In the last few weeks I’ve been spreading the word about the Remakery in a variety of settings, both close to home and around London. Here are a few pictures and links from my adventures (starting with the most recent…)
London Transition Groups Gathering, 1 December at City Hall:
Where I told this large circle (the photo shows less than a quarter) of people representing no less than 24 different Transition initiatives from all over London, about the Remakery. (Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Network, was there too talking about his new book the Transition Companion).
I also re-met Jenny from Tooting (who came to a Design Day at the Remakery site back in the spring), who just happened to have with her this very impressive giant chilli remade from crisp packets:
Publicising the Remakery membership scheme, exhibiting Linda Ecalle’s wonderful cardboard furniture, Velo-Re‘s bike tyre belts and other remarkable remakes, and showing passers-by on Brixton Station Road how to make tetrapak wallets…
Where after a lovely shared meal, myself and Chris Hardy of UpCycle both gave talks about our projects and their different approaches to creative upcycling (see my presentation here: Remaking it Together) with about 30 people in attendance, followed by a sewing session where people shared skills on fixing holes in jeans and jumpers.
An extravaganza of “civic entrepreneurship, impact venturing and change making”, where I offered a workshop about Urban Permaculture (having recently done my Permaculture Design Course), and a presentation about the Remakery – attracting a fascinating cluster of folks including an Egyptian designer who’d previously developed a textile upcycling project in Cairo, and a fellow Transitioner (Paul Mackay from Transition Belsize) whose work with online databases suggests some exciting potentials for skill-sharing and stuff-sharing (see his amazing Skills Base and Sharing Base…)
A few weeks ago I attended the University Project event at Hub Westminster – led by curiosity about how the Remakery might fit into the “giant wave of ‘new learning’ spaces… co-working spaces, accelerators and incubators” described by John Geraci (referenced in Dougald Hine’s TEDx talk about the University Project). Geraci predicts that such spaces will radically disrupt the world of higher education, and while the Remakery is primarily a workspace it is also going to be an educational one in many ways – through formal training courses, self-directed learning by members, and partnerships with academic institutions – so it was good to get different perspectives on what that might look like.
I also made some great contacts at the event – one being John Parman, a professional fundraiser setting up a project called Activation Institution, who has subsequently volunteered to run a 7-week fundraising training course for the Remakery’s emerging Development & Funding Team.
It was also a great pleasure to meet Habib Lesevic and Benedikt Foit of vicventures, a pair of “pirate venturers” (their words) whose approach to “avant-garde venture philosophy” caught my attention when Habib told the story of a jazz bar in a less than swinging area of Berlin, whose business suddenly took off when they stopped charging an Eintritt (entry fee) and substituted an optional Austritt (exit fee). The local population, with little knowledge of or interest in jazz, were enticed inside by the free entry – but having heard the quality of the music, most were happy to pay the Austritt, and sometimes even a bit extra.
I chatted with Habib about the Remakery and he liked the project enough to want to come down to Brixton and check it out! He and Ben kindly offered a couple of hours of their time to help me think through what they call the Remakery’s “value system”, which means a kind of expanded version of a business model. While a business model typically focuses on financial transactions only – modelling income and expenditure in monetary terms – a value system is a map of all the different types of value that an enterprise creates, with the inputs and outputs including money but also (for example) workspace, materials, other people’s work, support, experience, access to networks, opportunities… Basically, whatever forms of value the participants recognise as valuable, which motivates them to participate in the system.
This idea is interesting to me, partly because for most of us participating in the creation of the Remakery, the primary motivation is not financial. Two of us were paid as part-time project managers earlier this year (and thankfully, I’ve recently secured a second round of project management funding which will see me through until the Remakery opens); but I’ve also done several months on a voluntary basis, and the Steering Group all attend meetings, design sessions and occasional volunteer days (when we cleaned out the garages, for example) with no payment. While this is partly because they see the Remakery as an opportunity that will help them to establish or grow their businesses (reaping longer-term financial benefits), most are not purely profit-driven companies but social enterprises – focused on reducing waste and cultivating skills and opportunities in the local community.
