I turn people's junk into treasure – think twice before you throw anything away

In December 2021 I got hold of an old Royal Mail van. No longer roadworthy, a bit rusty, generally unloved and shabby looking.

I was thrilled.

Over the next six months, I spent every spare moment refurbishing it. My goal was to turn it into a touring campervan suitable for a family getaway.

I find the process of refurbishing something very satisfying – my mind is quiet as I focus on the job in hand, and seeing the finished result is always a proud moment. 

The van has turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. It’s got running water, a gas stove, an emergency loo and is well insulated with recycled plastic. I’m heading to Scotland in it in a few weeks’ time.

Spotting the potential in things that others view as rubbish has always been second nature to me. I left school at 16 and headed straight into the world of work. My early jobs were in construction and engineering with a stint at an electrical firm, so over the years I’ve gained the knowledge and skills to fix most things.

From kids’ toys and household appliances to motorbikes and cars, I’ve just about repaired anything we would use in everyday life.


The 1990s were difficult economically. Inflation was high and money was tight – a lot like today. Suddenly there was more interest in salvaging and reusing materials and a pause in the throw-away culture.

I joined a company, called Ramco, based in the seaside town of Skegness in Lincolnshire, which was solely focused on finding the value in unwanted items.

Working with businesses around the country, what was then a tiny team began sourcing items destined for landfill and giving them a new lease of life.

In the early days, I would revamp a lot of furniture to modernise their style with colours that were on trend. With fashions changing quickly, people used to buy a new piece because of that reason alone, but quality furniture paints weren’t and still aren’t expensive.

Somehow, I’d managed to turn my Womble-esque instinct into a job. 

I’ve now been there for 25 years. In that time, I’ve salvaged thousands of items; stuff that businesses no longer need, items that are past their prime, or no longer work. 

After being transported back to our facility for processing, we clean and add value to items wherever possible. By making an asset more attractive, its lifespan is being extended, and it’s more likely to appeal to a potential buyer. 

The highest value items I’ve spotted and saved were what turned out to be a pair of solid silver candelabra with a rich naval history.

When the client first brought them through our doors they’d been billed as a set of old steel candleholders, destined for the skip. After seeking specialist advice from an expert who had appeared on the Antiques Roadshow, we realised we were on to something special. Makeover complete, they sold through a specialist auction house for a huge amount. 

While we don’t go out to find high value items, when we do come across them, they’re opportunities not to be missed! We also like to add value to assets by giving them a makeover ahead of sale. 

From decommissioning, collection, and refurbishment, right through to storage, marketing, and sales, we provide a service that protects the environment, cuts storage costs and generates vital funds for our clients.

The worst-case scenario is where businesses haven’t realised items still have value and they’ve been left outside in all weather. Sometimes objects are completely ruined and, despite best efforts, there’s nothing we can do.

This happens a lot with catering equipment. Often items are left outside due to the lack of internal storage space. We are all guilty of getting excited about a new piece of kit and forgetting about the one that has been replaced, even though it still has value. 

That makes me cross. Actually, it just makes me really, really sad. A simple covering with tarpaulin could have meant those items could have gone on to serve a new purpose.

I hate seeing good stuff go to waste – whether it’s an old van or a broken hairdryer.

Most of the time I’m fairly laid back – but not when it comes to waste. It feels like we’ve forgotten how much energy, effort and materials go into stuff and we’re far too quick to relegate them to the rubbish pile.

We’re disconnected from how things are made and have almost completely lost the ability, and drive, to fix things. 

If we had a better understanding of what resources were required to create a replacement for things we throw away, we might think twice about being wasteful. 

At the rate we are going, it’s only a matter of time before we start to personally feel the effects of what we’re doing to the planet. 

But since lockdown, and more recently as people are feeling the financial pinch, we’ve seen a demand boom for second-hand business items.

Upcycling is also a real trend and people care more about the environmental impact of their purchases.  

I’m usually the first port of call for family and friends wanting to reuse or fix things, and at the moment we’re all wanting our money to go further.  

The first piece of advice I always give is not to replace items too quickly. When something stops working it’s too easy to order a replacement straight away and bin the older item. Always see if it can be fixed first.

YouTube is such a brilliant resource for diagnosing and fixing issues. Often the fault is something others have faced, and people will share what they’ve done.

If you can’t mend it yourself or don’t feel comfortable trying, get in touch with the manufacturer for help. 

The other piece of advice I’d give is to think flexibly about how materials could be used. If an item is no longer needed for its original use, could you use it for something else instead?

I recently used the wood from the old bunk beds of my now grown-up children to create a water feature for the garden. You don’t need to be a DIY expert for this either, it’s about being creative – empty jars are brilliant to reuse as storage or as candle holders, old fixtures and fittings make great sensory boards for toddlers.  

Refurbishing stuff may feel a bit out of your comfort zone but there’s nothing to lose if it’s an item you would otherwise throw away. You don’t know what you can do until you try.

And unless more of us learn to flex our reuse muscles, our planet’s finite resources will continue to be under unsustainable pressure.

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