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KEEPING IT REALSandy Winterbottom

Sandy Winterbottom
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Stirling ReUse Hub provides refurbished products to the local community. Its mission is to reduce waste, contribute to inclusive community wealth-building, and influence consumption habits. These are the stories from its people.

When Johnny was seven years old, he watched a family friend build a shed out of reclaimed wood. He was sent for a shilling of nails and earned sixpence for his efforts. From that point on he knew he wanted to work with his hands. Soon he was mixing cement in a galvanised pail for a local handyman and spent his first wage on an Action Man. That was the start of Johnny’s working career and he’s been grafting ever since, as a joiner, mechanic and tree surgeon. At the ReUse Hub his handiwork is everywhere: the workspaces, the benches and display shelves, all reclaimed wood salvaged from skips and building sites. ‘I hate chucking anything out,’ he says. Nothing goes to waste under Johnny’s watch. The volunteers bring him Minions to decorate his workshop, because of the bib and braces he often wears, but he’s more like Uncle Bulgaria, the wisest of the cuddly Wombles of Wimbledon Common – making good use of the things that we find.


Louise at Stirling ReUse Hub

Louise dives into the mountains of clothes occasionally surfacing with something that has caught her eye. This mining is a love-hate thing for Louise. Hate because it is endless; sweat-shops and factories churn it out faster than we can throw it away. If it’s clean though, the pockets and buttons are still checked and it is neatly folded. There is the love. Sometimes within the mountains of clothes are precious gems from around the world: clothes that make her smile, rare clothes, brand new with-the-tags-still-on clothes. She used to arrange flowers, but now she arranges gems and this is what makes the ReUse Hub sparkle. ‘We sometimes see people that have had a difficult time,’ she says, ‘and we can’t change that, but we can make their day a tiny bit better. And you don’t get that in ordinary retail work.’

This is what Katy believes in. Her faith lies in people, communities, in stewarding well, minimising impact and making conscious decisions. She believes in fun too: dungaree Thursdays, an open mic night perhaps, maybe even a ReUse Hub band. She wants to learn all the instruments – she already plays drums, guitar, bass, and a little bit of piano – but so far she’s stopped herself from buying more. ‘They all come with stories,’ she says. People regularly bring in instruments that belonged to someone in the family, just wanting them to be played again. Currently, a marvellously shabby grand piano sits inside the doorway. Give Us A Tune, invites the sign. And people do. The acoustics in this old warehouse are not bad either. Katy’s main job is to take care of the volunteers. Some arrive thinking they have nothing to offer, but they soon realise everyone has skills to bring. ‘That’s a special moment!’ she says, grinning. Many volunteers go on to take up paid jobs. Katy’s other role is marketing, running the social media accounts and building the customer community. ‘But,’ she asks, ‘how do we communicate what we do? It’s more than sofas.’

Ryan’s workbench is organised: a box for spare cables, a neat row of screwdrivers, and a home–made wall bracket to hold all his different pairs of pliers. It’s quiet here, he can focus and it suits him to work away in his own time. But he’s a young man with big ambitions too. For as long as he can remember he’s dreamed of having his own haulage company. Ryan began at The ReUse Hub as a volunteer when he left school and now he’s part of the driver team, taking the electric van to the landfill site at Polmaise to collect rescued items.‘You get to see all the lorries up there,’ he says. ‘Volvo, Daf, Scania, Man, Iveco.’ He’s saving up to do his HGV licence. He can’t wait to see fleets of electric and hydrogen lorries. The environment is important to Ryan; he wants children and grandchildren, and wants to see them grow up. What Ryan loves the most about his job though, is not the quiet meditation of electrical testing, or going out to new places in the van. It is helping out new Scots, folk moving here from other countries. ‘We help because,’ he gestures at the abundance around him, ‘because we can. And we’re helping the planet at the same time. Win-win.’

When Margherita left the Academy of Fine Art in Venice, she swapped canvases for blank walls, cars and furniture. Her art is often expansive and physical, involving ladders and nail guns, paint smudged across her face and forearms. But as well as the big projects there is the quiet rescue of things too. Growing up in Friuli, Italy, it was fragments of Mediterranean tiles that caught her eye. ‘I always felt really strongly about rejected things,’ she says. When travelling, she takes whatever she finds along the way and remakes it beautiful. ‘Then they are precious.’ she says looking wide–eyed at the art around her, ‘you can feel it in these objects.’ Margherita manages the Reclaimers shop in the Thistle Shopping Centre, and also the makers who volunteer and sell their work there. They discuss each rescued item until someone agrees to take-on the transformation. ‘It feels like you’re revamping yourself a little too,’ she says. It’s why they’re running workshops so that others can join in. Imagine such colour and community returning to our dull shopping centres. Renowned muralist Diego Rivera once said that an artist is a soldier of the revolution. And it does feel like a gentle revolution is beginning.

It seems improbable that from a frigid warehouse on a quiet backstreet of an industrial estate, Kate Hamilton has built such a far-sighted community. She bites her lip looking up at the roof, still learning the quirks and creaks of a building that comes to life in odd ways: the ceiling fans that unexpectedly burst into action when the sun comes out, or the rain of condensation that falls in the winter. Like everything else at the ReUse Hub, she nurtures and coaxes it along with love, finding creative ways to solve problems. When the roof leaked, they made Caution! Wet Floor signs out of salvaged wood and paint. ‘Whatever is here, use it,’ she said, ‘we’ve got enough.’ On the night before opening, everyone came in to help, kids and partners too. By morning great arches of fairy lights crossed the ceiling and a treasure-trove of beautifully-curated pre-loved items was laid out ready for sale. It’s grown into so much more since. Kids zoom up and down on scooters, rifle delightedly through toys and games, people hang out and chat, collectives run workshops. It’s joyful, safe, and visionary. Kate built that – built the team that built that. And now they want to revitalise the local shopping centre too. As she says, ‘One way or t’other, we’ll change the world.’


Sandy Winterbottom is a former academic in earth and environmental sciences and author of The Two–Headed Whale. Published Birlinn, 2022.

Call to Action: Stirling Reuse Hub is pioneering viable circular economies and is part of Transition Stirling. The term ‘transition’ refers to the shift away from today’s oil-dependent society to a low-carbon future. Based on the ethics of Permaculture, Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share, the Transition Movement provides an open toolkit of resources which communities can use for free. Support your local Transition Community or start your own. 


Photograph credit: Duncan Clark.