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Page last updated at 08:44 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 09:44 UK
London: the capital of scrounge?


Georgia Woolley reports on why some Londoners have taken to skip diving.

By Danielle Ferguson and Sheila Ruiz
BBC London's Step Up team

London is a city renowned for its wealth, abundance and creativity but it also has a parallel culture of 'scroungers'.

Scroungers, also known as skip divers, recycle and refurbish discarded objects to create new, interesting items or simply give them a new lease of life.

Peter Riley, a recent university graduate, furnished his student home with salvaged items found in skips. He began skip diving when he came across a 1950s cocktail table in someone's front yard.

He said: "I thought it was a bit of a shame. It was upside down and underneath a pile of wood. In the middle of the night I got one of my friends to help me get the wood away and take it home."

Like Peter, many other Londoners have found inspiration in skips.

Oliver Bishop-Young is a young designer, based in Lewisham, south London. In 2008 he presented his final university degree exhibition, Processed, on artwork done within skips.

Peter Riley - known as ‘the collector’
Peter Riley - known as ‘the collector’

"Alongside being a student - where you don't have any possessions, you move into a flat and you need things - going through skips was a great way of finding design materials to work from," he said.

Oliver is now an established designer and gets commissioned to create skip conversions. Through his creative work, he has been able to bring glamour to skips. But this is not necessarily the case for the majority of skip divers.

The twilight hobby

Most people who engage in the practice of skip diving prefer to do it during quiet hours of the day, either early in the morning or late at night.

Skip divers often experience the stigma attached to their activity and consequently most of them opt to be out of the public eye.

Marina Lewycka is a published author and a self-proclaimed "skip addict" whose latest novel, We Are All Made of Glue, begins in a skip.

"I must admit that now I've become a well-known author, I'm much more careful about being seen doing it because I feel I ought to keep up appearances. But I guess deep in my heart, I'll always be the person who rummages through a skip," she says.

Similarly Dan Wilson, a sound artist who creates musical instruments out of unwanted goods and electrical parts he finds in skips, says over the years he has learnt "to keep quiet and not to invite criticism."

However, Dan also believes that "the stigma of embarrassment that's associated with skip diving should be removed completely because this is actually saving space in landfill sites and it's recycling."

Skip diving: a lifestyle?

To many, skip diving represents the modern day equivalent of the "Make Do and Mend" ethos. It is a sustainable way of life and not just a means to save money.

Louise Campbell is the founder of myehive.com, which she describes as "a sort of Ebay with a conscience." She is a strong believer in recycling and reusing household items and clothing.

Dan Wilson plays one of his instruments
Dan Wilson plays one of his instruments

"In the last month I decided I wasn't going to spend any more money on clothes and I've managed to amass a whole new wardrobe just by having clothes-swapping sessions with girlfriends," she says.

Skip diving is also a way of acquiring items which are unique and different. Electro-acoustic sound artist, Dan Wilson, says skip diving requires an experimental approach, and an open mind.

"A lot of times when you're looking for stuff, you find something that you didn't realise you wanted. You have to go into the void not knowing what you'll find and then you're pleasantly surprised."

In times of increasing environmental awareness, the practice of skip diving has proved to be beneficial to the environment as well as the community, and the trend is on the rise.

As Louise Campbell says, "reclaim is the way forward". However there are legal implications that one should be aware of.

Is it legal?

Taking things from a skip without the hirer's consent is illegal by law. This goes back to the 'theft by finding' Victorian Law. So before you get your hands in a skip, ask for permission.

Noel Davies from Generay Ltd, a skip hire company, says: "Some people think they can go into a skip and take out what they like. Effectively they're committing an offence, so what they need to do is to ask the waste-producer, whether it'd be the household or the construction company, if they can actually remove the interior from the skip. Otherwise they could be prosecuted for theft from the skip."

Always wear gloves
Be careful of hazardous materials
Be open-minded and imaginative
Recycle and reform skip finds to your needs
The ultimate skip diver's read: Empire of Scrounge by Jeff Ferrell

Make do and mend

'Make Do And Mend' was published in the UK in 1943 by the Ministry of Information at a time when food and clothes were rationed.

It gave sustainability advice during the Second World War on how to keep family and home afloat on war rations.

Tips on how to tighten your belt and cut back on excessive consumption during wartime austerity have an obvious resonance during the current economic recession.

The V&A Museum of Childhood is currently exhibiting the combined work of contemporary designers and school children under the title of 'Make do and mend'.

What is Step Up?

Step Up is a BBC mentoring project which aims to give people access to and experience within the broadcasting industry.

Once a year we recruit about 30 people to come and work with us for three months.

If you are interested in applying for Step Up 2010 then please email us at: connectandcreate@main.bbc.co.uk

Skip diving away
20 Jul 09 |  People & Places
My war on waste
09 Jul 07 |  Magazine



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