Emma Porter is justifiably proud. It’s only a year since she established The Rebuild Site, a social enterprise that aims to recycle construction waste, and it’s thriving – so much so, that she and the team are moving to larger premises. Happily for customers, who’ve grown accustomed to turning up at the shop at Duke’s Drive, on Carlisle’s Kingmoor Park industrial estate, they’re only next door. 

“It’s the same building and the same door – it’s just a much bigger, brighter and better space,” says Emma. “There’s no change for people coming to find us. It’s going to be so much better. As well as expanding the volume of our projects, it also lets us add on a few extra things like RePaint. It’s a very similar concept to us – it supplies paint that would otherwise go to waste – so from the new space we’ll also sell paint.  

“We’re hoping to have a refill shop. It will probably be cleaning supplies. We’ve started doing Build It Yourself kits like bird boxes and bug hotels. We’re going to have bigger Build It kit space and we’re hoping to stock more things. We use the offcuts of wood and we’ve got a couple of volunteers who cut the pieces.” 

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The new shop was scheduled to open on January 21 and is testimony to Emma’s original vision of taking waste from construction sites and putting it to productive use. It’s one of those ideas that seems so obvious you wonder why no one has thought of it before. It was sparked by a chance conversation between Emma and painter and decorator Gary Murray, who’s now part of the five-strong team. “We were hoping someone else would do it, then we just thought, ‘Let’s do it ourselves,’” laughs Emma. 

“The Rebuild Site takes surplus materials and makes them available to the trade, DIY-ers and community groups. There’s nowhere else that’s doing anything like this. We encourage the contractors to let us take their surpluses and sell the materials to traders and DIYers. The actual operations are simple, which is partly the beauty.” 

A Community Interest Company (CIC), The Rebuild Site is committed to making donations. Anyone can apply – as long as the project is for the benefit of the community – and last year, it helped 23 groups with the supply of items from the construction industry that would have otherwise gone to waste. These included Harraby Community Centre, which it provided with timber to build raised beds as part of a community garden project; and Prism Arts, which received panels of plywood that were used for a series of street art workshops and a piece of public art. 

To support children’s “loose parts play”, involving things like pipe connectors, gutters, timber offcuts and cable reels, Rebuild has provided 10 schools with materials and has reached over 600 pupils. It hopes to continue to donate materials for local schools, expanding provision to larger kits and supporting more children to play imaginatively. “The school pack seems to have gone really well,” says Emma. “We get really cute pictures from the schools of the kids playing with it.” 

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It’s estimated that 13 per cent of construction materials currently ends up in landfill. As managing director for Story Contracting’s construction division, Emma understands the problem all too well. “I’ve worked in the construction industry for most of my career and care a lot about the environment,” she says. “I’m frustrated about the waste we have in the industry. You can’t risk running out of materials – if you’ve got a house to be handed over it can’t be held up. You’re better off with one pack of bricks extra than one pack short. Having a bit extra is the right thing to do from a delivery perspective but not from a waste perspective.” 

With Gary now playing a lesser role, The Rebuild Site is run mainly by women – directors Emma, Maisie Hunt and Debbie Ward, and shopworker Helen Dixon. “We’re a small team but we’re mighty,” says Emma. “It has been a good year. We won an innovation award in June. There’s still a lot we need to learn and improve but the new space really helps us improve our options, expand our offering and do a whole lot of new things we haven’t been able to do before.”