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Reuse in a Changing Landscape

Wednesday, 11 March 2015 14:20

The recent FRN conference has highlighted and strengthened the resolve of social economy reuse operators across the UK to combat social inequalities with tried, tested and new partnerships - so that reuse for social profit stands out as leading the way for a fairer and more equal society within the emerging circular economy.

The Furniture Re-use Network Conference has again been hailed the best ever by over 150 delegates and partners who attended last week’s reuse event in Nottingham.  This year the event was billed as reuse in a changing landscape and has primed the reuse sector into being ready to come together and to get the network working in unison. As Reuse is flagged up as about to “go mainstream”, the UK’s social economy reuse sector came together last week and agreed that now is the right time for the sector to raise its profile and to be loud and proud of the impact it’s had to date and will continue to have in future.

FRN members have in the past been called a “proper lifeline”, and rightly so, as they pass on household items to low income households that is equivalent in weight to two HMS Titanic’s every year. The conference delegates were adamant that there was more to do to support their customers and beneficiaries, and that reuse was far more than just being about waste prevention.

With FRN members reusing 110,000 tonnes of household items such as furniture and electrical each year, the crucial issue for the sector was that this activity resulted in over £350million worth of savings for low income households around the UK.

 In addition to the national impact of all our members, the conference really highlighted the impact that the relatively small FRN team has had in changing the social, economic and environmental landscape for the sector, be it changing Ministers’ opinions on welfare budget cuts, or being directly responsible for supplying over £12million worth of product in the last 12 months through the various commercial contracts FRN manages centrally for its members - the FRN team and its members are not predicting the future for reuse – we are creating it.

Social and Circular Challenges

FRN has recently been successful in its campaign to overturn the Governments’ intention to abolish the local welfare assistance scheme for people in crisis in our society, and in order to meet the increasing need due to today’s austerity and inequality, the sector has set up hugely successful partnerships working with the commercial and public sectors. Crucially for those at the conference it was about practical action, not speeches, in order to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities for the reuse sector.

When other organisations are being criticised for not standing up and making representation on important policy issues and political decisions – FRN can hold its head high and be proud of its lobbying work and of the practical action we take every day to support the growth of the reuse sector and the intervention we have in UK society.

The delegates concluded that the closest we have to a Circular Economy Sector was at the FRN conference last week. Daily they are physically and practically extending the life of products – and it speaks volumes that FRN had some of the major commercial stakeholders and product producers participating at the event. FRN’s work with IKEA, John Lewis Partnership, DHL EnviroSolutions and Dixons is the foundation and the starting point on which to build a circular economy. The reuse sector must take ownership of that, use it and build on it.

Inequality, Disconnected Policy, and Sharks

Today’s austerity and inequalities are progressively getting worse, and need to be addressed – and the reuse sector represented at the event was formed on the back of those same issues in the early 1980’s – and they are certainly not going to shirk their responsibilities anytime soon.  There are only worrying alternatives for those they are trying to help. Whether it’s Payday Loans or Pay-Weekly Stores – debt is increasing and more and more people need the support of the Reuse Sector. The reuse sector needs to be seen as the alternative to debt.

For the majority of people at the conference reuse is a means to support people and households with essential items or as a means to create jobs and in doing so, happens to reduce waste too. The message from the conference floor was that we need to spell out the issues and stop consumers wasting when others have nothing.

Social, Environmental, and Economic sense.

The demand is there and the need is great. Poverty and austerity mean that the desperate need for these goods is not going away – and yes we can significantly reduce waste – so we just need partnership and access to these goods. We have gained traction with commercial partners to address the circular economy debate and turn talk into action and progress – if we concentrate on the top half of the circle, we see reuse as being more about customers and supply routes rather than being driven by the green agenda – there is waste prevention but for FRN it is more about people needing product to live.

We need to respond to social need and we need to take control of the Reuse Sector that we have built – the one overriding issue that came out of the FRN conference was that we; the team, the members and partners agreed was to get this reuse network working and to be stronger and louder together.


Craig Anderson OBE

CEO of the Furniture Re-use Network



Read 2803 times Last modified on Thursday, 24 September 2015 15:35

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