Edinburgh Remakery founder Sophie Unwin is taking the project global
WHEN I came to Edinburgh nine years ago I had no idea what lay ahead for me. I’d started up Remade in Brixton a few years before with Hannah Lewis, and optimistically hoped I’d stay involved – even though I was 500 miles away.
It wasn’t until someone called Adam moved from Brixton to Edinburgh and got in touch suggesting we set up a Remade in Edinburgh in 2010 that my arm was twisted and I got the bit between my teeth. I’d never thought this would happen, especially being new in town, and perhaps it’s just as well it wasn’t planned as it’s been an adventure with so much learning along the way.
So, with the support of fellow volunteers - the Transition Town Network, the university, and lots of good people and other organisations - we mapped out that there was a need and demand for a Remakery in Edinburgh, and made it happen.
In the past seven years we’ve grown from a group of volunteers with £60 to a business with eight employees and a turnover of over £220,000 – and just as importantly, a business model which is about skills rather than stuff, questioning consumerism, and which generates over 75 per cent of our income from trading.
Opening our doors in Leith in May last year was a huge highlight, as has been the ability to increase our impact through the partnerships with CHAI and Edinburgh University, among others.
Countless organisations and individuals have supported us and I’d like to give a particular shout out to the 10:10 campaign; Nancy Somerville, previously a community worker at the Adult Education Centre on Infirmary Street who gave us our first break by letting us use their hall for two hours once a week; much loved previous longstanding volunteer Cherry Ledlie; Claire Carpenter at The Melting Pot; Pamela Redpath, associate with Community Enterprise; David Somervell at Edinburgh University; and councillors Alasdair Rankin and Gavin Corbett, as well as all the volunteer board members who have given so much of their time.
A peak inside the new venue in Brooklyn
There are many other people to mention, including every one of you reading this, and apologies to those I’ve omitted. It’s really hard work building up an organisation and every bit of support has meant a huge deal.
It has been a huge boost to see the result of so many people’s hard work lead to something so tangible and so loved as the Remakery. Of course, the hard work continues – and it can often be extremely challenging as we want to do more, and increasingly have to do more with less.
As our overhead, profile and ambition grow the pressure to fundraise continues. We’ll be launching a Christmas promotion soon and aim to raise a much needed £10,000 to support the laptops for refugees project, so we warmly encourage you to buy vouchers for the Remakery. What better Christmas present than one that doesn’t cost the earth?
The vouchers can be used to buy goods online and pay for membership, as well as attend our amazing array of learning opportunities – from computer repair appointments to upholstery workshops.
We’re all grateful to the support of Edinburgh Council and Zero Waste Scotland, and all our other funders, who see the value of what we do – not just in cutting waste, but in creating a narrative of wider change as we create green jobs, build community, and share our work with others as we call for goods to be built to last in the first place.
The speed and demand of interest in our social franchise project have led me to make a big decision to step down as director and let a new chief executive lead the organisation in Edinburgh.
I believe change can best occur when it’s both top-down and bottom-up, and policy and practice can mutually inform each other. Last year, I was pretty humbled to win the UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award – thanks to all of you who voted for us.
The application I submitted was about increasing our impact through setting up a new organisation to support the growth of new Remakeries. I could never have anticipated the demand and interest in this – articles about the idea have gone viral, and we’ve had interest from all over Scotland.
Among other things, we’ve hosted an EU conference, I’ve stayed up until midnight to be on Radio New Zealand, and I’ve spoken at conferences and taken part in a roundtable conversation on packaging waste at the Guardian newspaper.
It seems like we’re not the only ones who believe in the importance of an education that’s about heart and hands as well as head, to borrow the phrase from the excellent Centre for Human Ecology.
Still, none of this, as exciting as it is, beats the regular pleasure of turning up to a repair workshop or surgery at the Remakery and seeing the sheer pleasure that people express in coming together to learn how to fix everyday objects.
I’ll be staying on the board, and supporting the Edinburgh Remakery and all new Remakeries while building up the Remade Network. The first contract is already signed – and it’s in Brooklyn, New York.
The regular five-star reviews and the buzz of energy that gets generated are such a good testament to the skills of the staff, freelancers and wonderful volunteers. As we’ve said many times before, more than 25 per cent of our team are from other countries – immigrants don’t take our jobs, they create our jobs.
The speed and demand of interest in our social franchise project have led me to make a big decision to step down as director and let a new chief executive lead the organisation in Edinburgh. I’ll be staying on the board, and supporting the Edinburgh Remakery and all new Remakeries while building up the Remade Network – which will campaign for change and share the lessons of the journey in Edinburgh.
I hope that what’s taken seven years in Edinburgh can be condensed to one or two years for new projects. At this crazy time in the world, it feels so important to scale up the work we’re doing, and also be part of a wider ecosystem of movements for wider change; from fossil fuel divestment to voices – like the #me too movement - that highlight racial and gender discrimination.
The aim for the Remade Network is that it will help amplify the voices of the individual Remakeries – not just in calling for an end to disposable products, but allowing us to highlight wider campaigns. At the end of the day it – and we – are all connected.
The first contract is already signed – and it’s in Brooklyn, New York. Some enlightened individuals who own a building have decided to turn it into a community enterprise rather than a purely commercial venture. It’s up to me to help them realise their dreams – and ensure it’s commercially viable.
The Edinburgh Remakery
And we all hope we’ll inspire many others to make a similar decision. I’ll be continuing to talk to groups in Scotland and further afield about other projects.
Get in touch if you’d like to know more: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For me, it also marks a big change in my own life as I look to support others, rather than drive an organisation forward myself.
Please do help us spread the word about the chief executive vacancy. We’re looking for someone truly exceptional who can lead the organisation forward to great things in Edinburgh – not just in Leith, but promoting repair education throughout the whole city.
We want to see a future where waste prevention is the default, not the last resort. The right person will have a track record of delivering results with tight resources, be a brilliant communicator, great with finance, able to develop strategic partnerships, and lead and build our wonderful team. It’s a wonderful job for the right person.
Pictures courtesy of Sophie Unwin
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