The main aim of my visit to Bristol Wood Recycling Project was to talk to people about archaeology. Specifically, what I wanted to do was to find out why people were making use of the BWRP and what they were doing with the materials they left with. I’ve always found that these simple conversations lead into discussion of wider issues. Archaeology is good at working on different scales at the same time, looking both at objects and at the wider-world systems they are part of. So are regular people.
The person I spoke to most was Kaleb, in charge on the day I visited. I’ll come back to my conversation with him on Friday.
What I noticed really clearly about the place is that a very large proportion of the custom came from young couples. BWRP is obviously playing a part in people kitting out their first homes, itself a really important thing. I didn’t talk to any of them though, I focussed on the people who looked like they knew what they were doing, I wouldn’t want to put off anyone unsure of their DIY needs and skills!
The first person I chatted to was with Kaleb when I arrived. He was doing something fairly straightforward, taking a piece of plywood to turn into a tool shelf for the back of his van. A small job, for sure, but a small example of the interdependence of projects of this kind and independent businesses. One of the main attractions is that it’s cheaper of course, but the person in question was also keen to support the BWRP and its wider aims (see yesterday).
The next person I chatted to was Ben, who I found taking wooden pallets apart.
Ben is a long-term customer of BWRP and used local reclamation yards as well before they closed. I chatted to Ben about the kinds of things he has made with wood from the BWRP (see below), of which there are quite a lot. He told me that he has always worked from a philosophy of fixing rather than replacing things, more for practical reasons than because of any green philosophy. In one sense, what we can see in these regular, very practically-minded regular customers is one of the ways in which people work hard to inhabit individually the world as constrained by politics, economics and more. Yet Ben was also clearly aware of the environmental and social issues at the heart of the BWRPs aims – and the fact that people can do something about them – so he is certainly an important part of enacting that wider network. Here are some of the things he’s made (thanks for the photos and permission to post them, Ben).
Shortly before I left, I talked with Sarah, who I overheard saying she was looking for wood for an art project. It turned out that a friend was being very productive in some DIY that day so she had decided to join in and make a table. She had come to the BWRP having seen it when walking past walking dogs. Her plan was to get an old cupboard door and fill the recessed centre with pebbles and resin. Discussing the archaeological take on BWRP, we moved onto a discussion about precarity in the city, Sarah being a post-doc researcher in a university department where she works in a room full of other researchers all on two-month contracts. I wonder whether the BWRP is also useful as a kind of therapy for people who need to do something practical to take their minds off wider issues.
So, these are some of the people of the BWRP, people who took time out of their DIY Saturdays to let me stand and talk about archaeology with them for a bit. I’m grateful to all of them for letting me disturb them.
I’ll draw out a bit more of what this all means for public archaeology (and urban archaeology in general) on Friday.