Case study

Sparky – I'm proof Recycling Lives works

How Recycling Lives, a charity working with vulnerable and marginalised people, helped a homeless ex-prisoner find accommodation and work.

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Sparky – I'm proof Recycling Lives works

Released from prison, Sparky was living on the streets until he heard about Recycling Lives – a metal and waste recycling business which maintains a social welfare charity for homeless people.

Watch the video to hear Sparky talk about his experience. The video also features Steve Jackson, founder and CEO of Recycling Lives.

Sparky’s video youtube

Read the video transcript

Sparky’s story

When Sparky was released from prison he was sleeping on his brother’s sofa and had managed to find a job with a family friend. But after falling out with his employer, Sparky’s brother kicked him out and he was left homeless.

Sleeping in stairwells, derelict shop roofs and on park benches across Preston, Sparky couldn’t believe he was living on the streets. “I’d get up, have a few cans, mess about with drugs or commit crime,” said Sparky. “I didn’t think about the future, all I could do is go day by day and try to find somewhere warm to get my head down.”

Sparky eventually found a place in a hostel, where he heard people talking about Recycling Lives – a metal and waste recycling business which maintains a social welfare charity for homeless people, including ex-offenders, ex-armed services and street homeless.

Recycling Lives breaks down barriers

“At first I thought, ‘Nah, that can’t be right, there’s nothing like that for people like me.’ But I looked into it, got a place and it’s been amazing,” said Sparky.

Providing accommodation, employment, training and education, Recycling Lives breaks down the barriers homeless people often face in accessing support by providing everything in one purpose-built centre.

80 per cent of people who come to Recycling Lives are employed directly by the company’s recycling business. The rest are employed by businesses in the local community that Recycling Lives has built partnerships with.

Steve Jackson, founder and CEO of Recycling Lives, explains: “Recycling Lives is made up of two entities – a charity and a limited company with the objectives to make a profit and maintain the charity. Our commercial approach gives us a sustainable model to operate the charity, and one that we plan to replicate across the UK.

“When someone comes to the Recycling Lives centre we provide accommodation, clothing and food, and we establish a work ethic. Many people come from workless backgrounds or have no qualifications, so we work with Preston College to offer education and training on-site.

We give people the skills they need

“We give people the skills they need to work for our business or move on to a job outside of Recycling Lives. By having everything under one roof, we are also able to give these people the support they need to live independently in the future.

“Anybody referred to Recycling Lives understands this is not just a housing option, this is a lifestyle change. We provide a pathway to full-time employment and the opportunity for people to break the cycle of dependence they are in.”

Sparky has gained almost 40 qualifications through Recycling Lives, including literacy, numeracy, computer skills, first aid, industrial cleaning and furniture restoration. In the morning he cleans the company offices and in the afternoon he strips computers for recycling.

I’m proof that Recycling Lives works

Sparky adds: “Recycling Lives put a roof over my head, fed me, gave me a safe environment, provided a job and helped me get all these qualifications. I’ve stuck at it and made it work. I’ve got my own flat, my mum isn’t ill from the stress and worry I caused and I’m in touch with friends who say they’ve seen a massive improvement in me.

“I’m planning to set up my own cleaning business and I want to employ other people who’ve come through Recycling Lives to run it with me. My life is so different now. I’m proof that Recycling Lives works.”

Video transcript


Recycling Lives is effectively a business model that sustains charity through metal and waste recycling. Effectively there are two components, there is the Recycling Lives business and there is also a charity which is registered with the Charity Commission here in the UK.

The objective of the charity is to assist people from a homeless background; they could be on probation or ex-armed forces, and give those people an opportunity to re-establish themselves back in a community.

The way the charity assists those people is it provides them with appropriate accommodation, with an en-suite bathroom, clothing, and food. It then does a needs assessment for those individuals to find out what they really want out of life.

One of the objectives of the charity is also to develop a work ethic in these individuals. Many have come from workless backgrounds, many have no qualifications. So we’ve got to assess their absolute needs and then ensure that we can deliver an individual from a workless position – maybe on benefits, very likely on benefits – into a fully self-financed member of the local community that’s living independently and fully employed.


Before I came to Recycling Lives my life was basically lived day by day. Get up in the morning, if I got up, get a few cans, mess about in drugs or commit crime. Just pretty hectic, really.

It’s been quite amazing actually – it’s been good. I’ve stuck at it. I said from day one to me parents and friends that, “I’m gonna give it a bash and this time, make it work”, and it’s worked.

They put a roof over me head, a nice brand new room, good food and a safe environment. And they got me into work and got me loads of qualifications and while I’ve been here I’ve also passed me motorbike test and got me passport and me CSCS card.

It’s made me look forward instead of just day by day.


During the needs assessment we find out what level of work and employment they’ve actually had in the past. Did they have any problems, did they have any dependencies etc.

When we’ve actually done the needs assessment, we then move onto what is required in order to get this individual into a fully employed position. That can take anything up to six months on average and this is planned out very, very clearly with the residents so that they understand the length of time it may well take to get them fully employed. Any NVQ qualifications are then engaged, any academic qualifications required are engaged and throughout this initial six months programme we make sure that the opportunity to participate and develop is always presented to the individual. And ultimately make sure that it’s not too much too quick, or too little too long. There’s got to be a good balance.

I think that the majority of residents would say that the opportunity to engage in a work programme actually breeds self esteem.

There has to be buy in by the local business community and the community at large into a programme. Ultimately these individuals need a job and the opportunities to gain employment are more difficult than they would be coming from the mainstream community. Recycling Lives makes sure that it delivers a work placement opportunity, leading to full time employment when the individual has qualified. And that, I believe, is the key to success. We don’t just train people for training’s sake we train people for a job.


In the mornings I clean all the offices and basically look after the building. And in the afternoon I’m on CRT, which is stripping tellies, taking out all the different components and separating them into bins.

In the future, if everything goes to plan I’d like to set up me own cleaning business, valeting cars and that and hopefully use lads from Recycling Lives to help run it.

End slide

Recycling Lives is a recycling business which maintains a charity for homeless people, providing accommodation, employment, training and education.

They provide a pathway to full-time employment and an opportunity for people to break the cycle of dependence they are in.

“I’m planning to set up my own cleaning business, my life is so different now. I’m proof that Recycling Lives works”.

Published 16 April 2013