A passion for upcycling

Ties T's Workshop Flyer (03Cathy (my partner) is all fired-up about a new Transition Newcastle project. It really demonstrates the value of focusing on people’s skills and passions. She, and a number of people, are very excited by the potential of this project. The following is their vision.

Imagine this:

There is a centre in Newcastle which encourages people to develop practical skills for living sustainably. It promotes creativity and resourcefulness, sharing of skills and possessions, and helps build community. And it challenges us in how we consume.

An ottoman Cathy recovered with old ties

An ottoman Cathy recovered with old ties

There’s a wide range of practical workshops including:


  • Upcycled Ties and T-shirts
  • Wooden Pallets Upcycling
  • New Look Books
  • Chair Repair and Upcycling
  • Shirts, skirts and shorts
  • Refurbishing soft furnishings
  • Diva denim
  • Re-upholstering furniture
  • Upcycled kids clothes
A bag Cathy made out of an old T-shirt

A bag Cathy made out of an old T-shirt

 Sustainable Living

  • Green cleaning for the home
  • Natural beauty skin care
  • Composting and worm farming
  • Vertical gardening
  • Leftover food recipes
  • Food preserving
  • Seasonal cooking
  • Bike Maintenance

This centre is large enough (maybe an old warehouse or shed) to have a workshop area for woodwork and another for sewing and craft. There’s a big storage area that stores stuff donated and collected, waiting to be upcycled including discarded furniture, clothing, plastic bottles and books.

There’s a cafe and shop where they sell coffee, in real cups or your own keep-cups if you want take-away, but they don’t have disposable coffee cups. They sell things that people upcycle, like shelving units made from old books, rugs made from old t-shirts, and clothing made from old clothes.

Everything in this centre (apart from the food!) is second hand, old, rescued from landfill and/or upcycled – the floor coverings, the light fittings, the furniture, the workshop equipment and fittings, the internal walls, the coffee machine, the kitchen utensils, crockery and cutlery.

They run repair cafes, getting the people who can repair stuff together with the people who need stuff repaired. Those who can, teach those who want to.

(Photo: Inhabitat)

(Photo: Inhabitat)

There’s a community garden outside, with a greenhouse made from plastic bottles. People grow things to sell through the shop, and those who work in the garden get credit to spend in the shop and cafe. They sell fresh food that people have grown in their own gardens. And people who bring things that they’ve grown at home get credit to spend in the shop. They sell bulk dry goods and you have to bring your own containers or bags to buy anything.

And when you go to a workshop there, you don’t buy anything new to take – if you need hinges, screws, zips or buttons, you get them from relatives or friends, or buy them at second-hand shops or markets. If you can’t get what you need, you go to the workshop without them and see if anyone has what you want, or buy it for a small price from the centre. If they don’t have it, you brainstorm with others at the workshop on how you could solve the problem differently. This is a Bunnings and Spotlight free zone!

They run low-cost workshops for the general community and for school groups. Groups of primary or high school students come for excursions and participate in guided tours and workshops relevant to their curriculum. They learn that waste is a great resource, and that we need to be very careful about how we consume and create more waste than we can reuse.

People can pay an annual membership fee, and members can use the workshop spaces for a small fee. Members also get a discount in the cafe and shop.

This centre is a practical expression of transitioning to a more sustainable way of living.

A laptop bag Cathy made out of old ties

A laptop bag Cathy made out of old ties

This is our vision.

Can we create a hub in Newcastle where exciting, creative, sustainable, community building things happen? Maybe one that becomes a showcase centre that will be a tourist attraction, bringing people together to challenge our society on how we consume, how we view, use and reduce waste, how we sustain each other and our environment.

We know there’s some great stuff already happening in Newcastle. We’re interested in partnering with other organisations and people. We do not want to re-invent the wheel; we want to build on what is already around, join with others in making the transition towards a less consumerist and more engaged and connected society, and we want to help make this movement mainstream, make it appeal to everyone     (or most people).

We want your input and ideas. We need to start small, by building links with what’s already happening, and offering workshops in various things to see what attracts people. Our first workshop is booked in for Saturday 17th October (see first page), and we have a couple of ideas for other workshops in November.

How could this all develop? What would it really look like? To make a centre come live, we need people with skills in everything from organising and promotion and using social media, to business management, to sewing, cooking, gardening and building. We need people with time and energy to bring to this project. We need a space and we need money – serious amounts of money.

Are you interested? Are you part of an organisation who we could partner with? Do you have skills, time, money that you could give to this project to get it happening or ideas on how it would look or operate?

Ties & T's Workshop Flyer Final You can see their leaflet (which includes contact details in case you are interested) here and keep up with developments on the Transition Newcastle webpage. You can also find out more about their first workshop: Upcycling Ties & T’-shirts.

Lots of people are keen to get involved and the response has been strong. In workshops on asset-based community-driven development, I emphasise the value of starting with what people are interested in. It’s all very well to identify the “priorities” for a community, but if it involves doing things very few people are interested in, how successful will you be? It might be better to start with something that people are passionate about and want to do, even if it is less of a “priority”.

I realise that social change requires doing things that aren’t always fun and that there is a danger of focusing on enjoyable things while ignoring big issues. The upcycling project, grabs people’s interest and already quite a few people who would never be involved in a social change group like Transition Newcastle,  are excited by the idea and have volunteered to help.

If you don’t believe these types of projects have the potential to lead to meaningful change, have a look at Bespoke (a documentary series on ABCD TV).

I think the upcycling project (they are still tossing up between a couple of potential names) is going to bring in a new lease of life for Transition Newcastle and has a great deal of potential. It’s an exciting time.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  2. How painting can transform communities
  3. What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?
  4. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  5. What is the Transition Streets Challenge?
  6. Consumption and the Transition movement

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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