While it is clear that in order to sustain themselves as businesses, they need to make enough money to cover their costs and have some in reserve, there are also many other types of value that they stand to gain by being involved in the Remakery – the value of participating in a community, accessing networks of expertise, innovating through collaboration, gaining a track record, being appreciated by others, making a difference. To design our “system” wisely, it seems to me that in the same way as we are designing our business model to be financially sustainable, it makes sense to account for these other types of value and make sure we can keep sustaining them over the long term too.
With that in mind, I diligently carried out the homework set by Habib and Ben – to map the “value system” of the Remakery with all the “sub-systems” it’s made up of, and for each sub-system to answer 3 questions:
Who is participating?
What value is being created for them?
How can we make sure that the value created is appreciated? (traditionally speaking, this would mean some form of financial payment – but in a value system, appreciation can take a much wider variety of forms)
In the interests of being transparent and inviting the possibility of some open-source contributions, I’ve decided to upload this document here. It’s in tabular form with brief bullet points, and was written mainly for my own use, so please excuse if some of the notes are too brief to be understandable! Most should be quite clear. If you have experience or interest in either traditional business planning or this broader framework of “value”, and are interested in getting involved with designing the Remakery’s value system, please do have a read and get in touch.
Remakery Value System (pdf)
This exercise has already helped to shape the emerging team structure of the Remakery – if you’d like to know more check out the page Co-Creators Wanted.
A great little video (under 2 mins) documenting our Brand Day on the 15th September. With many thanks to film maker (and Remakery steering group member) Mark Ovenden, and to all involved with the creative process on the day from Good For Nothing, Innocent and our own steering group.
On 15th September, Piano House in Brixton was the setting for an unusual creative event that’s never been tried in quite the same way before!
Brixton Reuse Centre was lucky enough to bag a day of time from the team of a dozen graphic designers and other creatives who are responsible for the witty, playful style of Innocent Drinks. This was organised thanks to an innovative project called Good for Nothing, who make connections between creative professionals looking to do some “good for nothing” (i.e. free!), and organisations who can benefit from their skills.
I’d heard about the great atmosphere and results generated by Good for Nothing’s previous turbo-charged creative blitzes and thought BRC’s branding could do with a bit of that, so contacted them to ask if they could help us.
We were delighted to hear they had got the Innocent team on board! This was slightly different from Good for Nothing’s usual format, where they bring together a large group of creatives from lots of different companies for a 48-hour challenge. We had only 8 hours – but with a team who already know each other and work together daily, perhaps making the process a bit smoother.
We owe a big thanks to all involved – it was fantastic to watch so many creative ideas emerging in such a short space of time.
The Name Issue!
Being given this opportunity prompted us to reconsider BRC’s name. We realised that, with only one day to develop the visual brand, the designers needed to be given the right name to work with! So a couple of days beforehand, the BRC steering group met for a lively debate about re-naming ourselves.
The name Brixton Reuse Centre has been a good “working title” – attracting people to the project who are interested in reuse and see themselves as local to Brixton. But there were some important arguments for choosing a different name:
What if we want to replicate the BRC model in other places? This won’t work if Brixton is a key part of the name! We want a name that can be used with different locations.
The name “Reuse Centre” is used for lots of other reuse projects that aren’t like BRC. What is unique about us is the co-operative structure and co-working space – several reuse organisations and projects under one roof. There’s also an emphasis on repairing and remaking things, not just reusing them as they are. We want a name that reflects those things.
Are we really in Brixton anyway? Some residents see the site as closer to Camberwell. Maybe Brixton should be less emphasised in the name.
We came up with a “long list” (yep, a really long list – which will remain secret!) of name options, but in the end we managed to narrow it down to two: Remakery, or Remade in Brixton.
Remade in Brixton has been used for 3 years as the name of Transition Town Brixton’s working group on waste prevention, www.remadeinbrixton.org. But BRC has now become Remade in Brixton’s main project, so it could make sense to merge the two “brands”.
