Nationwide Building Society's furniture finds a new home in Transylvania

A behind the scenes insight into our Waste to Wonder Case study

As with any big business our corporate social responsibility is very important to us we are proud of our continued efforts over the years to improve on environmental and community led projects.

Reuse & recycle is one of our core services and our partnership with Waste to Wonder over the last 11 years has to be the most impactful initiative that we have. The combination of working with our clients to assist in the removal and re-distribution of their redundant furniture which provides support to charities and communities is a fantastic synergy.

Environmentally reducing carbon emissions by avoiding recycling and potential landfill. Financially cutting furniture disposal costs for our clients and furthermore being able to support charities and communities less fortunate than us who extract great value from this unwanted commodity. It truly is a fantastic scheme.

Nationwide Building Society are one of our clients with very strong CSR credentials and have supported Waste to Wonder over the years with various projects. They have always taken a proactive approach to the process, from helping to catalogue furniture, through to volunteering their time to help load shipping containers that get sent out for international projects.

In 2019 after clearing furniture from the Ramsbury House site in Swindon we invited the team to travel to Sacele in Romania to see where their furniture would end up and meet the team running the charity who manage to turn this furniture into a valued commodity. At the time we were in the process of creating some short films to promote our services, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to take the film crew and create a case study demonstrating the complete process.

Once a date had been set Michael Amos from Waste to Wonder kindly organised all the travel and accommodation for Holly, Matt, Gemma, David & Pamela from Nationwide Building Society and Daren and myself from Wagstaff, plus the film crew! The idea was to spend three days in Romania staying at the FAST charity centre, volunteering our skills, seeing where the furniture ends up and learning more about the great work Daniel and Ema do in the area.

FAST Romania is the social enterprise set up by Daniel and Ema Hiristea in 1998

The charity employs 17 people all aiming to help marginalised children, youth and families through educational, vocational and community development projects. Over the last 20 years they have managed to build a large vocational centre/hostel (which is where we stayed) with the facilities to teach hairdressing, car mechanics, wood working, welding, catering, cooking and hospitality it was fantastic to see some of the office furniture that we had donated over the years being repurposed for bedroom furniture and café and lounge areas!

The NBS team travelled on an earlier flight and I went with the film crew to help with transporting all the kit, after a few hic ups with MOT tests, excess baggage and team members missing in action we finally arrived in Romania. The drive to Sacele was stunning, winding through the Carpathian Mountain range in the heart of Transylvania. We finally arrived at the hostel, unloaded our gear and hit the hay. The schedule over the next two days was tight so early starts were vital!

Filming schedules were like moving targets as soon as we decided on a plan of action, something would change, an opportunity would pop up or something would become unavailable to us. But Daniel was fantastic, constantly working with us to document the best elements of their organisation and the people they support on an on going basis and getting us where we needed to be at the right time.

Our day was spent documenting various sites, from the yard where the furniture arrives and is stored, (where we got to see the container that we donated earlier in the year) and the shop where the furniture is sold, to a primary school where we helped to deliver furniture and then onto a new building that Daniel and his team were converting into an educational workshop to teach students practical skills to earn a living by.

The Nationwide team hit the ground running...Turning their hands to furniture re-purposing, installing tool walls and hanging tools, plus painting, although we think David shouldn’t quit his day job just yet as he seemed to have more paint on himself than on the walls!

We managed to record a few interviews, although hilariously there was always some disturbance as soon as we hit record, the best example was when the security guard decided that his office rug needed an airing, so decided to start beating the dust out of it on a fence about 100 yards from us, the audio sounded like we were in a war zone so we had to patiently wait this out and try and sneak in some questions while he was getting his breath back!

After lunch Daniel had organised for us to visit a little school in local the Roma community, the plan was to drop off some furniture and spend some time with the school kids. I think I can speak for the whole team when I say we were shocked and disturbed by the living conditions within the village, no freshwater or sanitation most of the buildings were dilapidated yet families are trying their best to survive in temperatures that can drop to -15 in the winter, which didn’t bear thinking about. Filming in the village was a sensitive matter so we had to be discreet.

I think interacting with the kids at the school was definitely a highlight for me. Before we left we delivered a bed and a table to a woman in the village, she invited us into her house and we all got to witness how basic the living conditions really were and how small the space was for the 14 family occupants. We said our goodbyes and I’ll confess I was glad to be heading back to the warm comfort of the car and a privilege life back home, it was upsetting to think that these people would remain and have to live in these conditions.

Back at the hostel we were met with a warm welcome and a hot meal, some of the team discovered the joys of extremely inexpensive beer while the rest of us planned for the next day.

After a few alarm clock issues and a hearty breakfast Daniel informed us that he’d arranged for us to visit Andre, a student who had come through the FAST program and was now running his own business making windows and doors in a small local village. What a great opportunity to see a successful student making his way in the world and being able to support his family. The light was streaming into Andres workshop as we filmed him using all the machines to make the doors and windows. Hilariously we tried interviewing him with the help of Luca our Romanian translator.

Andre was nervous, we told Luca the questions, he asked Andre and we filmed his reply but of course it hilariously became apparent we had no idea what he was saying! And we wouldn’t know fully until we got it translated when we were back in the UK! After wishing him well we returned to the workshop building to film our work and conduct an interview with our managing director Daren Miles, I think it really hit home to him how much of a positive impact the Waste to Wonder projects are at supporting these communities.

We regrouped at the hostel, said our farewells, stocked up on Romanian pottery and hit the road back to the airport, it was surreal to be driving through beautiful scenery and affluent towns and villages in comparison to what we had all just experienced. The film crew and I struggled back through departures with all the kit to finally make it home. The production crew miraculously managed to turn the production round within a week and the guys did a fantastic job, it’s probably one of our most successful productions to date.

We hope the case study serves as a powerful tool to help other companies understand this part of our Reuse and Recycle service and how the Waste to Wonder initiative could be beneficial to them. Disclaimer - we appreciate the air miles involved in our trip easily outweigh any carbon savings from reusing Nationwide’s furniture on this project but we see a bigger picture and believe the awareness this will help to generate, will increase the number of carbon saving projects in the future.

For more information about the Waste to Wonder initiative follow this link please help to share and promote this fantastic scheme.

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