Award-Winning Recycling Enterprise Sets High Standards

by Alastair Hamilton -

A Shetland social enterprise company that specialises in re-use has become the latest organisation in Scotland to be certified by Revolve, the national re-use quality standard offered by Zero Waste Scotland.

The Shetland Home Co is part of COPE, which operates five different businesses, all aimed at providing employment for people with learning disabilities. Shetland Home Co sells good-quality, re-use goods at competitive prices. They encourage more people to feel confident and see the benefits in donating and buying used goods.

The certification by Revolve was welcomed by Louise Watson, Business Manager at COPE Ltd, who said the business was delighted with the news. “Our customers can have increased confidence that re-use items are prepared for sale within current health, safety and trading standards. We follow strict processes to ensure high standards and confidence in our re-used goods. The Revolve process has increased professionalism in our service, and we are committed to excellent customer service and continuous review and improvement. Since we started working towards gaining the title we have seen a boost in trade.”

Iain Gulland, who is Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, explained that the aim of Revolve was to support Scotland’s re-use organisations with advice, training and support and to provide customers with a shopping experience that is comparable to the high street.

we are committed to excellent customer service and continuous review and improvement

I’m no stranger to the Shetland Home Co shop, having often dropped off things I didn’t need and picked up some interesting items, too, including several vinyl LPs and some books. But, curious to find out more about the Revolve certification, I went along to meet Karen Erasmuson, who manages Shetland Home, and Rona Simpson, COPE’s marketing manager.

Karen explains that, not long after she’d transferred from another COPE business, the Shetland Soap Company, an email arrived from Zero Waste Scotland, promoting Revolve. They immediately realised that the scheme was exactly what they needed, because the shop and business was seeking some structure. As Karen says, “it worked, it took in money, it was really good – but we needed to formalise things a bit more.”

The Revolve scheme is part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to more recycling. The first accreditations went to 25 stores, and further 25 followed. The Shetland Home Co was in the third group of 25 to be accredited and is the only such outlet in the islands. Now that the total has topped 100, a marketing plan for the whole network – in effect, creating a new brand – is to be put in place.

Obtaining the Revolve badge involved three main steps. They first had to meet 43 standards; part of that was making sure that everything coming into, or leaving, the business was dealt with correctly. However, as Rona said, the scheme is “all-encompassing”, and aims to ensure that “the business as a whole is functioning”, so it involves checking that, for example, human resources policies and procedures, health and safety and risk assessments are up to scratch. There has been support to ensure that all of this was done properly and that continues – reassuringly, “they’re at the other end of the phone”.

They first had to meet 43 standards

Karen says that they quickly found that they were already doing much of what the scheme required, and that they were doing it really well. That came as a pleasant surprise both to the Shetland Home Co and the Revolve team, especially since, unlike similar businesses in central Scotland, they couldn’t just nip along the road to see what their peers were doing.

They’ve had further help since. A visual merchandising specialist came to advise them on the best layout for the shop, so there’s now an attractive room setting right by the entrance, and customers are subtly encouraged to wander clockwise round the displays before coming to the cash desk. That has made the whole shopping experience more attractive, and people tend to get a much better idea of what’s on offer.

Another improvement is a dedicated drop-off point, so that donations can be received without interfering with work at the sales counter. It will also be a great help when, early in 2018, it will be possible for donors to sign up to Gift Aid, and thereby boost the value of what they bring in.

The last piece of the jigsaw was gaining certification under EFQM (the European Foundation for Quality Management). The Revolve framework helped prepare for that but, once again, they found that they were already doing most of what was required, even if it wasn’t being recorded. Karen and Rona knew that all the products that were leaving the shop were already of very good quality, but until the team went through these processes, they hadn’t appreciated just how well they were doing.

There’s very little that Shetland Home Co won’t take in, but there are a few practical restrictions. Karen has had to rule out pianos, because they’re “a six-man lift” and “as soon as you move them, they go out of tune”. Nor do they take in clothes, because other charity shops have long been established in that market. Second-hand children’s car seats don’t feature, either, because the advice from Trading Standards is that it’s best not to buy a second-hand seat, just in case it has been involved in a crash. Upholstered furniture is welcome; for safety reasons, though – unless it’s classified as ‘vintage’ – it's a new requirement to have the fire resistance label that was introduced in the UK in the late 1980s.

The Shetland Home Co used to do repairs for the general public, and was featured in the BBC television trilogy, Simon King’s Shetland Diaries, when the team managed to repair an extremely expensive video camera in a matter of moments.

Nowadays, though, they find that they can only manage to deal with the items that are donated for the shop, because the quantity of these is so large – far larger than similar shops elsewhere. They receive between 12 and 20 such items every day. I saw a pile of five or six laptops arrive during my visit to the shop, and the turnover is fast. Rona says: “Once it has been checked and PAT tested, it just goes on the shelf and it’s gone within hours, it’s amazing.”

Not everything is fixable, and Karen explains that, when something comes in that’s beyond economic repair, they also look at breaking the item into its component parts, so that metals, plastics, cables and so on can be properly recycled. Some members of staff can easily fill two big bins with components in a day. Some folk who are on the autistic spectrum are, Karen says, particularly adept at tasks such as the PAT testing of electrical goods; for them, everything has to be absolutely correct.

COPE as a whole offers 100 3.5-hour placements a week for adults with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders, and they are always looking at ways they can do more in the community.

There are four businesses in the Shetland COPE operation, namely Shetland Home Co, the Shetland Garden Co, the Shetland Kitchen Co and the Shetland Soap Company. There is also a business in Orkney, Orkney Soap. Rona says that COPE as a whole has become much more commercially aware, partly because grant aid has become harder to obtain these days, and is well-regarded nationally, occasionally providing advice elsewhere.

COPE as a whole has become much more commercially aware

As we were talking in the shop, with goods arriving in the van and other donors bringing in many other items, Karen and Rona remarked on the generosity of the Shetland community, with folk happily donating such things as large, recent televisions in perfect working order. Indeed, their worry, sometimes, has been that they could be overwhelmed by the volume of donations; but having gained the Revolve and EFQM accreditations, not to mention several other awards, this feels like a team that’s a match for any challenge.

the generosity of the Shetland community

Nobody could fail to be impressed by the hugely positive ethos of the business: that’s clear from the moment anyone walks into the shop. COPE has been a great success, both for the people it helps with work opportunities and for the community as a whole.

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