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Creative recycling of someone's junk

Edinburgh's Bits and Bobs scrap store of art and play materials is like an Aladdin's cave. The number of recycled items in the warehouse tucked away in New Lairdship Yards is quite overwhelming.

There are rolls of material, reams of paper, pots of paint, picture frames, skipping ropes, plastic tubes I the list goes on. Almost every inch of the small warehouse is taken up with something that could be used by creative minds and busy fingers. So, if you are looking for some inspiration for an art class, this would be a good place to start.

Bits and Bobs, a co-op which has been trading for two years, collects safe waste from commercial businesses which would otherwise be sent to landfill sites or incinerated. It is sorted and displayed in sections at the warehouse and sold at competitive prices. For example, material - sometimes generous amounts of it - can be bought from as little as 30p for a bag of scraps suitable for a collage.

Before Easter the material shelves were full of vibrant pink nylon donated by a city nightclub, says Julie Derevycka, the volunteer co-ordinator.

"We get our materials from a variety of places. Businesses donate items and we can even find things in skips," she says, pointing to a pile of patterned envelopes.

If there are specific materials you are looking for, the staff will try to source them for you. As well as the discarded items on offer, there is a small area dedicated to new stock such as glitter, glue and paint. "It makes it a one-stop shop," says Ms Derevycka.

It began as an initiative by Intowork, an organisation that creates employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and then set up in partnership with the charity Enable.

"I was working with people who have learning difficulties," project manager Alison Bell explains. "They wanted to work but didn't want to be cleaners or go into catering; they wanted to set up their own business."

To be able to buy from the store you need to become a member customer. The annual fee is pound;10 for individuals, pound;15 for small groups and pound;30 for larger groups.

Being a member also gives you discounted prices on workshops which are led by professional artists and are designed to provide inspiration and ideas for using scrap materials. The workshops, often based on a particular theme, are usually held in community centres in Broomhouse but the team can travel to anywhere in Scotland. Costs for a one-day event are typically around pound;5 for members and pound;10 for non-members.

The store holds open events about every three months to give people the chance to look around. A professional artist is on hand to demonstrate ways of using scrap items in arts and crafts, and there is a display area with examples of what you can do with materials from the shop, as well as step-by-step instruction leaflets.

"As a resource for schools we are so cheap," says Ms Derevycka, pointing to a ball of wool for 20p. "But the problem is that it's often easier for schools to order out of a catalogue than come here."

It is a fair point, but what you don't get from looking in a catalogue and what you do get from shopping at Bits and Bobs is inspiration and the knowledge that you are contributing to reducing waste and recycling.

Karen Shead

Bits and Bobs Co-op, Unit 15, New Lairdship Yards, Broomhouse Road, Edinburgh EH11 3UY, tel 0131 443 9490. Open Wednesdays and Thursdays and the first Saturday morning of every month

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