Each of these Public Archaeology 2015 projects includes some kind of engagement away from the blog site. Being interested in material networks and what they can tell you about the city, I wanted to go and talk about archaeology with some of the people making one of these networks happen. As you might have seen from yesterday’s post, there are lots of examples of the ends of these networks, bits of street furniture appearing in different contexts for instance. It’s actually quite hard to get at what happens in between. With the street furniture examples, many councils have central depots holding benches, lampposts, flag stones and so on that have been taken from one place for whatever reason and are waiting to be relocated (or sold…). It’s really hard to find these places! It’s understandable that they’re a bit hush-hush, their contents are really valuable. So, with street furniture, I only have ends and no middle. Then I read about Bristol Wood Recycling Project.
BWRP has been around since 2003 in premises given by the council for peppercorn rent. Click here for the full story. In one sense, what they do is very simple; salvage wood and recycle it for secondary use. It is more complicated than that in reality. Like any of the many similar projects around the country (and the world), they have a number of core aims. These, as listed on their website, are:
- Saving resources from waste – intervening in the waste disposal system to salvage reusable wood and save it from rotting in land fill. 25% of their wood comes in this way and contractors who work with BWRP can use that relationship to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and being environmentally friendly.
- Provide affordable timber to the local community – as well as promoting sustainable waste disposal, the BWRP helps local people get by by providing a source of wood at less than commercial rates, enabling people to undertake projects they might not otherwise afford.
- Enable social inclusion – BWRP gives people a place to volunteer and gain some training in related skills.
- Remain self-funding – it tries to turn over enough money to stay in business, no more.
What makes this a site of public archaeology? Bristol Wood Recycling Project facilitates the movement of a particular material, not just in local re-use contexts, but in relation to national networks of waste disposal, so it’s invaluable for learning about how that particular material moves around. It’s also consciously socially-engaged, working with volunteers, providing a service for local people, and doing so while remaining not-for-profit.
It’s not quite a site for working with people to learn about the past, but it is a site for working with them using archaeological methodology to understand the present and the future. To be honest, in these contexts, it’s me doing most of the learning, but it’s always a conversation. I’ve done enough work in this area now to be able to provide the ‘big picture’ and to be able to explain how a project like BWRP fits into the wider world. However, I need to talk to people to understand the details of how individuals fit in and what the impact is of this kind of project on people’s lives.
The Bristol Wood Recycling Project is important in itself, but also an incredibly important kind of thing. It is a kind of thing that shows us more clearly than elsewhere, a particular intersection of people, the environment, the city and politics, and understanding its rhythms is, I argue, key to understanding Bristol.
I spent five hours with them earlier in the month, having a long conversation with Kaleb, the man who was in charge on the day I visited. It was quite a punctuated conversation as it was a very busy day. In the gaps, I had a good look around the yard myself and chatted to a few customers, generally the ones who looked like they knew what they were doing. Over the next three days, I want to develop the public archaeology of projects like Bristol Wood Recycling Project. Firstly, I’ll tell you about the people I met and what they were doing with wood. Then, I’ll throw a bit of my own archaeology in with a post on what I could tell about the place from going and looking at it. Lastly, I’ll come back to my chat with Kaleb and conclude with some thoughts on how my time with BWRP helped me develop some ideas around the ‘public archaeology of the future’.
Hope you find it interesting. As we go, please do chip in with any similar projects you know, or have used, or volunteered for.