Then again, the point was made that Remade in Brixton might work well as a “label” on products… On the other hand if you are talking about the working space, Remakery fits better. Bakers work in a bakery, remakers work in a Remakery!
So, Remakery stuck and the designers focused on developing a visual identity around that name.
The Creative Process
Above: Checking out other logos, colour books, and the architects’ research… Debating and sketching… Presenting Round 1!
The first part of the day was quite competitive – with 3 teams working rapidly to generate a variety of early options. Everyone voted with ticks for their favourite concepts, resulting in 3 winners and the teams re-arranged to take those ideas forward.
So by the time the BRC (or Remakery!) Steering Group arrived at lunchtime, 3 different design directions had been developed for us to vote on:
Stencil Shapes – a pick’n’mix of shapes that can be formed into letters and pictures, sort of like “remade” objects being put together into something new.
Chaos to Order – a squiggle or scribble, drawn out into a decisive straight line!
Lots of Dots – dots clustering together to form letters or shapes, evoking both the materials and the community gathering together at the Remakery.
Above: sketches and the different teams presenting their ideas to us; a well earned pizza break!
We voted again and elected the Dots!
Several further variations on the theme were generated, and the group split again into Logo, Web, and Interior teams who all presented their outputs at the end of the day.
Above: dots in development; the last minute rush; illustrator Pam Williams sketches the designers at work.
Above: final presentations of the logo, interior colours, and web layouts.
I was very happy with the logo, which expresses what the Remakery is about in a simple, spot-on way. Dots gravitate in at one end, like the materials being drawn into the Remakery… then they radiate out at the other end, like the transformed final products going out into the world! It also feels a bit like a community coming together to make something bigger than the sum of its parts.
There might be a few tweaks to the logo as it stands… possibly making the ends more rounded rather than bracket-shaped… Watch this space and we’ll unveil the final version soon!
The proposed use of dots and colours in the interior space was very effective and versatile and will integrate well with the architects’ designs. The web layout work was also great – some really clear thinking about what is needed for the website to showcase the Remakery and its member companies effectively.
Much appreciation to the Innocent team for their hard work and sensitive approach to interpreting the brand. It was a great opportunity for us to have such a big team of professionals giving us a full day of their attention and we are really chuffed with the results.
A group of architecture students from London South Bank University are working alongside Architecture for Humanity to help design the reception area at BRC.
Their brief is “to research, design and construct an exemplary reception desk, made almost entirely from re-used materials. This multifunctional element will act as a focal point for the open plan reception as well as a workstation for a number of staff working at the centre. The design of this piece will need to confidently showcase the benefit of engaging architects and designers to create re-purposed solutions and ensure that all visitors, volunteers and staff passing through the centre realise this potential.”
They are kicking off the project by researching what waste materials are produced by local businesses and on local construction sites, and how these could be used in the design. Their research will inform not only the reception desk project, but also the AfH team’s efforts to incorporate locally reused materials into all aspects of the construction of BRC.
The students are part of LSBU’s Humanitarian Hub – founded by Zohra Chiheb to bring together students and academics from across engineering, architecture, planning and social policy to discuss and research humanitarian design and international development.
The event I attended on 13 July (accompanied by Isabel Hankart, our project architect from Architecture for Humanity) could hardly have been better tailored to answer the questions we are currently grappling with.
Matter-of-factly named “Starting up a Community Reuse and Resource Centre” (that’ll be us, then)… it was the subtitle Making Ourselves Unstoppable: Overcoming the Challenges that really caught my attention, instilling a sense of potential that here we might discover the magic recipe to turn BRC from a promising mix of ingredients, into a fully-baked and perfectly risen cake (err, that is I mean a fully developed, successful business model. I just happen to have cake on the brain since our last Design Day, mmm!)
