THE BIG INTERVIEW: Nothing wasted in helping out others
Updated 9:49am Tuesday 6th May 2014 in By Barrie Hudson
OLIVIA McCann, 40, is project manager at Swindon Children’s Scrapstore, which recycles donated materials as craft items. The scrapstore was recently in the news when its van was vandalised and M4 Van Services stepped in with a cut-rate repair. Tomorrow, at 11am, it opens a furniture shop at 73 Regent Street, next to H&M. Olivia lives in Swindon and has a 22-year-old daughter, Jasmine
“ONCE you go from the commercial sector to the voluntary sector,” says Olivia McCann, “I think it’s very difficult to ever go back.
“Even though it’s extremely hard work – and I actually believe it’s harder work than the commercial sector – the rewards are what keep you there. “You see the difference you’re making in people’s lives. “In the 13 years I’ve done it, we’ve had probably thousands of volunteers come through the scrapstore, and for many of them it’s changed their lives. “They’ve gone on to get jobs, do college courses. “It’s boosted their confidence, their self esteem, and made them feel better about themselves and the fact that they are useful.” Olivia was born in the small community of Kinnegad in Westmeath. Her mum was a carer and her stepdad a driver of diggers and other heavy machines.
She is the youngest of five siblings and the family came to Swindon when she was seven, in search of opportunities.
Olivia’s primary school was St Mary’s and her secondary St Joseph’s. Her early career was full of variety. “I had my daughter when I’d just turned 18, and then I worked at Video Solent on the Crossroads for a year. It was a video shop. “I’ve done several jobs. I used to drive a food van in the morning and I’d work at Powerhouse customer services in the evenings. “My daughter was little, so I’d spend time with her in the day.
“I worked at Zurich – or Allied Dunbar as it was at the time – for six months.
“I worked at Rogers Garden Stone in Faringdon for many years. “My mum passed away in 2001, and that was when I decided that, basically, I needed a change. “The scrapstore was based at Pinehurst People’s Centre at the time, and I lived in Pinehurst Road, so it was local to me.
“I went for that and the rest is pretty much history – 13 years later in June, I’m still here. “I’d never done anything like that before, but I was quite enthusiastic about recycling at the time and I just thought I’d give it ago.
“I applied for the job, got it and loved it.” The scrapstore was founded in 1985 and has 200 users. Its current location on the Elgin Industrial estate is its fourth.
For a small annual fee, members can take items for recycling in art and craft projects. Non-members can make a one-off payment of £5 for a basket of items or £10 for a trolleyload if they prefer. There are 21 regular volunteers, while Olivia is one of two staff members.
The scrapstore receives no council or government aid, and is funded by trusts and donors.
Stock is donated by local companies, charities and other organisations, and the items in its 6,400sqft space currently include roller blinds, blank wedding albums, jigsaws, fittings for drawers, printers, books, toys, pushchairs, large sheets of cardboard and rubber gloves. Olivia said: “If we weren’t here, every single thing you see here would be in landfill, in a hole in the ground, which is criminal, to be honest.
“Everything goes to our users. A lot of the people who use the scrapstore are extremely creative.
“We’ve also got a Facebook page, so what I do is get the customers who make stuff to put it on there. “There’s one lady called Debbie Austin, for example. She makes the most wonderful things from almost nothing. “She’s just covered a whole sofa in scraps of material that she got from the scrapstore, and it looks absolutely fabulous.”
Other users have made everything from carpet-tile-and-cable-tie rugs to children’s forts from cardboard sheets.
A group of children made mobile robots based around computer chairs in a joint project with housing association Sovereign.
Children, Olivia says, are especially creative, which is why she opened the scrapstore to them shortly after getting the job. She is also especially attentive to the volunteers. “The biggest thing for me is making sure that everybody feels they’re part of the team. We rely heavily upon volunteers and it’s really important to make them feel they’re part of something, that they’re not just here to do a job and then go.
“The scrapstore is a vital part of the community. It has, on average, a footfall of 12,000 or 13,000 each year. That’s a lot of people who are coming through, meeting each other, making new friends. “There’s nothing else like it in Swindon – where else are the schools and students and childminders and community groups going to go for their resources? They simply can’t afford commercial prices.”
The recent attack on the van was merely the latest challenge from which the scrapstore has bounced back with the help of well-wishers. Olivia credits the Adver with alerting the town to those problems and helping to drum up support. “I’ve had fire, floods, I’ve had mouse infestation – I haven’t had locusts yet! We’ve had vandalism; we’ve almost closed through lack of funding. “We’ve had to leave a building because it was about to be demolished. “There have been a lot of trials and tribulations, but as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Your articles have made all the difference in making people aware of us and getting them to help us out.” The scrapstore’s website is www.scrapstore.co.uk.