Some people may pass piles of rubbish everyday and think it’s a neighbourhood nuisance, swear off the council for poor waste management, or just ignore it completely as not their problem. Dennis Boateng is not one of those people. An idea sparked inside of him as he noticed the mountains of wooden palettes littering the view on his daily commute. Transforming what would be wood waste into beautifully handcrafted, sustainable and durable furniture is now his local business called InUse-ReUse. Based between Brixton and Camberwell at the Remakery Space, Dennis recently crafted two custom planters that beautify the archway of Local Greens’ offices. We had to learn more about his brilliant work and the woodworking transformations he performs. Dennis chats with us to share how he took the leap from sports management to small business owner and the impact reclaimed wood has on our community.

Local Greens: How did this fantastic project start?
Dennis Boateng: It started about 2.5 years ago in 2018. I used to work in a leisure center, and I would commute through Brixton/Loughbourough Junction, and from the train I could see loads of pallets getting thrown out and left within Brixton Market. My first thought was to contact Lambeth council about them; got no response there. Then, I contacted Brixton Bid, and they had an issue with pallets left all over market row and Electric Avenue. Many shop owners were not taking responsibility for them after their deliveries and they were piling up as rubbish. From that, I got a meeting with the MD of Brixton Bid, and eventually the Lambeth Environmental Department. It was a six-eight month process getting all the meetings. They agreed to a pilot scheme for my idea, which at first was to pick up the pallets, and sent to other businesses to reuse.

LG: How did it transform to furniture making?
DB: I wanted to take it further. This is wood we could up-cycle. I got in contact with the Remakery to assist me because people there are already making furniture out of reclaimed materials. Through that I found Oz Fouad, my designer and now head of the production team. Remakery gave us the workspace to make it all happen. There are many makers in that community, and many of them have 1-1 classes. I learned how to work with wood, took classes, and that let to small commissions here and there. We’ve just kept going to where we are today.

LG: Do you know how much wood you’re rescuing through your work?
DB: We have a very detailed system in place because we’re working with the council. Normally, about 90-100 pallets a week go through the market. There was a massive spike with panic buying at the start of COVID-19, so we had even more than that with all the extra goods being delivered. We report how many pallets we get, reuse and up-cycle, which means we can showcase our impact through real numbers. The council keeps renewing our service because the statistics are there. We’re part of their waste strategy moving forward. We were asked to create benches for Slade Gardens using the palettes, and that’s really the circular economy in a nutshell. If we can get more of that happening in the community, its real sustainability.

LG: What is it like working closely with the local council?
DB: It’s a completely different spectrum of work. I have a Masters in Sports Management and I was working for Better before this. I had to grow into and understand an entirely new industry. That kept me motivated through the whole process because it can be very slow moving with the council. This has been a long and hard journey, sometimes tedious. It took about a year to convince them that this was a worthwhile service, but they’ve been our partner for two years now. I’m not sure many of the market traders even know this is happening. The wood wasted is stored behind Pop Brixton and it just disappears! I’m learning more and more how the waste industry works as a whole. Most local authorities are looking at ways to get rid of their waste so it’s a growing industry.

LG: Besides rescuing palettes, where do you source materials?
DB: Estate agents are a big help. They give us furniture from clearance drops when a property needs to be emptied. Sometimes we will go into the houses and take wood that would otherwise be discarded. There is a lot of good hard wood out there, and all we have to do is clean it, sand it or break it down. It is really good wood in old houses. The Remakery also gets constant donations, so there is a warehouse full of materials; lots of bespoke furniture. It’s more ideal to get real wood than a palette, because its more effort and a longer process to finished item.

LG: What’s the craziest thing you’ve transformed or built?
DB: We did a nursery using long sheets of wood from a dining table. We’ve made a children’s mud kitchen. Here’s a fun fact about the Local Greens planters – they used to be the flooring from Pop Brixton! You wouldn’t believe what they looked like before. Pop contacted the Remakery when they were tearing up the floor; we collected the wood, dried it out and created your planters.

In some of the areas around London where they’ve recently pedestrianised the roads, they’re using our pallets and designs to create platforms and extend the pavement walking space. There’s a small area by Brixton Whole Foods on Atlantic Road we made.

LG: Does using reclaimed material automatically mean it’s cheaper?
DB: We need to do more education that up-cycled doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. Because of the process using wood waste, people assume it will be cheaper, but it’s very labour intensive. Wood has to be treated before use and gotten into useable condition before we can make anything. The lifecycle of a palette, from Brixton Market to ready to use in our workshop has many steps. First, the palettes have to be dismantled, which could take a few hours. If we need five palettes worth of materials, it could take three hours to take out all the nails, sand it down, and then you can actually start assembling the job. Then we also oil the wood according to the finish needed. Some wood is beyond use and it has to be discarded. Sometimes nails are too deep inside to get out and we can’t use that. A bench took about three-four days to make. We created a dining table out of roof joints, and that was a lot of joining together, gluing, waiting for it to dry, brace it and creating legs. A simple project takes about a week.

LG: What is it like working in the Remakery community?
DB: We’ve definitely made a community within the Remakery. Just being in that space has been immensely helpful. People all work collectively there and can teach you a lot. People like to have something locally made for them or their home, something that has a story and the Remakery is doing that. It’s been a great journey.

LG: You’re making such a worthwhile contribution to the community. What are your future plans?
DB: This has been like creating your own child, and you only want to see it expand and grow. I’m thankful for finding an opportunity that allowed me to do create a business for myself. In either the best or worst timing, I decided early this year I was going to go for it and make InUse-ReUse my full time work. I handed in my notice to my other job in March. What COVID has allowed me to do is understand how I’ll operate on a fulltime basis. I’m still putting it all together, like a puzzle and I have to find the pieces. I have so much to learn still about marketing, operations, production, how to execute everything together. I’m learning about reducing time frames to support the economics and margins. I wouldn't have learned this if it hadn’t committed to full time. I’m also aiming to learn more about the environment and sustainability. An intern recently helped out with our social so we could have some sort of presence and engagement, but it’s such a struggle because of time, effort, and working to a budget. People are really intrigued by what we do and we have to work to constantly engaging the local area. I’m learning as I go.

LG: Lastly, how can people buy your furniture?
DB: Check out our website! We craft bespoke projects too, so please tell your customers to get in touch if we can create something special for them.