The first heartening thing about it was simply walking into a room that contained 15 other people in the same boat (or at any rate a range of similar yet unique, heroically hand-built reuse-rafts)! They had travelled from far and wide – Bicester, Peterborough, Coventry and Northern Ireland, as well as several from London and the south-east – for this opportunity of mutual support and learning. Their work had a variety of different focal points – including furniture reuse, wood recycling, reused insulating materials, retrofitting, recycling waste from music festivals, organising a Zero Waste conference, work with schools and businesses, and a Re-Store project with Habitat. It was good to know they are all out there and sprouting into life, or in some cases already going strong. I begged our facilitator Katy Anderson (from the Local United project, who’ve produced a handy Action Pack for Community Led Reuse) to organise more events like this – the importance of feeling “we’re not alone in this” is not to be underestimated, and knowing what else is out there reduces the chances of reinventing the wheel.
Above: me giving a short talk about the partnership support we’ve received from LRN and other networks; the delicious spread of food laid on by Trudy was as important a part of the event as the round-table discussions!
The second heartening thing was finding out more about the venue we were in. Based in suburban Aldershot, Hampshire, Bricks and Bread looks deceptively like any other warehouse building… but behind the low-key exterior is an innovative, dynamic business on a mission to “make it easier to live, work and build sustainably” – and it looks set to grow rapidly through a network of franchises.
The founder of Bricks and Bread, Trudy Thompson – a gutsy, inspiring entrepreneur who ended a lucrative career in motorsports to run a successful eco-building practice for 8 years, before founding this “Sustainable Living Centre” – took us on a tour around the building and talked us through the key elements of the business.
Its three main services are:
Training – including courses, events, and business incubation
Advice on eco building and sustainability – “hiring out” experts
Waste management / reuse – primarily of building materials, and to a lesser extent furniture, household items and a “scrap store” of materials for arts and crafts
Some interesting facts and figures from Trudy included:
Above: Trudy Thompson (far left, first photo) shows visitors around the Bricks & Bread warehouse; products on display and for sale range from salvaged church pews, reused furniture and eco building materials, to delicate jewellery made from cans
The cornerstone of the business is the knowledge of its founder and her network in the field of eco-building and sustainability. Described as a “hub for experts”, Bricks and Bread hires out members of its network to advise on eco building projects, and hires its space to organisations running sustainability events. Weekly advice sessions offer the public free access to impartial expertise on which eco-building specialists and products have the right credentials.
Its growth seems to be happening organically. Two new businesses, focusing on eco kitchens and children’s furniture, are being incubated in a wing of the warehouse. A scrap store where disabled school students get work experience sorting the beads and fabric has led to some of the parents rediscovering their sewing skills, and starting to run sewing workshops and sell hand-made products locally and online. Reused materials move rapidly through a network of thousands of donors and customers (with Linked-In and Twitter key tools of communication), and a network of temporary storage sites allows flexibility of scale.
And importantly, it’s making money – though being a Community Interest Company, all profits get reinvested in expanding its services. Trudy explains the business model this way in her RSA Fellow Profile: “Our construction-waste reuse area enables us to generate an income from selling recycled products to local suppliers. In addition, we charge suppliers for advice on sustainable techniques and materials: it’s worth their while because we’ll subsequently promote them via our Sustainable Business Network. We plough all the income we receive (excluding the salaries we pay our interns) into providing services for the local community, from free training and advice sessions on sustainable living to work experience for young people from nearby schools.”
Above: a large room in the warehouse is dedicated to educational activities – including inspiring kids by revealing the monetary value of the materials used in packaging; brainstorming with school groups on all aspects of sustainability and resourcefulness; business networking, career advice events, and eco building advice sessions
Bricks and Bread is a model BRC can learn from – whether through simply observing, or perhaps by becoming part of their franchise network (which offers a “modular” approach, meaning each franchisee can choose which services they want to offer). I’ll update on this in a few weeks time, as I’m hoping to take members of the BRC Steering Group to visit Bricks and Bread to explore this possibility.
