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recycling lives

How can a business plan change the world? In our spring 2019 edition of Equinox,we spoke to Recycling Lives to discover how their company is creating positive social change. 

Gary’s criminal record started at age 13. At 40-years old he was in prison, had never had a job and had no qualifications. What future awaited him? With reoffending rates at almost 70%, you’d be forgiven for assuming that upon release, it wouldn’t be long before Gary was back behind bars. 

But Gary’s life had changed forever. He left prison with a job, some money in his pocket and a purpose to his life, all thanks to a fantastic programme by Recycling Lives which facilitates the business and the community alike. 

Grown from a family-owned scrap merchants in Leyland, Recycling Lives was founded in 2008 by Steve Jackson, who was awarded an OBE in the 2013 New Year Honours list for his services to employment and the community in Lancashire. The waste management company offers a vast array of services; whilst its recycling and waste management solutions are extensive (covering general waste, mixed recycling, cardboard and packaging, hazardous and confidential waste), it also offers compliance schemes, award-winning training programmes, recruitment services and business support and mentoring for small businesses. 

But there’s much more to Recycling Lives than its commercial services. Making a positive impact on the community is an integral part of their business. The company is committed to delivering 10% of their turnover in social value, and they have various programmes in place to achieve this. Their recruitment of ex-offenders delivered social value of over £8 million in 2017/18 alone by saving taxpayers’ money, and over 40% of their 400-strong workforce have either been in prison or homeless at some point. 

Around 15 years ago, Recycling Lives’ predecessor business was approached by a prisoner from HMP Kirkham looking for an opportunity to work on day release. Bringing a raft of skills and showing untold dedication to the business, he proved that giving offenders a chance was worthwhile. 

Steve saw an opportunity to make a difference. Many prison-leavers weren’t returning to a better life – in fact, the reality was quite the opposite. Unemployment or even homelessness are very real threats to ex-offenders, and by offering these individuals an opportunity, the business could change people’s lives, make a positive impact on the community and gain dedicated, hard-working employees all at the same time. 

The plan worked. Steve found that the people coming from the prison were some of the most hard-working individuals he’d ever met because they were so grateful to be given an opportunity. Meanwhile, the company was winning more and more contracts with councils recycling unwanted TVs, and they used the opportunity to open a recycling workshop within the prison itself, known as an HMP Academy. They employed and trained the prisoners to take apart the TVs, separating the useful pieces to be sold on. In addition to the social and business benefits of this, the client (in this case, the council) also profited as they received a rebate for the value of their product. Plus, they too had made a positive social impact by providing the contract for the Academy. 

This was the birth of Recycling Lives’ HMP Academies programme, which now operates 12 academies across the UK and is growing fast. The scheme pays prisoners £55 a week for their work (which is the maximum allowed), and they are supported to save this wage ready for release, therefore ensuring that, as well as a job, they also have some savings. Recycling Lives also has a pastoral care programme providing many with the support and drive to excel. 

You may be wondering, “this all sounds great, but does it work?”. Quite simply, yes. The reoffending rate of individuals who go through the HMP Academies programme is less than 5% compared to the nationwide average of around 67%. That is a huge social impact, and the HMP Academies are just the start of the work that Recycling Lives does. 

The company also offers a residential programme that gives homeless people a place to live and teaches them valuable life and employment skills to get them back on their feet. Their Food Redistribution Centre has also delivered around 2.5 million meals to disadvantaged groups across Lancashire and Cumbria by redistributing surplus food from supermarkets – meals that would otherwise have gone to waste. 

The positive impact of these schemes is massive, and it only serves to help Recycling Lives grow even further by winning more contracts and, in turn, attracting brilliant staff. Companies and individuals alike want to work with the business because they are competitive commercially but with the added value that they are driving real change in society - it’s not just about the money. 

The company’s ethos has proven to be an effective business plan throughout its history. The loyal and hardworking team that Recycling Lives has built has helped the business leap from strength to strength. Last year, their turnover rocketed from £46.5 million to £75 million. In three-year’s-time, they plan to be at £300 million. Their commitment to delivering 10% of their turnover in social value means that the more they grow, the higher their positive social impact climbs. If they reach their target of £300 million, they’ll be creating a massive £30 million of social value. 

Robert Hall, New Business Director at Recycling Lives, explains: “Our board and everyone in the business is geared to the same commitment – if the commercial value goes through the roof, we will always continue to deliver that 10% social value, we’ll never shy away from it. It’s engrained in our business.” 

Recycling Lives provides a valuable lesson for both existing and aspiring business owners and employers. Every member of society is responsible for building a better world, and more and more people are recognising that, hence the success of the company. We are all responsible for our society, and the real lesson to be learnt from Recycling Lives is very simple: if you see a problem, start fixing it.  

You can learn more about Recycling Lives and their services at www.recyclinglives.com