Let’s give the floor to Micaela Basford, Corporate Sustainability Officer at Bath and North East Somerset Council, who has kindly joined us to talk about ethical and sustainable building clearances.
This interview will provide valuable information to Facilities Managers and Clearance Teams, as well as Waste and Sustainability professionals about:
- Working with multiple departments and stakeholders to create a cohesive decommissioning plan that entails supportive communication techniques
- The social skills required to orchestrate open evenings and events that result in more than 80% clearance and donation rates
- How to cope with short notice clearances and restricted timescales when it comes to making sure that assets get reused instead of tipped.
Without further hesitation...
Hi Micaela, let’s start from the beginning. What problems were you facing before discovering Warp It?
We were in the process of reducing our number of offices from 12, down to 4. To make things worse, they were all in different geographic locations. One of the moves was huge, around 600 people from an old building into a new build. So, because we were reducing the number of offices we were operating, we were reducing the number of desks and that meant we had a lot of assets to get rid of. Also, the new builds were kind of parallel, so we wanted new furniture in there that would align with the new building and not to have to take old furniture with us.
And what happened next?
Well, we were reducing the number of desks and storage options that we were using, and at the same time buying new furniture for a whole new office. It’s the Facilities Team who always manage those projects. One of the main drivers for that build was for it to be an environmentally high-performing building. We also wanted to make sure that we were disposing of the old furniture in a way that was of local benefit.
What processes had you seen in the past that had room for improvement?
Well, rather than see assets be taken away by the contractor, we wanted an alternative. As a council, we work with local organisations, charities, schools, community groups, children’s centres, supported lodgings, the Housing Team and some of our own services. Rather than have these items taken away, we had identified a more efficient and effective use for them.
The local benefit of this concept is that you keep the value of products more locally. Even if a proportion of the assets went for recycling or reprocessing, that wouldn’t be a direct benefit to the people and organisations of Bath and North East Somerset. So we found Warp It, and made great efforts to try and re-home some of these items locally. The Sustainability Team and the Waste and Recycling Team were the driving forces.
These are different departments, right? What advice can you give on collaboration between different teams?
Basically we had a long lead-in time, as we had to go through a lot of decision-making and influencing at lower levels. Decision-making at the higher level discussed whether this was something the council wanted or was willing to support as a concept, and if we could get permission for resources to put into this. Then, at an operational level we had to do a lot making connections, building relationships, explaining and reassuring people that we were working within our little project on the Operational Project Team. We also had to involve the Sustainability and Waste Teams, as well as Procurement. The Facilities Team were involved, and above them is the Property Services Team. There are plenty of stakeholders that we needed to engage with. It seems almost ridiculous when I lay it out like that!
And did you feel that these departments kind of existed in silos?
Oh for sure. There were people we were engaging with to get the project moving and functioning, and a whole lot of other connections who would be recipients of donations and assets. We needed both sides otherwise there was no point, as we needed to be targeted in our approach so that recipients knew what was happening and what the opportunity for gain was. There were limited timescales, and a lot of time was taken on contracts with children’s centres, the commission services within the council, charity organisations and schools. We had to prime our customers.
Was this easy to do? I’ve heard it can be a tricky situation
It’s difficult to get through to people initially. You can’t just send an email or post on social media and say ‘This is happening’. You can do that as part of a communication plan, but I’m of the opinion that going to people personally is more effective. We were trying to do both, as well as going higher within the organisation to help the project run well.
You need a really strong set of social skills to achieve this, right?
You do! I mean I think if you look at why it hasn’t been done before, partly it's because, we really ramped it up and there were lots of people involved in the project, much more than are usually used in an office relocation project, but at the same time the scale of our office rationalisation project and new build were also on a larger scale than we normally do.
I guess a team that I've not mentioned in there is our Communities Team. They were also pretty key in being able to get the messages out to local charities. They also have quite a lot of intelligence in terms of what's going on locally, and which community groups are setting up a community café and where they are with it, and what kind of thing they're looking for. Some of it was actually a one-to-one matchmaking service that we were providing as well.
I think that we wouldn't have got rid of so many of our meeting tables and chairs if we hadn't known that a couple of organisations were in the middle of big changes, first of all one of them was becoming an established organisation with some premises. Then secondly, there was another one that was setting up more of a kind of a drop-in community café type thing. Without knowing that and knowing who it was that was actually leading that, within that voluntary community organisation, getting the message (about this building decant) to the right people would be fundamentally difficult.
What about working with Charity Groups to spread the message of free furniture?
The Volunteer Centre work with a number of different organisations, so we asked them to help spread the word about the building decommission. I think the other thing in terms of commissioned services was also posting it on our noticeboard.
We’ve got an internal trading point, like free ads, a Gumtree for staff. We posted details of the project on there, asking staff if they worked with charity and social groups. We found out a lot of our staff spend their free time working with Scouts, faith groups, PTA and more. Quite a few of them came to us saying that they’d been shown our post and were keen to pass the message along. We managed to connect with a school this way, through a direct email, donate some assets, and on top of that we’ve had success targeting more schools in the area.