Our planet has witnessed many ages: the stone age, the iron age, the medieval age. And with a huge island of plastic waste in the pacific now estimated as twice the size of France, it could be argued that we’re rooted in a new age of sorts: the garb-age.
Whilst there are big institutions and groups that are dedicated to tackling climate change, we at the Ideas Hub are becoming more and more interested in what local communities were doing to help tackle the problem of waste. Recently we wrote about People Empowering People’s bike workshop which is housed at the Remakery in Brixton, London. The Remakery is a co-operative workshop space that diverts valuable waste materials away from landfills and supports their local community to reuse these materials, increasing their skills, confidence and employment opportunities.
The Remakery’s mission is to upcycle and recycle discarded or broken items whilst providing a space for local residents and professionals to connect and nurture their interest in crafts such as woodwork, joinery, painting and design. Check out this short video about the beginning of their journey in 2013 and how they transformed an unused underground carpark into a cave of wonders in North Brixton.
Last week we had the opportunity to visit the Remakery to check out one of their regular open workshops and to meet the team, including volunteers and local residents.
The Remakery itself is a charming open planned space with workshops and storage for materials yet to be upcycled. It smells of wood and the quiet hum of machines working lends to the relaxed and focussed atmosphere. It feels like a living workspace, part of a process in which the final finished articles, such as an assortment of upcycled produce from tables and chairs to mirrors which are presented at the front-of-house shop, are emphasised as just the end of a process. It is the process rather than the final product of upcycling, the labour time, the mistakes and obstacles you come across working with your hands where you find the core purpose of the Remakery. “Cut wood and make friends” as team member Terry described it to us.
The making of the space itself was a great skills-share project where Architecture for Humanity, construction professionals and volunteers (usually local residents), teamed up to put the plan into action. “Skills sharing and knowledge sharing are part of the Remakery’s fibre”, Sam Penn, the Space and Member Manager, explained to me. “It’s all an open network”, she continued. “We use open sourced software on all our computers and try to share our knowledge rather than keeping it in little pigeon holes. We focus on making and doing, with a mixture of the traditional kinds of woodwork and joinery to more quirky and exploratory types of upcycling”, Sam said.
During my visit, I asked Sam what her biggest inspiration was: “washing machines” she replied with a smile. I also asked Sam what had surprised her about the Remakery’s work and she said: “When you’re making something by hand with a material like wood it takes a thousand times longer than you think and it’s also much harder. That in itself is the biggest surprise. But also the beauty in it, you fail a lot, but learn something bigger. And that’s kind of like the Remakery. It’s hard to describe unless you actually come here and see it”. I wanted to know how Sam envisioned the Remakery’s work, what issues was it addressing in the community aside from recycling waste: “We’re addressing barriers that are obstacles to people exploring this type of work. You don’t see many street vendors in London who repair things anymore, but people want to learn those skills, those skills are valuable. I guess what we do is provide a support network for learning technical skills as well as pursuing interest. We’re enabling people to make their projects happen. And there are loads of people from different backgrounds with different specialities here so there will always be someone to help if you come up against something”.
Later in our visit, we took part in the open workshop which was focussed on building a totem pole to signpost the Remakery in central Brixton. The totem pole would also act as a means of creating awareness of the Remakery’s unique role in the London Design Festival this year through their Reuse Lab programme which celebrates the repair and reuse community in Brixton. The workshop brought together Studio He’s architect Hubert, MOMSO’s head seamstress Michelle, local musician Winston, and food-journalist-cum-woodmaker Dylan alongside Mark and Terry from the Remakery team. I loved taking part in the workshop, particularly because it began with everyone breaking bread, drinking a cold beer or coffee and catching up, before searching out materials to use for our totem pole task.
With work-space available for as little as £18 a month, the Remakery is a fantastic place to learn a craft or give you space to develop a skill you already have. And it turns out, a great place to cut wood and make friends.