The case for reclamation of architectural antiques and building materials has never been stronger
The ironic truth is that from a ‘golden age’ in the late twentieth century, the architectural salvage industry is failing appallingly. The easiest excuse is to blame the state of the economy and recession. Unquestionably, recession has a bearing on the falling volumes, but it is an excuse which if perpetuated long enough may become the received wisdom. But it is self-delusion and it obscures the failures of the industry to keep up or understand what is happening in the wider world. Uncomfortable but true.
As an industry we can blame and deflect the truth further by protesting that we have not enjoyed the same incentives as the recycling industry. True, but not the reason for our plight.
Similarly, we can bluster that Government and Planning Authorities have failed to understand the real opportunities the industry could offer to solve the problems of landfill and material recovery, but we would still be deluding ourselves.
Reality Check: the reclamation trade has failed to seize opportunities
Without making this an apology that further obscures the truth and, cutting to the chase, the trade has failed on a much wider front and should confront that reality. As an industry we have, until very late in the day, failed to organise and take advantage of the opportunities.
The arrival of the recently formed Reclamation Industry Trade Association (RITA) signals a massive opportunity to turn matters around, but only if the trade addresses the failures of the past.
The industry has moved away from its principal purpose to salvage and reclaim traditional materials. We have witnessed the hard-earned creation of a market place for reclaimed materials corrupted by the merchandising of repro/replica goods that have swamped and spoiled the authentic goods the industry was intended to purvey.
Generally we have failed to skill up and invest in our businesses. Avoiding addressing the issues of governance and legitimacy, the realities of our short sightedness have caught up with us.
The successful transformation of the demolition industry
The core demolition industry from which many of us emerged has far and away outstripped all other elements of the trade in its conversion to the twenty-first century. The old demolition industry that believed it had no need to regard the working conditions of its staff and public safety has been swept away in a decade of transformation. The modern demolition trade is highly skilled, safety aware and mechanised beyond recognition. The demands of method statements, risk analyses and CDM regulations are the everyday grist and staple of demolition.
The salvage trade has preferred the shadows and, bemoaning the pressures that addressed, would have marked us out as a modern industry.
The architectural salvage industry’s ’mavericks’ have important obligations
Lord David Putnam said that paying tax was a privilege of a civilised democratic state. Similarly, the salvage industry should recognise its ‘obligations’ as a reasonable challenge to its participation and membership of a wider community.
Whilst we all hate taxation and regulation, it is exactly those dual hated elements that differentiate our society from the arbitrary and brutal regimes that we witness on the international news daily.
We are in a modern and complex democracy: skill up and address the demands it requires. Sulk and evade and you risk total demise.
Four years ago, on BBC2′s The Reclaimers series, I affectionately described the dedicated and fascinating characters of the reclamation trade as ‘mavericks’. With hindsight, I begin to believe it sentimentalized a group of characters who struggle with orthodoxy. Not that being unconventional or different is wrong, but rather it requires a mature attitude to be part of the wider society and not to operate as an element requiring special consideration or dissociation amounting to preferential treatment.
We have to face the truth, even if it is uncomfortable
Nurses and the emergency services have to be involved with the wider demands of legislation; there can be no special case for antique and salvage dealers in a logical appraisal. The only solution to a sustainable future for our industry is to adopt business skills, capitalise to cope with the volume of opportunity that exists, and organise to be active in new legislation and policy making.
Some of the above will upset colleagues but, with many reclamation yards failing and huge quantities of imported goods swamping the market, somebody has to speak uncomfortable truths.
These are the views of MASCo Architectural Salvage, not the trade association.