Dan and Kate Harper are the creative minds behind Wastesmiths, a Great Yarmouth based social enterprise which aims to reinvent, repair, reuse and recycle – all under one roof. Here, Dan explains how the mission is to change our relationship with stuff
Throughout my career I have been involved with setting up and developing social enterprises building communities around things we all have a relationship with…like waste.
What is the background to Wastesmiths and who is involved?
Wastesmiths grew out of a creative community in Great Yarmouth. A creative community that was increasingly thinking waste materials are the most available material for making stuff; waste is literally everywhere. Kate Harper and I have a particular passion for preventing waste from ending up in the environment through innovative projects and interventions. We are particularly interested in developing projects that think of waste clothing and waste plastic as precious materials rather than litter. So, it was with this passion Kate and I set up Wastesmiths. We now have a small but perfectly formed team and a rapidly growing community around us involved in everything we do.
Where are you based?
We have a workshop in Great Yarmouth which is home to our grassroots plastic recycling workshop, our litter arcade, our community cinema and all sorts of materials for making. We’re also passionate about inspiring kitchen table experimentation and neighbourhood material transformation wherever the community that supports us is based, so we do some pop-up events and workshops across Norfolk when we’re able to.
How has it evolved since the start? There are several like-minded projects all under one big umbrella?
So, we started Wastesmiths with a Precious Plastic workshop and have quickly evolved to be working on fashion and clothing, as well as growing of plants for arts and craft practices like natural dyeing. We wrestled for a while with how different these things seem, though fundamentally they’re all about inviting change in our relationships with stuff. Levels of clothing waste are eye watering, so we seek to transform relationships with clothing through care, repair, swapping and natural dyeing. Waste plastic has been found in literally every natural environment around the world, and so one way we tackle this is by transforming ocean plastic into precious things that will never end up in the sea ever again.
Is Make, Grow + Mend the latest?
Our latest project is Make, Grow + Mend. Fundamentally we are all about growing community around a different and evolving relationship with stuff and we’re hoping Make, Grow + Mend offers easy invitations to come and explore this with us. We’ll be working with our community to do things like making fabric from soft plastics, growing plants for crafts, and enhancing clothing with colourful visible repairs. This project is all happening in Caister, Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, though we’ll be feeding what we learn from the project into our work across the county.
When are the next We Wear The Trousers events taking place?
We Wear The Trousers has a busy schedule of events for 2024. We have our social clothes mending events called Mend With Friends in Aylsham and Norwich Millennium Library on the first and second Saturday of the month respectively, and we’re starting one in Caister on the last Wednesday of the month. There will be quarterly Swap-O-Ramas at The Arts Centre in Norwich and The Alternative Fashion School on Wednesday evenings, inviting people to come together to skill and knowledge share around a range of topics.
What’s the latest initiative for Precious Plastics East?
Our big focus for Precious Plastic East is getting the story of our work and our products out there into the world. Almost all the waste plastic we make stuff from is collected within 30 miles of our workshop. We are manufacturing using local resources. We hand sort, process and manufacture everything we make and so everything is precious and has its own story. This year is also going to be a big year for growing community plastic collections, developing recycled plastic 3D printer filament and sharing plastic transformation skills. We have a couple of new machines we’re currently mastering that will transform the volume of plastic we can divert from landfill, giving us a whole new range of stuff we can make. We’ll also be looking to involve 3D printing in our repair work, hopefully using recycled plastic filament we’ve made.
Generally, how can people find out more and get involved?
There is a whole range of ways people can join our community. If you’re not anywhere near Great Yarmouth or Norwich then you could collect colourful lids for our plastic workshop (the recycling industry isn’t a fan of colourful plastic), and follow, like and share our social media content inviting people into new relationships with their waste. If you’re in our neck of the woods and have skills in clothes repair, growing or making stuff, or fancy learning them, then we’d love to invite you to get involved in our projects. We have sessions at our plastic workshop in Yarmouth on a Tuesday morning, at our growing plot in Caister on a Wednesday morning and regular Alternative Fashion School sessions in Norwich on a Wednesday evening. Alternatively if you love what we do and don’t have to time to get involved then you could buy one of our recycled plastic products or donate, both of which supports us to continue doing what we’re doing.
Any plans you can share?
Though it’s top secret, we are hoping 2024 is going to be a big year for repair related things within Wastesmiths. We can’t say too much more. We’re in conversations with partners and making plans. We’re also looking forward to celebrating our second birthday and starting our second year of community cinema screenings in March. We have some films we’re really excited to share with our community. It’s going to be a busy year and we’re looking forward to it.
The next Mend With Friends at Great Yarmouth Library takes place on Wednesday February 7, from 10am to 12 noon; at Norwich Millennium Library on Saturday February 10, from 10am to 12 noon; and at Aylsham Friends Meeting House on Saturday March 2, from 10am to 12 noon.
(All featured images – supplied)