Acclaimed Bristol wood recycling co-op looks for new home as tenancy ends

The co-op is working with the local authority to find an alternative location – which it hopes to buy as a permanent base

A wood recycling co-op which is looking for new premises after its tenancy was terminated has welcomed a “tangible sense of support” in its home city.

Bristol Wood Recycling Project has been a mainstay of the local alternative culture for 14 years and has been praised for creating jobs, supporting volunteers and reducing environmental impact.

Formed in 2004, it was granted “meanwhile use” on a site next to Temple Meads train station by Bristol City Council – but now the local authority needs to sell the site for development after being hit by central government funding cuts. 

Campaigners said the move showed how modern development posed a threat to Bristol’s alternative subculture. Workshop manager Kaleb Debbage said: “Social enterprises like ours add a valuable layer of social and environmental resilience to our communities, a kind of biodiversity. If we continue squeezing them out of central public spaces we can expect all kinds of hidden costs as inclusive support networks and developing circular economies are marginalised.”

But now the co-op, which is working with the council to find an alternative location, says local people have been supportive and it is hoping to buy a premises.

Bristol Wood Recycling is a sustainable business that reclaims disused wood and turns it into products including firewood to furniture. It now has nine paid employees and has saved more than 4,000 tonnes of wood from landfill over its lifetime.

Its success has prompted apex body Co-operatives UK to make a film highlighting its work as an example of how co-ops can make a difference.

In the wake of the film and other press coverage there has been “a tangible sense of support in the city”, says the co-op’s co-founder Ben Moss. The team is now looking at a range of options for a new site.

The co-op has enjoyed pro bono legal support and found “a network of goodwill” which means it it is confident of raising the funds needed to purchase a permanent home. It is considering creating “a membership class for investment to use as capital”, said Mr Moss.

“The issue now is ensuring our governance is suitable to deal with that in a responsible way, and creating a viable model that is fair for everybody, and ensuring that as a worker co-op our people have control.”

One option is to use the Somerset rules, developed by Somerset Co-operative Services for use by multi-stakeholder co-operatives, he added.

The co-op’s Calum Burns at work on the site

Mr Moss says the interest the story has generated for Bristol Wood Recycling shows how Bristol’s “vibrant subculture” can be maintained.

“If we can create a viable model for this, then that is something that can be replicated in Bristol and elsewhere,” he added.

“If we can find a larger property than we need, then it would be a site where other people needing a vehicle for their work could join us.”

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “Bristol Wood Recycling is a shining example of how co-ops can make a difference to local areas. It has created jobs, has had a huge environmental impact and crucially it has helped hundreds of volunteers gain skills, confidence and support.

“We want to see co-ops like this springing up everywhere.”

The business continues to operate as usual, six days a week, collecting wood waste, selling reclaimed timber, making bespoke furniture and hosting volunteers here at Cattle Market Road.

In this article

Join the Conversation