At the beginning of autumn 2015 I was chatting to a friend named Matt Molteno over a pint in the Big Society in Cowley, Oxford about my idea for the Circular Collective. He was really excited about it and gave me some very good pieces of advice, the best one being “just do one iteration and see how it goes, learn from it”.
Now the first iteration’s been completed and I’d like to share with you the story :-).
First, I needed to buy a bike trailer. I considered that doing this at my own expense as a start would be best, so I searched on Gumtree and I found a really nice one around London Seven Sisters Road, from a girl named Renata from Brazil who had been using it to sell authentic stuff such as clothing and gifts from her homeland. She would take her items in the trailer and sell them in Camden and Shoreditch markets. I took the Oxford Tube to Shepherd’s bush, then the underground to Manor House where she lived. She was packing up to return to Brazil to spend the winter in a summer world, where she’d help her group make more items. Eternal summer lifestyle! Sweet. The purchase went smoothly, and the underground trip to my friend’s place where I would stay over the weekend in Ealing was not too … heavy.
Once back in Oxford, I installed the trailer and asked Jack my housemate to take some silly pictures. Here’s one of them:
A few days later, it was time to undertake the first full iteration. But before getting in the thick of it, I felt that a more detailed survey of the target charity shop clusters (Cowley Road and Templars Square Shopping Centre) would be beneficial in order to find out about their preference in items, and whether they would like to sign up with us as downstream client organisations. Jackson Smith whom I know from Oxford Lindy Hoppers was kind enough to offer support, and together we made a good impression and raised the interest of all shops, despite the fact that not all managers were not in the office to confirm the sign up process. We managed to talk to Age UK, Barnados, Helen and Douglas, Shaw Trust, British Heart Foundation, Sue Ryader, and Emmaus.
A good start should start with a good approval and in good safety, so the next step was to head to the Oxford Broken Spoke Bike Coop to purchase a couple of rear read lights for the trailer, and to show the centre-piece to the creator of the idea itself, Johnny Fill. It was endearing to see the enthusiasm he still maintained for the concept! Thank you Johnny, without you we would have probably still be struggling with popularising car collections as opposed to bike collections, and no one would have ever been interested in participating!
When the time for the collections came, I guessed that asking a few friends in a facebook chat to help with the first iteration would minimise the risk of things going a bit too wrong. Thank you Anna Pitt, Sam Coates, Cat Hobbs and Matt Molteno for booking the first collections! It was really easy to find your places on google maps, really nice to see your positive perception of the service, and your items and financial donations were most welcome.
The most valuable lesson for the entire iteration was that the capacity of the trailer must be known before collections, and the booked quantity of materials too. We found that the best way to quantify this, the best measure that is easiest for both collectors and donors is using the ‘bagful’ method. We discovered that the capacity of our current trailer is twelve full small carrier bags, or six large carrier bags. As in the type of carrier bags you would get when doing groceries shopping such as a Tesco bag.
Back at home – our temporary workspace – the sorting process began. While sorting, Lucie Kenrick (our treasurer) and I brainstormed for the best way to categorise the items. To be honest, we didn’t put that much effort into it as what we really wanted to do is to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones :-D, but we did manage to have a look at the items and a good feel for what we collected. On this round, we had quite a lot of clothes, some shoes, bric-a-brac, electronics of unknown working condition such as phones and cables, books, board games, dead lightbulbs and dead batteries. Paul Riggs is another one to acclaim in this process, as he’s taken both of us to IKEA Milton Keynes where we bought a whole load of pretty damn good value transparent plastic boxes for sorting! On the way back, he honored us by saying that what we’re doing is pretty much what the Wombles of Wimbledon Common do ^^ Coolest thing I’ve heard this month!
We weren’t sure whether we should separate items into ‘Reusable’ or ‘Repairable’ or etc, as we weren’t sure which ones could be classed as such before consulting with the receivers, especially for electronic items. Luckily, by volunteering in the stock room with Barnados charity shop on Cowley road, I was able to determine whether this type of sorting is needed or not. The answer is that I will find out in time, by volunteering some more with them. But the main idea is that while most charity shops will not accept electronic items (but will accept other types of reusable items), those who do (Barnados and Emmaus) will PAT test the items themselves, and so it does not striclty matters whether we supply them with working / broken electronics. As for clothing and other products, it is desirable that we supply them good quality items, but in case they aren’t, they have their own sorting systems in place. While for now that is a relief, the Circular Collective will strive to know and understand the working condition of each item, and channel them into the correct circular loop – reuse, prepare for reuse, repair, recylcing – and in the future to put into place systems such as PAT testing and cleaning in place to ensure each item receives the right treatment for its value.
In the end, we have donated the electronic and electric equipment to Barnados charity shop, and the clothes, shoes, board games and books to Emmaus Superstore in Marston. With Emmaus we have completed the first iteration of the Circular Collective system, celebrating the partnership through a nice picture with Kelly, one of the managers, in front of their logo 🙂
We are now looking to continue our collections and perform multiple iterations. Our new year motto (at John Skeffington’s and Ana Iugulescu’s suggestion) is “Out with the New, In with the Old!”. If you’d like to help us and others, we warmly invite you to book a collection with us under the Regifting programme – see post pinned to top of wall :-).
Our quest to improve the system does not stop here! With the help of my brother Petru Mates, we have initiated drawing a mind map of the components of the collective and a Process Gantt Chart. With the enthusiasm of John Skeffington, our communications and outreach officer, we have initiated discussions on how to perfect the concept of the collective. With support from Tulum Cruz, our deputy treasurer, we have come to life as one of Oxfordshire’s CAGs. With the determination of our Treasurer Lucinda Kenrick, we have opened our CAG bank account. With your use of our service, we can ensure that we will generate revenue for charities and bring a significant positive influence to the local community and an invaluable help to our charitable organisations. With the coordination of Peter Lefort from CAG Oxfordshire and of other partners, we will ensure that the CirColl is on the right track!
Thanks for reading,
PS: for updates on what’s been going on since the last post, see our History Page ^^