[As published in Nov/Dec BayBuzz magazine.]
It was the morning after Gabrielle came through, the wind had dropped, and Nadine had decided to take herself off for a nap. “First time in three and a half years and no-one could get hold of me,” she recalls.
Nadine was barely a page into her nap, and there was a knock at the door. Mayor Sandra had driven past, saw the Re-Source van and wanted to know, could Nadine help? Could she what.
I don’t really buy the nap story though. As someone who could nap for New Zealand, I can spot fellow nappers easily, and I can tell you, Nadine simply isn’t one of us. She’s what you would describe as an ‘active relaxer’.
Nadine gets stuff done.
It’s been a little over three years since Nadine Gaunt founded the not-for-profit, Re-Source. On one level, Re-Source simply takes things that someone no longer needs and re-purposes them for those who do. All of which is lovely, and unquestionably a good thing, but hardly innovative.
What is innovative, in a business sense, is how Re-Source joins the moving parts together, working to ensure everyone gets the most out of everything. It’s an ecosystem in its own right, one that builds resilience back into a community that has had resilience tested way beyond the limits of what the manufacturer originally intended.
There’s now over 40 volunteers, including a six strong group called ‘Re-sew’. They’ve turned old sheets into draught stoppers. They’ve made wet weather ponchos out of old tents for the homeless. Re-Source builds a bridge between giving and need.
The idea started with Nadine’s desire to pass on clothes her daughter had grown out of, but had no-one to give them to. The one place they weren’t going was to landfill. Nadine was certain about that much.
The ‘clothing carbon’ problem is huge, with the World Bank estimating the fashion industry produces 10% of all global carbon emissions, more than air travel and shipping combined. I’m assuming the stats also included items that aren’t fashionable, like cargo pants, but still. Worldwide the industry produces between 80-100 billion garments every year. In New Zealand we send the equivalent of 44 kilos of clothing per person to landfill each year. Two heavy suitcases full.
A relationship formed right back in the beginning with the Hawke’s Bay prison, means all clothing and other textiles go through the commercial laundry at Mangaroa. They also help out with sewing, making simple stuff like bags that can be used to drop off packs of bedding, and if it can’t be re-worn or repaired then it will be re-purposed. Anything to keep it above ground.
Circle of life
While Re-Source aren’t open to the public, you wouldn’t know it. Rochelle is dropping off some bounty, she is sort of a local Marie Kondo, and has a business that helps people declutter. Did I realise there are six types of clutter in our lives? Rochelle asks. I didn’t. Although six did seem quite a minimalist approach to clutter, and I was pretty sure I could name at least that many types in my kitchen alone.
I was about to give Rochelle a heads up on a few other types of clutter I’d thought of, when Cate from Plunket pulls up. She’s been working with Re-Source from the get-go and succinctly describes the operation as a ‘circle of life,’ with Nadine as the fairy Godmother. She emails Nadine “two or three times a day with a wish list” as she describes it. “Sometimes up to five.” Nadine is quick to deliver too, by all accounts, dropping stuff off the same day if she has it.
This is part pragmatic, but there’s another purpose to the light touch delivery method. Re-Source leave the frontline work to people like Cate. “We just say ‘dropping off a parcel from Cate at Plunket’ and you can see them relax,” explains Nadine, “then they’ll smile and say, ‘Oh Cate, she’s awesome’.” It’s not easy asking for help. The hands-off Re-Source approach is another innovation in its own right.
A visit from Betsy at Summerset Palms in Te Awa, also neatly illustrates the circle of life thought. She’s dropping off some knitted toys, these are destined for another NGO, Voyce, who advocate for children in care. Betsy is picking up a bag of lace trim, which will find its way to The Coffin Club. Betsy’s team will turn the lace into lining to be used in coffins for still born babies. Heartbreakingly their work seems to be never-ending.
“Sometimes,” Nadine explains delicately, examining several panels of knitting yet to be sewn up into a garment, “we’re gifted knitting that wasn’t able to be finished.” It’s a strange turn of phrase I was thinking, wondering if knitters often get bored with what they’re knitting and just move on. Maybe they ran out of wool? Then the penny drops. “Betsy will know what to do with it,” says Nadine assuredly. The circle of life keeps turning.
Like many good innovations, Re-Source started with a healthy lack of knowledge for how things ought to be done. “I had absolutely no experience at all in this space,” Nadine says. Maybe, but she has a very strong North Star, and her op-shopping gene runs deep. Op-shoppers aside though, the idea of re-purposing items, especially clothing, still sits on the fringe of our consumer focussed world. We want it new, and now. Back in the day, for example, putting something on lay-by meant getting the item after you paid it off. Now, it’s a credit product that means the exact opposite.
I’m talking about the concept of ‘hand me downs’, wondering if they too have passed their use by date, with Cheryl from Awhi, a charitable trust that helps vulnerable teens navigate a complex and confronting world. “They’re great kids, but some don’t have many things to call their own,” explains Cheryl. “The fact that someone has thought specifically about them is huge.” ‘New’ is of lesser importance than something they can call theirs. Cheryl’s popped in to show Nadine some beeswax food wraps that the Awhi crew have made. The material, beeswax and the shears used to make them all came from Nadine. They’re learning life skills that build resilience.
Sean at Corrections won’t argue with that, even though he’s only been working with Re-Source for a few weeks. Sean looks after people doing community service. As he explains, some people struggle to complete a community sentence. Not everyone can do physical labour. Some are unwell, others have child-care problems.
He reckons people in his care have probably been a bit short on giving back. But when they do, good things happen. There’s no better motivation to get the hours done than knowing what you’re doing is helping others and making a positive outcome.
Sean recalls a woman who picked up knitting skills, and now knits for the family. Her work, by all accounts, is in big demand. Pride and purpose go hand in glove. Knitted, of course.
At the moment Sean has half a dozen people in his care working on Re-Source projects. I mention that this is a great idea and it could be huge. “Well, we don’t want it to grow too big.” he points out for obvious reasons.
Re-Source runs on the smell of a recycled oily rag from what I can tell. They get a grant from Hastings Council, who also provide their space, something they have rapidly grown out of. Nadine dreams of the day Re-Source could have its workshop and a sewing room. MSD give a bit, and there’s a few donations here and there.
Occasionally they’ll get given something of value they can’t use. “We got a Wedgwood gravy boat once,” says Nadine with a chuckle. The gravy boat went off to the auction house and reappeared as money to buy toiletries. Their purpose isn’t to buy new stuff unless there’s no other way. There’s not much they won’t try to re-home. Cutlery, a basketball hoop, kitchen appliances. I notice a kayak lying patiently in the corner. “That’s off to the Kura, for a camp,” says Nadine anticipating an unasked question.
Funding isn’t something Nadine takes lightly, it’s a huge responsibility. She’s keen that I mention the care that was taken with every last cent of the Cyclone donations they received. I wasn’t sure that was the point of the story, but Nadine isn’t someone you want to disappoint. “Could you also mention our Give-a-little page?” asked Nadine. I said I wasn’t sure if I was allowed, but I’d ask. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way to get it in there,” she replied gently. Did I mention Nadine gets stuff done?
As I’m leaving the Re-Source van pulls in. Dewald and Dean, Nadine’s secret weapons when it comes to delivery and logistics, are quick to reload and they’re off. Then Madi from Te Taiwhenua arrives, she has a pick-up. There’s rumour of 1,000 pairs of new shoes arriving next week.
I’m exhausted just watching it all … in fact, I’m seriously contemplating a nap.
Just as I’m sure Nadine won’t be. At least not anytime soon.