Once we were a nation of shopkeepers. Now, not least because needs must, we are fast becoming a nation of upcyclers, espousing a make-do-and-mend mentality not witnessed since the Second World War and the enforced privations of its aftermath. To match our growing interest, recent years have brought us a wealth of television programmes following seasoned upcycling experts and designer-makers as they pass on their skills to the viewing public.
After the success of makeover shows such as the BBC’s Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop – which saw Jay Blades and Will Kirk become the UK’s favourite new reality TV stars – a new BBC2 TV series called Saved and Remade gathers together a team of creative, forward-thinking, hands-on experts as, undaunted, they take prized family possessions and transform them into something, well, really quite different.
Filmed in Huddersfield, made by Red Sky Productions and presented by Sabrina Grant, these are family items of sentimental value – a mother’s precious wedding dress, an old tent that reminds of family camping holidays, a father’s cherished Polish cloak, a grandfather’s beloved armchair. They are heirlooms, in a sense, but perhaps, in their present state, of little value and certainly of no use.
The first episode sees Graeme arrive with an unused tea trolley that has a squeaky wheel and fond memories of his grandmother. Interior design and furniture specialist Rob Fawcett comes up with an idea that will keep those memories alive while turning it into a useful piece of furniture once more.
Recycling and making are in his blood, says Rob. He grew up near Hull with his parents, Sue and Gary, and twin brothers, Ad and Matt, and now lives in North Lincolnshire with his wife, Sally, and their son, Ned, four. Through his business Raw Home, he creates interiors using reclaimed wood and repurposed items.
His grandfather was a woodwork teacher and Rob says his own training was via “the University of Dad” – although Gary worked in manufacturing management, not as a tradesman or production worker.
“I don’t remember many tradespeople coming to our house,” Rob says. “My dad would get involved with most of it, plumbing, electrics, and I liked seeing that because it was an opportunity to think, well, I could make something and dad could wire it up for me.”
When Rob was 12, they decided to turn his bedroom door into something far more exciting. “Me and my dad took it off, spray painted it all, put some wood trim on that we had cut and made it into a submarine door,” he says.
“I have always been a bit of a magpie, always liked things that no one else did and took them apart and experimented. Seeing my mum and dad be creative, that rubbed off on me.”
For any amateurs thinking of trying to turn their hand to something new, Rob recommends seeking out some of the many groups around the UK that gather to share tips on everything from painting to lampshade-making.
“There are communities out there that even I didn’t know about, hundreds of support groups and networks for all different levels of skills,” he says. “But the biggest piece of advice is, just give it a whirl. If it is something that was going to go to the tip and you intervene and have a crack at it, if it works, brilliant, if it doesn’t, so what?
“So many people are afraid to pick up some tools, but it’s like anything, the more you do it, the more comfortable it gets.”
Another of the Saved and Remade upcycling warriors is leather worker Jason Stocks-Young. Originally from Leeds, he lives in Holmfirth with his wife, Louise, and has a workshop close by in Mossley. He left school at 16 and worked at Paul Smith in London before a successful career in creative digital marketing, working on campaigns for Guinness, Coke, British Airways, Whitbread and Adidas.
Jason has previously been seen on TV in BBC’s Made in Britain series, where he was one of a group of designer-makers travelling the UK to try different traditional crafts, from pottery to shoe-making. “It makes you reflect and appreciate all the things that we have made in the United Kingdom, and the skills, the craftsmanship, the history and the stories,” he says.
He uses premium leathers to make belts, notebooks, card and passport holders and bags, all hand-stitched. Through his Diamond Awl Leather Workshops, he teaches others how to do it, too. “I work with leather and there are many conversations about sustainability, with new kinds of leathers out there, but pound for pound, leather is the most sustainable material out there,” he says.
Vegetable-tanned leather stands the test of time, he says, and to prove it, there are still pieces made 100 years ago that look as good or better now than they did when they were new.
Jason believes that everyone can discover their creative side, while helping to reduce waste. “Now, more than ever, there is a huge opportunity for people with some skills, or no skills at all,” he says.
“Use the emerging technologies of the internet – Pinterest, YouTube. Surround yourself with the ideas and inspiration from these channels and put yourself in the mindset of the people you see making things and coming up with different ideas. That will kick-start in your head that idea of creating something.”
He loves the idea of preserving family relics while giving them added meaning. “There is an emotional attachment, so to be turned into something that you can actually use, in this day and age, is such a lovely concept,” he says.
New to the upcycled spotlight is carpentry expert and artist designer-maker Shelley Crossley, who is originally from Rochdale but now lives in Glasgow with her wife, Mags. She studied sculpture and printmaking at art school in Cheltenham and has worked in TV and theatre before, but behind the scenes, for example on the BBC adaptation of Dracula as a set carpenter.
She got her break into front-of-camera work when a TV producer, on a Zoom call, saw and admired a kitchen that Shelley had made.
Shelley says that, even as a small child, she was always making things. “My mum was quite practical. She did all the decorating and wallpapering in our house.
“I remember making a letter box, like a little pillar box or post box, for my dad for Father’s Day when I was probably about six. And then, we used to call them bogeys where I was from, like little go-carts, so I remember making one of them out of bits of wood, hammering them together and cobbling together those roller skates that used to come in two pieces, and painting it with some bright yellow paint that was just in the shed and probably went everywhere, all over the house.”
Working on Saved and Remade was a rewarding experience, she says. “Everyone had such different talents and creative experiences. We bounced ideas off each other and helped each other – it was a good bunch of people. Everybody chipped in.”
Shelley is an enthusiast about saving discarded items and making them into something useful and beautiful – and now she is able to pass on her insight to others, part of a movement encouraging a less wasteful and more sustainable way of living.
“A lot of the stuff I make is from things found in a skip or just picked up off the street, so I try and use as much found stuff as I can,” she says. “You can just have a go. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work. Just try and see what happens.”
*Saved and Remade begins on BBC 2 on Monday March 29 at 6.30pm.