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Plain rubbish aids basic skills

Martin Whittaker looks at a recycling scheme with a twist in York

ENVIRONMENTALLY conscious volunteers are cultivating their basic skills by helping to turn household waste into garden compost.

The Basic Skills Community Composting and Recycling scheme is run by the Friends of St Nicholas Fields, a registered charity which manages a lush 24-acre nature reserve one mile from the centre of York.

This reserve, known locally as St Nicks, was once a council tip. In the late Eighties it was earmarked by York City Council for an industrial estate, but local people campaigned and won the fight to keep the area as an urban nature park.

Bordered by housing estates and factories, St Nicks is now the city's biggest open space, complete with wildflower meadows, woodland and a butterfly walk. The compost and recycling scheme is based at the York Environment Community Centre, at the heart of the reserve. It was set up with a pound;30,000 grant from the Adult and Community Learning Fund.

Under the scheme, volunteers collect aluminium cans, glass, newspaper and green waste from local households on environmentally friendly tricycles. All the material is weighed and sorted. Green waste goes into compost bins and the resulting compost is later sold back to the community.

Meanwhile, volunteers aged 17 to 21, get one-to-one tuition from York College tutor Louise Simons. There's maths involved in weighing materials on old imperial scales and converting into metric, and temperature readings in the composting process. Students are developing a website and they design posters and leaflets advertising the project for other learners.

"Recycling is something people are interested in; it seems quite topical," said Louise Simons. "It was just a new way to promote basic skills without them thinking we were doing basic skills.

"We have a group discussion about recycling and how we can improve it in York. And we write letters to members of the community and the Government about the importance of recycling. Actually, though, they're learning how to do a formal and informal letter. They're learning basic skills without really knowing it. We try to keep it as practical and outdoors as possible because most of them have had bad experiences at school."

The scheme saves more than 5kg of recyclable materials per household per week. If it were extended to all households in York, it would save the equivalent of pound;250,000 in council tax, says project co-ordinator Gordon Campbell-Thomas.

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