After Trudy’s tour, we heard a presentation from Kelvin Hughes of the Community Furniture Project in Newbury – a more “traditional” type of reuse organisation, but one that is also thriving and expanding. That, however, is another story (spanning several more pages of my notebook)! What struck me most was that its core motivation was emergency provision for people in real, urgent need, often in dire circumstances – it began operating from two garages to provide furniture for women moving out of a women’s refuge where they had escaped domestic violence. Still today many of its customers and trainees are referred by social services. While at BRC our starting point has been different – based on a wish to make better use of wasted resources and cultivate skills – I felt moved and humbled by this example of reuse as an “emergency service”. I hope that BRC in its own way – as an incubator of social enterprises, and a training provider, as well as through selling affordable reused products – will be able to bring support and open up new possibilities for people in need.
Thanks to Isabel Hankart for all the photos used in this article
Architecture for Humanity (AfH) London, a charitable organisation concerned with the built environment, has been working closely with the BRC Steering Group since late March 2011 to design the BRC workspace.
At the end of June AfH completed their Stage A-B Feasibility & Briefing Report, which describes the preliminary design investigations and appointments carried out to date, and has been forwarded to the Planning Officer for review.
Highlights of the design process so far have included:
Visioning Day – March
Prior to the appointment of AfH, a Visioning Day was held on 12th March 2011, with the aim to generate the content for a clear and comprehensive brief for potential architects. Attendees included the BRC Steering Group, individuals and organisations interested in being involved with BRC, and Transition Town Brixton supporters, some with architectural, building, recycling, planning or legal expertise.
The discussions established ambitious aims for BRC’s design:
To support the creation of a vibrant collection of successful and sustainable enterprises
To be a key part of the community, both in street presence and reputation
To showcase the re-use process to the benefit of both the public and the enterprises
A first layout option was established which identified the key ingredients of the centre: an arrangement of enterprise spaces, defined as workshops and storage units; delivery and sorting bays with vehicle access at the back end; a shop, office and training/meeting room at the front end.
Design Workshop – May
With the benefit of a few weeks spent gathering imagery and precedents, analysing questionnaire responses, and discussing layout options, a second design workshop was organised by the architectural team on 7th May 2011. This presented a visual and architectural vision for the BRC and generated discussion about use, both spatially and in terms of servicing and management.
The first plan arrangement, as originally sketched out by BRC Steering Group, was presented alongside five different options in order to draw out the benefits and challenges of each. Holding the workshop on site was invaluable to communicate the physical realities of each of the plans.
Preferred Option – June
Following Client discussions, stakeholder consultation and consideration of relevant statutory matters, the plan shown below will form the starting point for continuing design development. The key drivers informing this plan are as follows:
To enforce clear zones with specific boundaries between levels of conditioning, finishes and fire rating.
To provide flexible internal space within those zones by designing open plan shared spaces.
To ensure ease of access to a continuous, well marked fire escape route.
Design Precedents and Inspirations – ongoing
The architectural design of the spaces, furniture and the external street presence is focussed on creating an inspiring place for people to work and visit, and the flexibility to accommodate change and growth.
Together with precedents from comparable projects, these aims have led to a number of particular inspirations which will be explored further in the next stages of the design process, including:
Signage at the entrance to animate the street.
A small cafe furnished by re-built furniture for sale; a cafe show room.
Walls, partitions, curtains which can be moved to create different spaces.
Painted signage and floor markings to bring colour and graphics into the use of the space.
Furniture which can be moved around on wheels.
Moveable ‘pods’ for particular activities.
Stacked shelving and fold-away storage and desk elements
Material selection is a key part of encouraging the ambitions of the BRC to inform the building. It is intended that the re-use of materials which drives the philosophy of Remade in Brixton extends to the design. Re-claimed building materials will be used where possible, both reducing the carbon footprint of the project and allowing the skill and possibilities of re-use enterprise to be showcased in the building fabric.
A Big Thanks!
BRC would like to thank the following volunteers from AfH London for their ongoing commitment and contributions to this project: Isabel Hankart, Taus Larsen, Kirsten Bevin, Cameo Musgrave, Simon Rochowski, Alasdair Dixon & Katherine McNeil. Additionally we would like to thank Peter Boyce and Sam Endsor of Ramboll for their early direction and commitment to the project.