Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Too good to waste

(September 01, 2013)


toogoodtowaste logo

toogoodtowaste: A thriving valleys social enterprise

One of the most inspirational moments of the 2011 National Assembly election campaign, for me, was a rather unlikely one. As an aspiring candidate, I’d prepared a long list of local businesses and organisations and, slowly but surely, as the schedule allowed, I managed to visit most of them. One of these visits was due to have been a 30-minute stop at what was, at first sight, a rather uninspiring building on an industrial estate in Aberaman, near Aberdare. But how deceptive can appearances be! Over an hour later, Lynda Davies, the Chief Executive Officer of toogoodtowaste, and I were still chatting about the big plans the organisation had. These included a substantial bid to the Big Lottery Fund and Welsh Government and making an even bigger contribution, both in terms of environmental sustainability and tackling poverty across Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT). By the time I left, Lynda had gently suggested to me that, as I would have much more time on my hands post-election, and as I was evidently very interested in the organisation, I should consider putting my name forward as a potential director of the company!

tgtw Ynyshir showroomtoogoodtowaste's Ynyshir showroom

toogoodtowaste, as the name suggests, is a large social enterprise in RCT that deals with all of those household goods that are too good to waste. From three-piece suites to books, from large electrical items to unwanted items of clothing, anything that can be reused and/or recycled is. toogoodtowaste offers a wide range of furniture at great prices, from vintage to modern, retro to antique, they have something for every taste and pocket.

Living room displayLiving room display

A service is offered to collect any unwanted items of furniture free of charge, a service now complemented by an ethical house clearance service which has been supported by the European Regional Development Fund. The facility at Ynyshir also has the capability to service and refurbish electrical equipment, so old ‘white goods’ can be recycled and reused too. Once items are collected they are taken to a warehouse, where they undergo quality control and are thoroughly cleaned or serviced. Once ready for sale, the items are displayed and sold from shops in Ynyshir and Aberaman. Within the shops are main display areas, which are changed on a regular basis to visually demonstrate how the item will look within a home.

Girl's bedroom displayGirl's bedroom display

All the income generated from the sales is used to support the social enterprise and to allow toogoodtowaste to run a wide-ranging volunteer and training programme. The volunteer and training programme is a model for others to follow. Volunteers are valued, each is given a specified role and support to develop their skills. A number of volunteers successfully apply for paid employment elsewhere and note the importance of the experience gained at toogoodtowaste in securing that vital advantage in a very competitive jobs market. In the past 8 months, twelve volunteers have left the organisation to start paid employment.

Entrance to new training facilityEntrance to new training facility

The statistics on the success of the organisation are staggering. More than 300 tonnes of products reused rather than sent to landfill. Over £300,000 of sales on an annual basis, with products priced at a level local people can afford. Hundreds of families helped with children’s bedroom packs (low-cost or zero-cost packs part funded through Children in Need) and an annual hardship event where all products are half price for those in receipt of benefits. In 2012, the organisation discounted over £35,000 worth of furniture to families in need, to alleviate the impact of poverty.

Training roomTraining room

But these impressive stats are just the start of the next phase of development. On the 3 July, toogoodtowaste’s new premises in Ynyshir were unveiled at the official opening ceremony by TV star and writer Ruth Jones. New premises is the right description as the old warehouse that previously housed the shop has been transformed, thanks in no small measure to a grant of over £500,000 from the Big Lottery Fund and the Welsh Government, which enabled toogoodtowaste to buy the building and create a new training and volunteer centre to complement the busy shop floor.

Ruth Jones with tgtw's Lynda Davies & Shaun EnglandRuth Jones with Lynda Davies & Shaun England (tgtw'sGeneral Manager)

A clearly inspired Ruth Jones said at the official opening: "I’m delighted to have been invited along to this event to celebrate with such a great group of people. The work done here by toogoodtowaste is so creative. It’s more than just recycling furniture and running charity shops. All of the services rely upon the help given by the team of over 50 volunteers. These volunteers are supervised and supported by the small group of 15 paid staff who provide them with respect, training and care. I have met a number of people here today who have benefitted from this training and support and who have gone on to paid employment. Providing our young people with the opportunity to gain work-skills is just so important and as a result of the funding toogoodtowaste has received from the Big Lottery Fund and the Welsh Government, this impressive building has been purchased and a new extension built. The new extension provides a new training room, canteen and offices. I could feel the pride amongst the volunteers and staff as they showed me round. They are just so excited to be able to help more people and I am delighted to have been with them today to help raise awareness of the great work they do." Ruth stayed somewhat longer than planned, but that is very much the impact of toogoodtowaste on visitors. A great social enterprise creating employment and opportunity across RCT and making a huge contribution to enhancing sustainability and tackling poverty. The premises at Ynyshir and Aberaman are both well worth a visit, and Lynda Davies and her team are one of the most committed and effective teams of staff and volunteers that I have ever had the privilege to see in action!

I have no doubt their success will grow in forthcoming years and, more than anything, I hope to see a number of the current volunteers becoming the Lynda Davieses of the future – and setting up their own successful social enterprises in the Valleys.

Dafydd Trystan Davies, 1 September 2013
Board member of Too Good to Waste

Twitter: @toogoodtowaste
Facebook: toogoodtowaste

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