Norfolk-based Truly Reclaimed stakeholder workshop at the Salvo convivial in Hingham

Posted on | By Thornton Kay
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Norfolk, UK - At the Norfolk-based Salvo convivial of around twenty tradespeople which took place at The White Hart Hotel in Hingham last weekend, kindly arranged by Sam and Louise Coster of Mongers Architectural Salvage, a stakeholder workshop took place on the proposed 'Truly Reclaimed' label, one of the eight strands of the EU FCRBE futuREuse project of which Salvo is a partner.

Truly Reclaimed was conceived by Salvo in 2015 and became the subject of a market research report by Salvo and the BRE in 2016 which was temporarily shelved by austerity budget cuts. Rotor, the project leader, was keen to include Truly Reclaimed in the FCRBE project proposal, and Salvo got the ball rolling at Hingham. The adoption of the label aims to make it clear to customers within a building with the eco-friendly reclaimed look to know that genuine authentic reclaimed materials, and not fake lookalikes, have been reused.

In the 1970s, a market for reclaimed building materials and architectural salvage did not exist until a few pioneering reclamation businesses were established. Appreciation grew gradually, mainly for the reuse of period details and materials in the many Georgian and Victorian houses which had been 'modernised' by having their original features removed, such as antique marble fireplaces replaced by modern 1960s gas fireplaces. The marble surrounds would be smashed up and skipped and the cast iron grates broken up with sledgehammers and 'taken down the scrappy' for a few extra pounds bunce for the workmen on a Friday afternoon.

By the 1980s customers of salvage yards included breweries wanting to make pubs feel less intimidating to female customers by introducing reclaimed timber flooring, wooden panelling and bars, and antiques, to produce the look known as the 'Irish theme pub'. This was followed by London fashion shops, and stores such as Selfridge and Liberty, reusing reclaimed wood flooring which had aesthetic appeal for women shoppers. Home-owners began to uncover hitherto fully fitted carpeted Victorian and Georgian softwood floors in their period houses. The trend for exposed old floorboards had begun.

It was then that competing businesses started making reproductions using new materials to cash in on the growing trend for genuine architectural antiques and salvage. Dealers also started selling reproduction often mixed in with their antique stocks. Eventually, encouraged by organisations such as the Victorian Society and English Heritage, manufacturing moved to the far east, especially Indonesia and China, and became more serious. Prices for genuine antique cast iron fireplaces plummeted as restoration became loss-making due to Chinese repro that could be bought for a tenth the price of an identical restored original.

Then along came faked reclaimed wood, made from possibly illegally logged Russian softwood, taken to China to be antiqued, distressed, and painted to look reclaimed, and then shipped to Europe and North America and sold as genuine reclaimed wood furniture. After that, due to the increasing demand for reclaimed bricks, major European brick companies began making new bricks to look like reclaimed bricks using chemical and tumbling treatments, and even describing them as 'reclaim' 'antique' and 'olde' on their product websites. Fakes of many kinds now abound, competing with old originals.

The use of a faked reclaimed product comes with a high carbon cost. But customers who visit interiors festooned with fake materials are cheated into thinking that the premises - high-street chains operating restaurants, bars, hotels or shops - and the company occupying them has eco-friendly, planet-friendly or climate-friendly credentials while in reality they are cynically faking resources and destroying the environment, and in some cases are also receiving tax-payer subsidies to do so.

The dealer stakeholders at Hingham were supportive of the aims of futuREuse to increase the amoiunt of reuse of reclamed building materials above the estimated current 1% or so, and the majority thought that a Truly Reclaimed label would help to stop major companies cheating their customers by using fake reclaimed lookalikes. Most thought the label should give a reader information about history of the material and the environmental benefits of reusing it, although a third thought it should be more fun than serious. Most thought the label should be physical rather than virtual, although some were happy with the idea of a tag which could open a page of info on a smartphone. A third thought that Salvo should be the administrator, a third thought the government should be administrator, and another third thought a trade association should be the administrator. Some dealers thought the trade should self-certify the label, overseen by Salvo.

A meeting of around 30 people from the eight FCRBE project partners will take place in Brussels on 19 March where the stakeholder input at Hingham along with other issues will be discussed. Some of the project partners may lean toward the label validating materials with a verifiable provenance and chain of custody. To begin with Salvo will be pushing for the Truly Reclaimed label to be used by trusted dealers who provide a story of the journey of the material, and a simple statement about the environmental benefit of its reclamation and reuse.

Story Type: News