The Wood Yard is the social enterprise going against the grain
The Wood Yard rescue wood from the waste stream, communities from neglect, and our streets from boredom.
The Wood Yard is a social enterprise in Walker, Newcastle, which is going above, beyond and totally against the grain to revitalise their local community. They offer a wood recycling service to the construction industry – and anyone else who has waste wood.
For many of us, when we see a plank of wood it is just that: a plank of wood. Could be useful in our next DIY project, could be great for our next firepit gathering.
But when Beth McDonough looks at a plank of wood, she sees endless opportunities: opportunities for rejuvenation and reinvention; for creation and innovation; for volunteering, training and employment. Opportunities for more.
And with a little inspiration, a lot of hard work and a cracking team behind her, Beth has turned this vision into a reality at The Wood Yard: Walker’s illustrious social enterprise going above, beyond and totally against the grain to revitalise their local community.
We catch up with Beth to chat carrying timber, getting more women working with wood and what it means to use waste to joinery – sorry, join – the dots and reconnect a community.
What’s The Wood Yard all about?
Newcastle Wood Recycling – aka The Wood Yard – is a community wood recycling project based in Walker. We offer a wood recycling service to the construction sector and anyone else who has waste wood. We’re a social enterprise with strong social and environmental aims, supporting our local community through volunteering and training opportunities and rescuing wood from the waste stream.
Why do you work with wood in particular?
While doing a carpentry course in 2011, I was searching for reclaimed timber online and came across the Brighton and Hove Community Wood Recycling project. I’d been interested in setting up a community project for a while and, within seconds of discovering their website, I knew I was going to set up my own similar project here in Newcastle. We are now proudly part of a network of community wood recyclers across the UK.
Where did your love affair with the material begin?
My background is in youth and community work, but over the years I’ve done various part-time courses as I love to learn and pick up new skills. I absolutely loved learning carpentry and knew I wanted to turn my new hobby into a career somehow. At that time, I had a big interest in working with reclaimed materials and had begun making things in my backyard out of old pallets, which led to my search for reclaimed timber online. My life has been about wood ever since!
So, how does your wood recycling service work?
We offer a waste wood collection service, which is an alternative to a skip – we collect timber in our caged transit tipper and we only charge for what we take away, so it can save people money on their wood waste disposal. We then reuse as much of the timber as possible – bringing it back to our yard in Walker and sorting it for reuse. This work creates training, employment and volunteer opportunities to people in the community. The reclaimed timber is de-nailed and sold on for DIY or made furniture and garden projects. Anything that’s left over is turned into firewood or is chipped and recycled into chipboard. 100% of what we collect is reused or recycled; nothing is returned to the waste stream.
How has the pandemic shifted the focus of your work?
Up until the pandemic, we made lots of bespoke, one-off pieces for our customers. While we loved doing this work, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to revisit our vision and mission and we have now shifted our focus towards collaborations with local business on larger commissions, which will give our volunteers more sustainable training opportunities.
A great example of this are the planters we made for NE1, which you can now see on the Quayside. We are just kicking off our volunteer training again post-Covid, and in the run-up to Christmas you’ll see smaller, volunteer-made items popping up in our shop and at local markets.
The Wood Yard is so community-focused – how would you say your business gives back?
We exist for the community! We’re a not-for-profit organisation, which means that any profit we do make is reinvested back into the enterprise. We love being based in Walker and have ongoing support from our community. Residents of Walker get 10% off our services and free delivery too.
We work with community groups to create referral pathways for people who are looking to gain new skills and improve their employability. We also work with those with extra time on their hands, such as those who are retired. Our volunteer opportunities are open to people from all walks of life.
Before the pandemic, we provided approximately 1,200 individual volunteer training days per year and would like to build up our pool of volunteers back to pre-pandemic levels, so would welcome enquiries from people who would like to get involved!
Do you run any community carpentry workshops?
Not right now, but it’s on our to-do list. So watch this space!
What have been the most exciting or challenging piece(s) that you’ve created so far?
The planters we did for NE1 were an exciting project. It was great to work with a local organisation who are able to showcase our work in such a beautiful, public space. We really love working with other community groups and made some potting tables for wheelchair users at the Ouseburn farm recently. We’ve made some unusual items over the years – from cat trees to custom bars! Our most popular products have been scaffold board shelves and hairpin leg tables.
And do you have a project you’d love to work on in the future?
We’ve recently designed some really cool picnic benches and would love to work with local independent businesses on furniture commissions and shop fits. My personal dream is to start building tiny homes; shepherds huts and tree houses, which I’m hoping to start-up as my next business venture.
You also offer affordable studio space for creative businesses – can you tell us a little more about this side of your work?
We’re currently home to Cubanos street food, The Kunst Klub (an art design and print studio), Travelling Man Tattoos and Jupiter Joinery and Metal Works. Part of our mission is to support local makers and small businesses to start-up and become sustainable. In the past, we’ve had architecture students, a leather worker and a local illustrator, to name a few.
What do you love most about your job?
Having the freedom to pursue my vision for the yard has been amazing. I’ve always gone against the grain (‘scuse the pun!), and never really fit into traditional workplaces. We prefer not to work in a hierarchical way; instead, we encourage collaboration and cooperative ways of working. I couldn’t have done any of this without all of the amazing people who have joined me on my journey and it’s been a massive team effort all the way. The Wood Yard is for the community and by the community. That’s what makes it such a special place to work.
And what would you say to encourage more women to work with wood?
We’re proud to have worked with some amazing women who work with wood over the years. I would say to women who are keen to have a go: look for a carpentry course at your local college and follow your passions, whatever they are. Come down and see us at the yard to find out more and get involved in our woodwork training. There’s a great project in Walker called Building Futures East, who offer DIY courses for women. We’re planning to team up with them in the near future, so keep an eye out for that!
What does the future look like for We Love Wood?
We want to learn more about what our community and volunteers need from us post-pandemic and plan to respond to those needs in any way we can. We want The Wood Yard to become a destination for people from all across the region and a hub for our community. We’re aiming to offer coffee, cakes, Cubanos food, and host more events and classes in the future, too!
Or drop in and say hello: The Wood Yard, Welbeck Road, Newcastle NE6 2PA