landfill as possible while providing high quality services and products for sale to local people. Furthermore, the project works to assist the volunteers in becoming ‘work ready’ and to have the confidence to apply for jobs or educational opportunities. 

Who are the participants and the partners?

Based in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, the project engages with the long term unemployed, homeless people moving into accommodation, individuals and families in need of emergency housing support (e.g. clothing, furniture, etc) and refugees and asylum seekers in the local area. Employing ten members of staff and supporting up to 50 volunteers per year in training and work experience placements, volunteers engage and work with the project for as long as they feel they need to on an individual basis.

The project works in partnership with a number of local and government agencies to provide volunteer and work placements. Partners include the WISE Group, Glasgow South East Regeneration Agency, Valuing Volunteers, Glasgow Volunteer Centre, Apex, and the Scottish Community Training Foundation. The project, which comprises two charity shops and a bicycle workshop and showroom, is funded by the BIG Lottery. 

The project is managed by a Board of Directors made up of local community residents and skilled people.

Why was the project set up? How has the approach changed over time?

In April 2004 a group of local people came together at a community consultation event. They formed a steering group to tackle issues related to the lack of recycling facilities in the area. The group quickly developed in to a Board and the Gorbals Recycles Project was established. Initially working with Glasgow City Council and the local housing associations, the project initiated the first blue recycling bins to be introduced in the Gorbals. Links were subsequently made with local primary schools in relation to recycling initiatives and a learning pilot project took part with one of the local schools. The need to provide a charity shop was identified through a community consultation event. In January 2007, the post of project coordinator was developed to oversee refurbishment of a property and to develop future services of the project.

The project now has three retail outlets across the city. In January 2008, the Gorbals Recycles Project successfully accessed three years funding from the BIG Lottery for the running of a charity shop and bicycle workshop. In October 2009, additional premises were secured in the Saltmarket area of the city and a charity shop, Market on the Green, was opened the following month. The original project premises were given over to accommodate Re-spoke Cycles, due to the increasing demand for bicycle sales and repairs. In May 2011 a second charity shop, New to You, was opened due to an increasing demand for furniture.

Re-spoke Cycles is based in the Gorbals area of Glasgow and offers a large selection of refurbished bicycles for sale, for both adults and children and a full range of accessories and parts. Fully qualified staff provide a repair service and custom build bikes.

Market on the Green, located at Saltmarket area of the Glasgow, provides a range of goods at low cost including quality clothing and accessories. The shop also sells furniture, household goods, bedding, curtains, books, toys, games, and nursery equipment.

Based in the heart of Partick in Glasgow, New To You, stocks a range of furniture at extremely competitive prices. The shop also provides a ‘fresh start package’ for people on a low budget who are finding it difficult to furnish a new home.

The project continues to evolve due to local demand, the diversity of the people involved and the developing skills and ideas of individuals.

“Prosperity and skills from throw away goods.

What does the project do?

Gorbals Recycles provides volunteering opportunities for between 15 and 30 volunteers at any one time with a range of free training, both certified and un-certified, available to all volunteers. Training the volunteers both assists with the running of operations and improves their skills and confidence. Areas of volunteering available within the project include bicycle mechanics, customer services, handling and sorting, sales and marketing and delivery and collections. The area of volunteering for each person is decided on a case-by-case basis reflecting the skills, confidence and language abilities of the individual.

Accepting donations from all areas of Glasgow, services provided by the project include; the sale of furniture at a low cost with low delivery costs (£5 maximum), the sale of bikes at a low cost, the sale of good quality clothing, emergency packages for families and individuals in immediate need, and a free bicycle repair service for children. The project also holds a number of community events throughout the year as well as volunteer events and day trips. 

The project generates income from the scrap value of non-saleable stock and by hiring out furniture and props to local groups. Scrap metal is also sold and there is a small charge for house clearances and removals. All money generated goes back into the project to improve services and support the free children’s bicycle repair scheme, which allows children from low income families to keep active.

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

The project works to provide a range of volunteering and work experience positions for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, against a backdrop of environmental protection and recycling. Gorbals Recycles strives to accommodate all levels of skills and time commitments. The project works with people and helps them to identify and focus on the assets and strengths within themselves and their local communities, and supports them to use these assets to make sustainable improvements in their lives. It is a project run “by the community, for the community”. 

The project utilises the existing skills and abilities of volunteers to place them in suitable voluntary positions and supports them to develop their potential. For example, a new volunteer with experience of working in a furniture store was placed in furniture deliveries and is passing his skills to other young male volunteers. 

“It gives me personal fulfilment.” 

Volunteers report improved confidence, self esteem, the development of new skills, knowledge and certified training leading to better CVs, and valuable work experience leading to improved chances of employment. The project invests in participants as active citizens and encourages them to support their local community and to get involved.

How has success been measured?

A retrospective internal evaluation was carried out in September 2011. This evaluation focused on service users, volunteers, work placement staff and the project finances. All staff and volunteers were integral to the evaluation process. A range of customer surveys, surveys with partner agencies and a staff/volunteer skills audit were also carried out.

The level of recycling is monitored and measured via collection sheets which state the number and type of donations received and the weight of the goods being diverted from landfill. 

What are the strengths and challenges? 

Gorbals Recycles provides meaningful and worthwhile volunteering opportunities, work experience and access to free training courses for people from the local community. The project provides structure and purpose to daily life for many volunteers, especially for the large number of young people involved with the project. Project involvement is participant led. Participants are able to select the area of the business within which they would like to work (bike shop repairs, customer services, sorting, cash handling, etc) with movement into other areas when they feel comfortable and confident. The certified and un-certified training courses are employment oriented and participants also gain real life retail employment and transferable skills.

By the end of 2010, the project had recruited a total of 157 volunteers to positions within the project. A good success rate of people moving in to employment, training and further education was reported. Two young volunteers moved into full time paid employment with the project with the support of funding from the Commonwealth Fund. During 2010, the project also provided low cost or free furniture packages to refugee or asylum seeker families, assisted local households and, following a fatal multi-storey fire in December 2009, provided 77 affected families with clothing and acted as a point of distribution. Finally during 2010, the project facilitated the reuse of goods including 480 bicycles, 908 metric tonnes of furniture, 35 metric tonnes of books and nine metric tonnes of toys and gym equipment. During 2011, the project prevented 1,238 metric tonnes of waste from going to landfill.

“If this wasn’t here I don’t know where I’d be. It’s given me a real boost.”

The project has shown positive effects on mental health and in supporting people to overcome isolation and maintain addiction free status. 

The project highlighted the ongoing dependence on short term funding and the associated need to continue searching for new funding opportunities as a major challenge. The complexity of funding application forms and the eligibility criteria were also seen to be constraints. In addition, the changing welfare system and the need for clear, user friendly information on how working and volunteering affect benefits entitlement were also raised.

The clear need to develop better marketing tools was highlighted as an immediate challenge for the project as both sales and donations are down presently. Also, due to financial constraints, the project has been forced to limit the training opportunities it offers to those training courses which can be delivered in-house by project staff.

At a personal level, staff stated that the project was “more than just a job” and that great personal fulfilment was gained from being able to support people in difficult circumstances and to see these people gain skills and confidence in their abilities.

On the other hand staff reflected that the work was highly stressful and pressured at times. A particular difficulty was experienced in balancing the business side of the project with the human side in working with a team of staff and volunteers, each of whom have a level of reliance on the project.

Project volunteers praised the supportive and inclusive nature of the Gorbals Recycles approach.  They particularly valued the project’s support to move at their own speed and take one step at a time.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  recycling (in environment), social capital, poverty, economic participation