Imagine a charity that could radically improve and change the lives of the homeless. Not only providing them with aid and a roof over their heads, but equipping them with the skills to become employable once more. A completely self-sustained organisation that provided everything that a homeless person needed to get back into the workplace.
After inheriting a small scrap metal business, that’s exactly what Steve Jackson set about doing.
He started Recycling Lives two years ago, and together with his uncle Charles has turned it into a multi-million pound recycling business with a standard of excellence and planned expansion over the next 10 years. It offers a full programme of education, health and employment, all housed within a modern site near Moor Park.
I visit the integrated warehouse to meet Edward Archer, Recycling Lives Community Manager, who’s responsible for the day to day running of the charity as well as organising work placements for the residents. His slightly intimidating exterior of several tattoos and a well built frame belie someone who’s instantly approachable, and whose involvement in working with the homeless stretches back 26 years. Having previously worked with the homeless charity Emmaus, Archer was brought to Recycling Lives in order to implement policy and develop strategies for the charity arm of the company.
“What we’re trying to do is get people back into independent living. We do budgeting skills with our residents, and anything that would equip them for the transition into independent living. What we also do (which is very unique) is readying our residents to get back into the workplace. Hopefully at the end of their stay here they’ll have a full time job.”
He tells me this while sitting on a plush sofa in the staff and residents rec room. We’re surrounded by a pool table, a widescreen television and spotless kitchen which is cleaned by residents and workers alike. The idea of eating communally and helping each other out is very key to the social ethos of Recycling Lives; every mealtime is taken at the long table, and everyone mucks in with the washing up.
As well as games and entertainment rooms, the Recycling Lives complex houses small businesses, full accommodation for the residents with ensuite toilets and bathrooms, as well as the main recycling warehouse. The gargantuan structure dwarfs the surrounding buildings; the fact that all amenities and services are available to residents onsite is a terrific boon, and leads residents to complete the path to independent living and employment over a set period. Archer thinks that homeless people in the UK are viewed very negatively, and that it’s key to break down the development of a homeless person into several stages.
“There are different homeless organisations that will have input at different stages in the development and transition of an individual. From the chaotic end, we have organisations like the Foxton Centre who will specialise with that. We specialise at a different end of the transitional process. When they’ve come through the chaotic part and progressed onto Fox Street Community (who provide accommodation), and finally when they think they’re ready for employment, that’s the stage when we engage with them.”
Archer also takes me for a tour around the building, walking around the modern corridors and spruced flooring. He ushers me into a weights room which was built from scratch by one of the residents. Having been out of his prison for much of his youth, Archer explains, it was really important that the resident embarked on a totally independent project. He worked on restoring old weights until they were usable again, creating another area of recreation for the rest of the Recycling Lives community. Giving homeless people back their sense of pride and achievement is very important, asserts Archer.
Since opening their doors they’ve had 12 people successfully complete the program and go into work. Residents are either given the option of joining one of Recycling Lives’ small business partners (who benefit from discounted rental space if they take on a resident), within the commercial entity of Recycling Lives itself, or through an external organisation like the Job Centre.
As part of his work, Archer also spends a lot of time reaching out into the community, spreading work about Recycling Lives and inviting potential residents back to the building to have a look around.
“It’s all well and good me going out there and giving a presentation, but to give a full flavour of what we’re about it’s about coming here and seeing what we’re about in action. I know there isn’t a lot of action at the moment, but that’s because everyone is on placement!” he says, laughing.
The rapid ascent of Recycling Lives shows that philanthropic organisations can achieve success in a very short space of time if the ideas are unique and well implemented. As Archer shows me round one of the residents’ self-contained rooms, I spot several certificates of achievement proudly pinned to the wall. Recycling Lives really does help turn around the fortunes of those who have been left homeless.